The Vancouver Whitecaps were wheeling and dealing on Wednesday, as they acquired forward Brian White from the New York Red Bulls for $400 000 in GAM. In this, we dive deeper into the move, seeing why it’s a curious one for this ‘Caps team.
An acquisition was on the horizon, and now, it is finally here.
It wasn’t necessarily the transaction most people were expecting from the Vancouver Whitecaps, but it was a move they felt that they had to make, as they traded $400 000 in General Allocation Money (GAM) for 25-year-old American striker Brian White from the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday.
For a team struggling to score goals so far this season, sitting with a measly 6 goals after 7 games, picking up a striker with 14 goals in 47 MLS games is never a bad idea, but as we’ll see here, it’s not the biggest of their issues right now.
With there already being a logjam of names at the striker position, this now gives the ‘Caps 5 out-and-out #9s on the roster, crowding a spot in the roster that is probably the least of Vancouver’s worries.
But despite that, there are plenty of reasons for the Whitecaps to want to make a trade like this.
Clearly, head coach Marc Dos Santos isn’t confident in the options available to him up front and wanted to make a change, and with the ‘Caps new player recruitment staff, you’d have to imagine that a deal like this was heavily vetted by Director of Recruitment, Nikos Overheul, and his staff, meaning that there were boxes that were checked off ahead of time with this trade.
So considering all of that, there is certainly a lot to be intrigued about with this move, for many reasons.
As we’ll explore here, those reasons vary, but at the very least, it’s good to see that the ‘Caps are actively pursuing solutions to try and solve their problem, even though they might have necessarily tried to plug a hole that wasn’t necessarily there with this move.
The ‘Caps need for chance creation:
And make no mistake, there’s definitely a hole elsewhere.
That hole stems from the midfield area, where the ‘Caps have struggled to generate any sort of consistent offence for the past 2.5 seasons, a problem that has so far persisted in 2020.
As we saw last week, when rumours of Vancouver’s supposed interest in veteran playmaker Alan Patrick emerged, the sort of player that the ‘Caps currently needs is in the mould of Patrick, which is to mean a playmaking attacking midfielder that can set the tone offensively for this team.
The numbers back that theory up.
Through 7 games this year, the ‘Caps are struggling to create all that much, and that’s played a big role in their offensive woes so far in 2021.
Just to get an idea of how bad things are, it’s worth noting that through those 7 games, the ‘Caps are tied for the 3rd-fewest goals per game in MLS with 0.85, have the fewest open-play goals in the league with only 1 tally via that avenue, and average the second-fewest shots per game with 9.3.
They also spend the 2nd-fewest time in the opponent’s final third, only spending 24% of their possession in that area of the field, which considering they sit in the middle of the pack in terms of possession with 47.9%, is a bit concerning.
What’s fascinating is that despite that, they remain in the top 6 among MLS teams in terms of their shots to shots on target percentage, which is a cool 36.5%, showing that their problem isn’t necessarily their quality of shots, but how often they actually shoot the ball.
That’s backed up by some advanced stats.
For example, it’s worth noting that despite having one of the worst Expected Goals (xG) for in MLS with 1.11 per game, they average 0.11 xG per shot, which is decent.
To get an idea of how decent that is, consider this.
If the ‘Caps were to maintain the same xG rate per shot, but took an average of 12.5 shots per game, which is the median number of shots per game, they’d be averaging 1.41 xG per game.
That would vault them into 11th in MLS, which would be pretty good, but instead, they remain unable to generate those kinds of chances on a consistent basis.
These aren’t new issues, as these sorts of problems have persisted for a few seasons now, and so far through 7 games in 2021, not much has changed on that front, which makes this sort of move so curious.
What to expect from White:
And that’s backed up when we dive a bit further into White’s numbers.
Fit-wise, based on the numbers seen above, the problem isn’t the forwards getting onto the end of the chances, but instead the volume of those chances, which a striker like White wouldn’t necessarily fix.
But to look at White more specifically, there is a lot to like about his profile as a striker, especially when you dive into some of his numbers.
As seen by his percentile chart, he’s quite good at finishing chances and making something out of nothing, which could actually lend itself to be quite useful in the current ‘Caps set-up.
Just to get an idea of what we mean, here’s a look at said chart from his play over the past 365 days, provided by Football Reference (fbref.com).
As seen here, he’s been among the top-end MLS strikers in terms of actual goals, sitting in the 72nd percentile in terms of non-penalty goals per 90 minutes with 0.48, which is actually a pretty great rate.
Even more impressive?
The fact that he’s finishing at that rate despite only creating 0.41 xG per 90 minutes, showing that he can indeed make a bit of something out of nothing, which is something the ‘Caps could use a bit more of right now.
Just for comparison’s sake, the ‘Caps DP striker, Lucas Cavallini, only has 0.33 non-penalty goals per 90 minutes on 0.32 non-penalty xG over that same time frame, making White’s numbers look quite impressive when you consider that.
Plus, White was doing that despite averaging fewer shots than Cavallini, as he’s only generated 2.51 shots per 90 compared to Cavallini’s 2.55, showing that his finishing ability could be something that the ‘Caps are looking to tap into with this trade.
It does help that he’s averaging 5.22 touches per 90 minutes in the penalty area, which puts him in the 63rd percentile in MLS, but it’s not like he’s lightyears ahead of Cavallini in that stat, as his new teammate sits with 4.54 touches in the box per 90, which isn’t that far off.
Plus, much like Cavallini, White’s also good in the air, winning 2.9 aerials per 90 minutes, which is in the 79th percentile of all players.
Otherwise, one other offensive stat that stands out is White’s 0.19 actual assists per 90 minutes, which is in the 83rd percentile. Considering that he only averages 0.07 xA per 90 minutes, and has never averaged more than 0.6 key passes a game in his career, that could be down to a mixture of luck and his teammate’s brilliance, but that’s just an interesting stat to point out.
Elsewhere, White does a lot of the defensive work that the ‘Caps want from their players, sitting in the 74th percentile for Pressures, 77th percentile for interceptions and 98th percentile for blocks, slotting quite nicely into the high-pressure Red Bulls pressing system.
So when looking at all this, it looks like White definitely has the credentials of a decent to good striker in MLS, one that could do a lot of damage with the right system behind him.
On a ‘Caps team that doesn’t create all that much, it’s hard to imagine that is the sort of system where he’d be able to thrive, but he does have the ability to create his own chances, which could allow him to overcome his new team’s issues.
Ultimately, getting a #10 would probably do more to help fix the ‘Caps issues, but at least White does have a good underlying profile, adding a bit of sense to this move.
The ramifications of this move:
But on the flip side, does it make sense to drop $400 000 in GAM on a player that doesn’t necessarily fix Vancouver’s biggest problem?
The ‘Caps do have a bit of GAM to throw around, so it’s not like this sort of money would take away from the arrival of a #10 from outside of the league, but could this money not have been spent looking within the league for a potential stopgap player in that position?
It’s a question worth pondering, especially when considering the state of the roster.
As mentioned earlier, the ‘Caps now have 5 strikers on their roster as of writing, with White now joining Lucas Cavallini, Theo Bair, Tosaint Ricketts and David Egbo as the #9s on this Vancouver team.
Considering that Bair, Ricketts and Egbo have combined for a measly 41 minutes between them so far this year, throwing White into the mix can only either mean that A) he’ll slot right behind Cavallini in the pecking order, or B) that he’ll similarly struggle for minutes.
Obviously, based on the money spent, that’ll mean option A, which is bad news for Bair, Ricketts and Egbo’s already limited minutes.
For the veteran Ricketts, that’s a tough pill to swallow, but it’s an especially tough situation for Bair and Egbo, the two U22 ‘Caps up front.
Especially considering that Bair has shown quite well in the minutes he’s played since 2019, and that Egbo was considered one of the best graduates out of an Akron program that has churned out MLS players like a factory, you have to imagine they could add some value to this roster.
White’s a good player, but will spending $400 000 on him provide the same value as using that money for a creative player and giving Bair and Egbo more minutes to benefit from the chances created by said creative player? It’s a genuine question worth exploring, and based on the ‘Caps stats, the latter option would seem to be the avenue that’d make more sense.
Instead, it looks like one of Bair or Egbo might have to head out on loan, with Egbo’s name, in particular, being one that was circulated as a potential loan candidate on Wednesday.
There could be a silver lining to that, as that’d allow him to get some much-needed minutes as a professional, something he’s yet to pick up, while also freeing up an international spot if the ‘Caps were to bring in a DP #10 when the secondary transfer window opens on July 7th, but you do have to wonder if he could offer something to this team right now.
But either way, the ‘Caps striker situation just got more complicated, and while it’s a pretty solid group of players, there will be a few players pushed to the wayside due to this move, a move that doesn’t necessarily fix the root problem that is plaguing this team.
Despite that, it’s not to say that White won’t have the potential to be an exciting player in the ‘Caps roster, as he can be fun to watch when he’s in form.
What’s important, though, is to temper expectations when he does play, as this ‘Caps team isn’t set up to best benefit his skillset at the moment, making it hard for him to stand out.
To be fair, they could come out of this break looking like a whole new team, with White playing a big role in that resurgence, but based on what we know today, it’s hard to bet on that until we see it in practice.
So for now, based on what we know, it’s a curious move, one where the ‘Caps picked up a good player, but in a position where they didn’t really need that sort of guy.
Will it pay off? We’ll find out soon, but at the very least, hopefully this can be the start of the ‘Caps plans to at least try and fix the problems currently plaguing their team.
Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs Real Salt Lake, Friday, June 18th, 2021, 19:00 PDT, 22:00 EDT (Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy)
Cover photo via: New York Red Bulls/Twitter