The Vancouver Whitecaps announced their 2021 end-of-season roster decisions on Thursday. In this, we break them down, before seeing what they what might mean for the ‘Caps going forward.
It’s that time of the offseason again.
Just a few weeks removed from their elimination from the 2021 MLS Playoffs, this offseason is still quite young for the Vancouver Whitecaps, but that hasn’t stopped them from starting to get the ball rolling on things now over the last few days.
Having already locked down interim head coach Vanni Sartini for 2 years on Tuesday, the ‘Caps took the first steps towards sorting out their 2022 roster on Thursday, as they revealed their end-of-season roster decisions.
And to no one’s surprise, there wasn’t all that much to take away from that announcement, as the ‘Caps remained relatively quiet in terms of roster moves there, having already built up a pretty solid core group of players on this team.
At the same time, though, there is still a fair bit to chew on from this announcement.
First, there will be some names that won’t be returning, as midfielder, Patrick Metcalfe, and centre back, Jasser Khmiri, had their contract options for 2022 declined, and the club won’t be renegotiating their deals.
For Khmiri, that’s not that all surprising, as he had a very strange 3-year tenure with the team, one that started with a major injury, before heading out on loan in 2021 to the USL, where he just didn’t show enough that warranted keeping him around to fill an international spot on a pretty heft salary ($240 000+) for next season.
As for Metcalfe, though, it’s a bit of a surprise, because while he found himself on the fringes of the squad as the year went along, he comes at a pretty cheap ticket ($66 000+), and can play a number of positions, but ultimately, having just turned 23, both sides appeared to agree that it’s best for him to find a new opportunity.
Otherwise, though, pretty much everyone else is either returning, or expected to return.
Those returning include Cristian Dajome, Theo Bair, Michael Baldisimo, Javain Brown, David Egbo, Marcus Godinho, Cristian Gutierrez, Thomas Hasal, Florian Jungwirth and Brian White, who all had their contract options picked up for 2022, which isn’t all that surprising.
Elsewhere, though, forward, Tosaint Ricketts and centre back, Andy Rose, did see their contracts expire, making them free agents, but they’re expected to renegotiate with the ‘Caps, while goalkeeper Isaac Boehmer also had his option declined, but is renegotiating a new deal.
Lastly, ‘Caps full back, Bruno Gaspar, had his loan from Sporting CP expire, and the ‘Caps declined to pick up his option to purchase him, but are still negotiating with Sporting to find a suitable fee to bring back the defender.
Overall, though, there was still a fair bit of movement in this announcement, even though it might not have been on the departures front, kicking off what should be an intriguing offseason for the club.
So seeing that, here’s a look at where that leaves the ‘Caps roster, position-by-position (assuming they keep the 3-4-1-2 that they used under Sartini), and what could be next for them after this announcement.
*Those in negotiations will be put in brackets (
*Those on loan will be put in double brackets ((
Goalkeepers: Maxime Crépeau, Thomas Hasal, Evan Newton, (Isaac Boehmer)
And to start, we’ve got the goalkeepers, where things appear rather set for now, although that could quickly change.
You’ve got your #1 in Crepeau, who as the team’s MVP this last year, will be the guy as long as he’s here. That much is clear.
After him, you’ve got the heir to Crepeau’s throne, and that’s Hasal, as well as the next youngster up, which is Boehmer (assuming he returns), and tying it all together is Newton.
So here, if anything, what’ll be interesting to monitor is what happens with Crepeau, as he’ll dictate how the ‘Caps look at this position in 2021.
He’s not expected to go anywhere, but there’s a slight possibility that changes this offseason, because due to the increased competition in the Canadian National Team squad (where he’s currently the backup goalkeeper), Canadian players know that the best way to fight for their spots on the team is to move abroad.
Crepeau’s not in that bad of spot compared to some of his Canadian teammates, as he won’t lose his spot in the squad no matter where he’s playing, but you must wonder if he’d like to move abroad to start really pushing for that #1 spot, especially considering that he’s professed a desire to play in Europe before.
So depending on what happens there, everything else will fall in line behind him.
If Crepeau stays, for example, expect Hasal to head out on loan, as the ‘Caps are high on the 22-year-old, but also know that he needs to play regularly somewhere. Ditto with Boehmer, who is 20, and currently wrapping up a loan with Pacific FC, making it likely he does something similar next year.
If anything, the only easy future to dictate is that of Newton’s, as no matter what happens, he seems destined to stay and become a backup for whomever of Crepeau or Hasal ends up as the starter, giving an idea of how many moving parts there are here for the ‘Caps at this position.
Needs: A possible #3 goalkeeper
Left Back: Cristian Gutierrez
Over at left back, though, things are a lot simpler, because as it stands, there’s one main option, and that’s Gutierrez, who had a strong season, although it was one that was disrupted a fair bit by injury.
But when healthy, though, he’s expected to be the #1 guy at left back, without a doubt, and the ‘Caps are more than good with that, as he was one of the better players at his position in MLS for a good period of last season.
Beyond him, however, options are slim.
Any of the right backs can play here, of course, as can Cristian Dajome, but Gutierrez doesn’t have a true backup. Because of that, it makes it imperative that the ‘Caps pick up a domestic left back here, giving him a bit of support.
And seeing the quality of some of the players that could be available from the Canadian Premier League, for example (Diyaeddine Abzi, anyone?), as well as from other avenues such as MLS (Raheem Edwards?) or USL, they should have no problems finding that sort of player this offseason.
Needs: A backup left back
Right Backs: Javain Brown, Marcus Godinho, (Bruno Gaspar)
Over at right back, though, things are a bit more interesting.
Brown was the one lock to return, and is expected to be the day 1 starter next year, but after that, it was going to be intriguing to see who the ‘Caps were going to pick between when it game to Godinho and Gaspar, so it is quite the surprise to see them essentially pick both.
But seeing how much Sartini liked Gaspar when he came in, and ditto with Godinho, obviously the ‘Caps saw enough in both of them to decide to bring the pair back, although it’s not sure yet with Gaspar.
Assuming Gaspar returns, though, it should set up for quite the battle here.
Even though Brown feels like the locked-in starter, especially after a rookie year that saw him look like one of the better picks in the 2021 MLS SuperDraft, while winning a spot in the Jamaican National Team along the way, Sartini did also rate Gaspar and Godinho quite highly, and isn’t shy to rotate, giving all 3 of them a shot to fight for a starting spot.
So while it might seem like a bit much to have this much depth at right back, especially considering that 2 of these 3 will fill up international spots (which the ‘Caps already have a shortage of), it worked well at the end of this season, and clearly, the ‘Caps are looking to replicate a bit of that magic here.
You can never have too much depth in MLS, and the ‘Caps are banking on that, so if they feel that they’ve got the room to do so, it’s hard to say if they’ve gone a bit too gung-ho at this position or not quite yet, as only time will help us tell.
Centre Backs: Érik Godoy, Florian Jungwirth, Jake Nerwinski, Ranko Veselinović, Matteo Campagna, Gianfranco Facchineri, (Andy Rose), ((Derek Cornelius))
Over at centre back, however, things are quite similar to what we’re seeing at right back, as the ‘Caps have a pretty strong group of players here, especially if Rose returns.
One big issue, however, is that they’re going to need depth, something that surely feels like it must be high up on the ‘Caps wishlist as they enter the offseason.
On their day, starters Godoy and Veselinovic can be among the best in MLS, and Florian Jungwirth really helped stabilize a backline short on experience when he came in partway through this season, so there’s no doubt that they’ve got 3 good options in this trio.
At the same time, though, all 3 missed extended time due to injuries, and considering that Nerwinski just converted into the position a few months ago, Rose has also had his fair bit of injuries, and the pair of Campagna and Facchineri aren’t even yet 20, you’d have to imagine the ‘Caps would like a bit more insurance here.
Ironically, the perfect option for what they need, which is someone that compete for starting minutes in a sort of #3/#4 role, is there for them in Cornelius, but due to his current loan, which is to Greek club, Panetolikos, for the rest of 2022, he doesn’t appear to be coming back this season.
Because of that, the ‘Caps might be on the hunt for a centre back in the sort of mould, one that can at the very least shore up their depth, and maybe even compete for a starting spot, adding to their quality at this position.
Elsewhere, though, other than possible loans for Campagna and Facchineri, who ended 2021 on loan stints, there’s not much else in terms of movement expected to happen here, unless any surprise sales occur, as the ‘Caps appear pretty set at this position for now.
Needs: A starting or backup centre back
Central Midfielders: Caio Alexandre, Leonard Owusu, Russell Teibert, Michael Baldisimo, Janio Bikel, ((Damiano Pecile))
But that leads us to the most interesting position for the ‘Caps this offseason, and that’s in midfield, where there is both a logjam, but also some room for them to improve.
In terms of quality, you’d certainly be good with this group heading into next year, as Alexandre looked very good before a season-ending injury in the summer, while Owusu, Teibert, Baldisimo and Bikel have all proved to be very solid MLS players on their day, but the ‘Caps could also stand to improve here, too.
With just 2 spots open on the pitch, it feels strange to suggest that they might need a new player, especially considering that they’ve already got 5 players here, but one thing the ‘Caps learned in their playoff loss is that if they’re going to keep running a double-pivot in midfield, the more punch they can have there, the better.
Alexandre can provide that, no doubt, and as can the others in flashes, too, but with the ‘Caps only able to bring in a Young DP this offseason (they’re maxed out on Young Money players and DPs), midfield is the area where bringing in such a player would make the most sense, at least other than centre back.
To be fair, they could also give Pedro Vite a shot here, as the promising youngster has played as #8 before (even though he’s more of a #10), but if not, going via the Young DP route would make a lot of sense.
Otherwise, though, if the ‘Caps manage to bring someone in here, that’d mean that someone would have to go, and while that could mean sending out Baldisimo on loan, with Teibert going nowhere, that would probably mean a departure for either Owusu or Bikel.
It wouldn’t be an easy choice, as both have skillsets that are valuable to the ‘Caps, but with both players filling international spots, and being 2 of the team’s higher-paid players, it wouldn’t make sense to keep both around in backup roles.
If nothing happens in terms of bringing in another midfielder, all of this would be moot, but if they do, keep an eye there, as it seems like a spot where movement might make the most sense.
Lastly, while Pecile remains under contract with the ‘Caps, seeing that he has been having a good loan spell with Venezia, where he’s been captaining their U19 team, and has a purchase option to return there, it feels unlikely we see the 19-year-old return to Vancouver, although that could always change.
Needs: A starting central midfielder
Attacking Midfielders: Ryan Gauld, Pedro Vite, Ryan Raposo ((Simon Colyn))
Elsewhere, we’ve then got the #10 position, which honestly might be one of the most straightforward spots on this roster.
Headlined by Gauld, who came halfway through the year and lit MLS alight, helping drag the ‘Caps into the playoffs, earning a Newcomer of the Year nomination for his troubles, the ‘Caps are more than set at this position now.
Especially with the arrival of Vite, that gives the ‘Caps 2 solid options at the position, which after years of not having any real #10s, is a nice change.
So here, the big thing to watch will be the future of Raposo, who would seem destined to head out on loan, at least given how tough it might be to grab minutes here. If Vite ends up being deployed as more of a #8, that could change, but if not, you just feel like Raposo could use a loan, just finding himself on the fringes of this squad.
Lastly, Colyn is also an option here, but on a loan stint with PSV Eindhoven, where he’s been playing on their U23 team in the Dutch division, he feels unlikely to return, especially considering that they’ve got a purchase option, although much like with Pecile, you can’t close the door on a potential return until that’s officially exercised.
Forwards: Brian White, Cristian Dájome, Lucas Cavallini, Déiber Caicedo, Theo Bair, David Egbo, Kamron Habibullah, (Tosaint Ricketts)
That leaves us with another interesting position, however, and that’s the forward one, where there looks to be a lot of bodies fighting for just 2 spots.
Based on what we saw to end the year, so far White and Dajome lead the race here, having led the team with 12 goals and 11 goals (all competitions), respectively, but the door is still wide-open for a battle for spots.
For example, how much longer can Caicedo, who in his first year abroad at 21, scored 5 goals and 5 assists in 2021, stay on the bench? And what to do with Cavallini, the ‘Caps record-signing, who despite his struggles through his first 2 years in Vancouver (where he has had just 9 goals), can still be a quality player on his day?
And that’s without talking about the likes of Bair, who is fresh off of a productive loan stint in the 2nd division of Norway with HamKam, helping them secure promotion to the top flight, or Egbo, the promising 2021 SuperDraft pick who had a pretty strong loan stint to Phoenix Rising in the USL, as well as Ricketts, a MLS Cup winner, and Habibullah, a very highly rated 18-year-old.
So here, movement outwards seems a lot likelier than any movement inwards, especially if Ricketts does return (although based on reports that emerged Thursday, you can’t rule out the possibility of any movement inwards…)
That likely would suggest more loans for Bair and Egbo, especially given the fact that the latter fills an international spot, and the former would likely have a good option waiting for him in the Norweigan top flight with a return to HamKam (and Ebgo will have good suitors of his own).
Otherwise, though, the big question would then be what happens to Cavallini? When you remove price from the equation, it wouldn’t be the worst thing to see him fight with Caicedo, Dajome and White for minutes, but do the ‘Caps really want their second-highest paid player in a depth role?
Because of that, it just makes it feel likely that he could be on the move, as he’s the most obvious name to help clear out this logjam at striker, and could fetch a decent return.
Lastly, the other interesting decision to be made will be with Habibullah, who you’d have to imagine either goes on loan, or stays with the first team but gets extended stints with the U23 team in their first year in the new MLS 2nd division (an option that could also be explored with Boehmer, Campagna and Facchineri, too), but either way, the ‘Caps will look to keep the long-term future in mind with anything they do with him.
So overall, however, there’s still a decent amount of decisions that the ‘Caps will have to make before they arrive to first kick in February of next year, be it in terms of the players that they’ll bring in, but also those they ship out, either permanently or on loan.
But the nice news is that their offseason to-do list is quite short compared to prior years, where they were constantly shipping out and bringing in a whole swath of players, leading to high numbers of turnover.
Now, though, they’ve got a bit more stability, and that’s key, as that’ll allow them to build some continuity heading into 2022, which is something that can only be good based on how the backend of this season went for them.
Keep an eye on the expansion draft:
Now, though, the ‘Caps will want to keep their eye on a few things over the next weeks, as once the playoffs are over, MLS will both open free agency and hold their year-end drafts, including their waivers draft, re-entry drafts, and with the entry of Charlotte FC into MLS this year, an expansion draft.
And while the other drafts could see the ‘Caps both gain and lose players (Boehmer is eligible for waivers, while Gaspar looks to be eligible for the re-entry draft), as well as free agency (for which Ricketts and Rose are eligible), the big one to keep an eye on is the expansion draft.
For that, each team that didn’t lose a player in the latest expansion draft (Austin FC at the beginning of this year) will have to submit a list of protected and available players, and given that the ‘Caps didn’t lose anyone to Austin, that means that they’re among the teams who could lose a player (Charlotte gets to pick 5 players, with a maximum of 1 per team).
So that means that the ‘Caps will be able to protect 12 players (all homegrown and Generation Adidas players are exempt), leaving everyone else exposed to be picked.
Because of that, it’ll be interesting to see what the ‘Caps choose to do here. Do they protect players such as Cavallini, who might be on the outside of the starting XI right now, but has a lot of value? Or do they elect to keep roster players?
Seeing that, here’s an early projection of what their list could look like.
Exempt: Thomas Hasal, Isaac Boehmer, Theo Bair, Kamron Habibullah, Michael Baldisimo, Matteo Campagna, Gianfranco Facchineri, Simon Colyn, Damiano Pecile, Ryan Raposo
Protected: Maxime Crepeau, Erik Godoy, Ranko Veselinovic, Cristian Gutierrez, Caio Alexandre, Russell Teibert, Ryan Gauld, Pedro Vite, Brian White, Cristian Dajome, Deiber Caicedo, Lucas Cavallini
Unprotected: Evan Newton, Jasser Khimiri, Florian Jungwirth, Derek Cornelius, Jake Nerwinski, Andy Rose, Javain Brown, Bruno Gaspar, Marcus Godinho, Leonard Owusu, Janio Bikel, Patrick Metcalfe, David Egbo, Tosaint Ricketts
And seeing that, it should be pretty straightforward for the ‘Caps, although there are some interesting decisions.
For example, do the ‘Caps protect Lucas Cavallini? It feels like they will, so we say yes, although you never do know, as it’s hard to know if Charlotte would want to bring him in as one of their DPs.
Otherwise, do the ‘Caps protect Javain Brown? Here, we say no, but that’s because he takes up an international spot, which might scare off Charlotte from picking him, especially considering that it cost them a record amount of GAM just to acquire 2 last month (although them having 2 more now does also open up the door to select Brown).
Lastly, another question has to be to see who the ‘Caps choose to protect between their centre backs. Veselinovic feels like a lock, but do they leave Godoy unprotected in fear of injuries? Or do they risk him being picked to protect someone like an Owusu, Bikel or Brown?
It’s going to be interesting to see, but either way, there’s probably the chance that the ‘Caps will have to expose some good players, and while it’s unlikely any of them are picked, that chance always remains there.
All of a sudden, though, it makes their decision to keep some extra right back depth around (in case Brown is picked) and midfield depth (to potentially sway Charlotte to take one of their players there) make sense, as it’s possible that they had this process in mind when doing that.
Either way, some movement promises to happen here, in one form or another, and that’ll be interesting to keep an eye on as the days tick down towards that.
So overall, while not a lot actually happened with the ‘Caps end-of-year roster decisions, there are still some intriguing moves to point out, as there always is.
Plus, when you consider what’s coming up with the expansion draft, among other things, this is just the start of what is to come for the ‘Caps this offseason, and that was clearly on their minds with these decisions.
And that’s exciting. It might not be the sort of ‘silly season’ we’ve been used to seeing from them the last few years, but there is still movement on the way.
Thursday was just the start of that, and over the next few weeks, we’ll only see more, as this offseason really starts to get going, setting the path for the ‘Caps as they push towards what they hope is a big 2022 season.