The Vancouver Whitecaps made an under-the-radar move on Tuesday, picking up LAFC defender, Tristan Blackmon, via expansion side Charlotte FC at the 2022 Expansion Draft. In this, we break down the move from the ‘Caps perspective.
All things considered, it was a tidy bit of business.
Heading into the 2022 MLS Expansion Draft on Tuesday, no one was quite sure how things would go down, as the newest MLS side, Charlotte FC, got a chance to pick 5 players from their fellow MLS teams in a draft.
They wouldn’t get a free pick from all teams, as each of the 22 eligible sides got to protect 12 players, as well as all Generation Adidas players and homegrowns under the age of 25, (plus, 5 other teams were exempt after losing a player to Austin in last year’s expansion draft), but it was still a good chance for Charlotte to pick up some key building blocks for their new team to build around.
And for the teams who stood to potentially lose a player, such as the Vancouver Whitecaps, it was a worrying process, because while they couldn’t lose more than 1 player in this draft, they still left some very solid pieces unprotected, some of which would’ve hurt to see them depart.
So for the ‘Caps to emerge from the Expansion Draft not only unscathed, as Charlotte chose to go elsewhere with their 5 picks, but with a new player, too, they did pretty well for themselves there.
Thanks to a trade that saw them nab former LAFC defender, Tristan Blackmon, from Charlotte for a cool $475 000 in General Allocation Money (GAM), ($350 000 in 2022, $125 000 in 2023) the ‘Caps not only kept their roster intact, but added a good piece, too, one that fills a key need on their squad.
Because of that, they were able to get the ball rolling on their offseason plans much earlier than anticipated, making this a key move.
They’ve still got plenty of work to do now, both in terms of some players coming in and out, but by getting a key bit of business done, it makes that process all that much easier, which is nice to see.
Seeing that trade, though, the question then asked to be asked – what can one expect from Blackmon in a ‘Caps shirt?
And it’s a good one, one we’ll look to answer here, as we break down what was a surprise but shrewd move from the ‘Caps on Tuesday.
Blackmon: A versatile but solid piece
And to start, make no mistake, Blackmon is a very solid MLS player.
Able to play both as a centre back and as a right back, he’s been a regular on some good LAFC sides over the last few years, playing 64 games across 4 years for the club, including 18 games in 2019, when LAFC broke the then single-season MLS points record, and 22 games this past season.
For someone who’s only 25 years of age, that means he brings a surprising amount of MLS experience to this ‘Caps squad, too, which is always a welcome sight.
Because of that, there’s a lot to like with this move, at least from a surface-level perspective. But despite all of that, what about when you dive deeper?
And the good news is that everything adds up there, too.
Just take a look at his scouting report from Football Reference, which takes his numbers from the last year on a per 90 basis and compares it against his fellow positional peers (with a minimum of 450 minutes), giving an idea of how he ranks among players at his position in MLS.
First, we’ve got his full back chart, which you can see below.
And then secondly, we’ve got his centre back chart, which we’ve got here.
As seen in both, there’s a lot of green there, which is positive, indicating that in certain aspects, he was among the best in MLS this season.
Diving deeper, though, let’s take a look at his centre back card, because while he’s been a very solid full back over his time in MLS, with the ‘Caps looking to play a back 3 next year, one would expect Blackmon to slot in on the right of that back 3, instead of up at wing back.
Especially when you look at his heat map from last year, where he mostly played for LAFC as a very defensive full back, which is quite similar to that role, it makes a lot of sense to do so.
And when you do that, there’s a lot to like there.
Defensively, he might sit in just the 55th percentile for pressures with 9.93/90, and 19th percentile for tackles with 1.11/90, but he sits in the 88th percentile in interceptions with 2.85/90 and 94th percentile in blocks with 2.36/90, which indicates that he’s good at sitting back and reading plays, instead of being super aggressive.
There are perks to both kinds of centre backs, but considering that the ‘Caps like to defend zonally, that makes a lot of sense for them to be interested in someone like Blackmon, who appears to be suited to making the sort of reads required to make a system like that tick, instead of being someone who runs around chasing big tackles.
Otherwise, though, the other big thing that stands out is his play with the ball at his feet, which should be of great interest to the ‘Caps, who want to play out of the back more often in 2022.
Not only does he do a good job of limiting his clearances, sitting in the 21st percentile there with 3.75, but he’s a very good passer of the ball, too, finding himself in the 81st percentile in passes attempted with 56.11/90 and in the 99th percentile in progressive passes with 5.21/90.
That’s huge, because while he only sits in the 23rd percentile with an 81.7% passing percentage, that’s because he’s making a lot of hard passes, and making them at a pretty successful rate, too.
Otherwise, if the passing lanes aren’t there, he’s pretty good at carrying the ball forward, too, sitting in the 63rd percentile in progressive carries with 2.43/90 and in the 83rd percentile in dribbles completed with 0.56/90, which are pretty solid numbers for a centre back.
Lastly, he’s a pretty solid offensive threat, averaging 0.07 non-penalty goals per 90, which is in the 78th percentile, and 1.04 shot-creating actions per 90, which is in the 89th percentile. His Expected Goals (xG) numbers lag behind a bit, which is always something to monitor, but as a defender, that’s not too big of a deal, given how volatile set pieces can be.
Plus, with the ‘Caps being quite good at set-pieces last year, you have to imagine that they’ll find a way to weaponize Blackmon’s strengths offensively, anyways, which makes those numbers a slight bit less of a concern.
So overall, there’s a lot to like here from the ‘Caps perspective. In Blackmon, they’ve got a defender who appears to read the game quite well defensively, making a lot of good plays there, while also being quite strong on the ball, and a threat in the box.
That’s perfect for the ‘Caps and their system, so from that perspective, it’s a strong match, helping explain why they made this move.
Does the move make sense, though?
But while the ‘Caps will be happy to have brought in a player of Blackmon’s quality, that leads to the next question, which is – did they need to make a move like this?
And the answer is simple: yes.
By paying $475 000 GAM over 2 years, it’s a big amount of money, no doubt, but for a player of Blackmon’s calibre, it could be a steal, especially seeing the prices that some players around MLS have been going for these past few years.
Plus, this ticks off one of their needs, as the ‘Caps needed relatively cheap and domestic centre back depth, and while Blackmon’s 2021 salary of $203 000 isn’t exactly cheap, it isn’t bad for someone who is arguably a starting calibre defender, especially since he’s also a domestic player.
One thing that killed the ‘Caps this year was that while they had a very solid centre back group in Ranko Veselinovic, Erik Godoy and Florian Jungwirth (and you can throw Jake Nerwinski and Andy Rose in that list, too), the reality is that none of those guys, bar Nerwinski, could be relied upon to stay healthy on a consistent basis in 2021.
Because of that, they struggled in the playoffs, as those injuries caught up to them at the wrong time, highlighting the importance of the ‘Caps just finding another option or two to shore up the position, and in Blackmon, they’ve got the perfect option for that.
So while the price point and salary shows that this isn’t necessarily a cheap deal, if Blackmon plays up to his potential, this deal will be a steal, and that’s a risk worth taking for the Whitecaps.
It leaves a lot of money invested in the ‘Caps defence, as that’ll mean that they’ll have over $2 million dollars invested in their centre backs in salary, assuming Rose returns, but considering that it’s a historically undervalued position in MLS, it’s not the worst bet to make.
Plus, considering that they’ve got some very shrewd bargains at other positions, such as the salaries that goalkeeper, Maxime Crepeau ($277 500), and attackers, Cristian Dajome ($447 917), Brian White ($216 000) and Deiber Caicedo ($331 125), among others, that’s a risk they can afford to take for now.
They certainly might need to clear out some money elsewhere as they look to finish the rest of their offseason shopping, which includes shoring up their left back depth, finding a possible new central midfielder and maybe adding some forward depth, but for now, they aren’t in a terrible position to do those things. And that’s without factoring in moves that they could make outwards.
Because of all that, this Blackmon move makes a ton of sense, especially considering that there is still a lot of wheeling and dealing still to come for the ‘Caps, as they managed to tick off one of their needs without too much hassle.
As a result, it overall ended up being a pretty solid expansion draft for the ‘Caps.
Considering that there were some fears that they could lose a solid piece for nothing, to emerge with their roster unscathed and a new pickup is a pretty good day at the office, one that kicks off their offseason in solid fashion.
The work has just begun for the ‘Caps, but with their roster already mostly in place, they’re already in a good position relative to past offseasons, and this trade has just added to that.
So while this Blackmon trade might not be one that popped out for many when it happened, it has the potential to be a very solid deal, and allowed the ‘Caps to get the ball rolling on what they hope will be a productive next month and a bit before preseason kicks off in January of next year.
Cover Photo via: DEVIN L’AMOREAUX, JARED MARTINEZ, MATTHEW STITH/MLS