If you’ve been a fan of the Vancouver sports scene over the past few decades – Whitecaps, Canucks, Lions, and so forth – you’re probably familiar with Brian Burke, then-general manager of the Canucks, and his infamous declaration that Vancouver was a “goalie graveyard” – literally, a place where goalies went to watch their career die.
You can debate the merits of that statement all you want (and many people, including our fearless editor, have). True or not, the moniker stuck. The Canucks were defined for a generation as a “goalie graveyard” until the coming of Roberto Luongo dispelled the moniker.
Fast forward to the present day and, a short hop down the road, BC Place and the Vancouver Whitecaps are bringing back that career death trend. This time, though, it’s not the player defending the net; rather, it’s the player tasked with putting balls into it.
That’s right. I’m calling it now: the Vancouver Whitecaps are a striker graveyard.
With unnerving consistency, strikers arrive in Vancouver with decent track records of scoring. Expectations rise, the results come in and the goals don’t. The formerly celebrated striker is booed and ridiculed, eventually leaving in a cloud of ignominy.
You don’t have to look far for evidence.
Octavio Rivero arrived in Vancouver in 2015 with a solid goal-scoring CV from South America. He marked the opening of the season with five goals in six games, setting off fireworks and preemptive celebrations among the fanbase.
Rivero would then go ice cold, scoring only five more times in the final 28 games of 2015. After the first 12 games of 2016 saw Rivero net a palty two goals, the forward was transferred to Colo Colo in Chile, where he has since scored 10 goals in 24 appearances.
All right, so that’s one player, you may well be saying. One player suffering through a scoring slump does not a graveyard make. True enough.
In that case, let’s cast our gaze back across the MLS-era ‘Caps of seasons past and see what instances of poor form (or just poor signings) we find, shall we?
A certifiable MLS villain, Perez carried a reputation more for embellishment, simulation and other forms of gamesmanship than scoring goals by the time he arrived in Vancouver. He managed only two goals in his single season here, though one was a spectacular golazo.
A Panamanian international, Perez racked up 42 goals in 113 caps for his country largely by beating up CONCACAF minnows. He has since left MLS for Central and South America.
Earnshaw is the only player ever to have scored a hat trick in all of England’s top four leagues (Premiership, Championship, League One, League Two), two English cups (League Cup, FA Cup) and for his country.
Despite this, he was scarcely used, playing in nine games for the ‘Caps – all substitute appearances – for less than an hour of total playing time. Earnshaw scored twice before retiring from the game.
Sebastien Le Toux
Beloved in Philadelphia, Le Toux showed up in Vancouver in 2012 and scored on his debut. The forward/winger managed only three more goals before being traded to the New York Red Bulls in the middle of the 2012 season.
Le Toux posted a single goal in 14 New York appearances, eventually returning to Philadelphia for 113 more appearances and 25 goals.
The draft picks
A second-overall pick, Mattocks came as advertised with blistering pace and impressive vertical prowess.
His rookie year saw the Jamaican net seven goals in 21 appearances – a number that would unfortunately be his best in MLS to date. In three further years with Vancouver, Mattocks scored 12 goals in 72 league matches and picked up a few injuries along the way.
Mattocks would be traded to the Portland Timbers in 2016, where he has since scored two goals in 31 appearances.
The American hype train never stopped for Manneh during his time in Vancouver, despite the Gambian-American only scoring 22 goals in 101 appearances for the ‘Caps. Manneh split time between the wing and forward, so deployment perhaps was an issue here. Regardless, injuries took their toll on Manneh, limiting him to 17 games in 2016.
Manneh was traded this season to the Columbus Crew, where he scored his first goal after six appearances and further injury trouble.
Drafted alongside Manneh with Vancouver’s consecutive first round picks in 2013, Hurtado posted goose eggs in the 2013 and 2015 seasons for goals. In fairness, his 2015 season was shortened due to a loan to Norwegian club Mjøndalen.
The oft-maligned forward did score five goals in 30 appearances in 2014 and two in 24 in 2016. Injuries have limited Hurtado to four appearances in 2017 with a single goal.
The really big deals
One of former head coach Martin Rennie’s prized Scottish imports, the former national team captain did not impress on arrival in 2012, scoring a mere two goals in 13 appearances.
While the Designated Player’s 2013 season was an improvement – eight goals in 21 games – the forward regressed in 2014 to three goals in nine games before returning to his native Scotland to rejoin Rangers. Miller has scored 32 goals in 96 appearances since.
Signed as a Designated Player in 2011 from Belgian club RAEC Mons with a ton of hype and expectations, Jarju played ten games and scored zero goals. He is widely considered to be Vancouver’s worst DP signing of all time.
Jarju would return to RAEC Mons and score 16 goals in 68 matches, bringing his total haul for the Belgian side to 50 goals in 167 games. Jarju now plays for Sporting Hasselt in Belgium, where he has seven goals in 42 matches.
The Whitecaps’ first Designated Player, Hassli instantly won over fans with highlight reel strikes, including arguably the greatest Whitecaps goal of their MLS era.
With ten goals in 26 appearances, Hassli almost smoothed over the disaster that was the inaugural MLS campaign and left fans salivating for more. He promptly cratered, scoring only twice in 18 games the following season before being traded to Toronto FC, where he scored three goals.
Hassli was traded again, this time to FC Dallas, before leaving MLS for the NASL.
Diminutive in figure, divisive in deeds, Camilo brought the eyes of the soccer world to Vancouver with his MLS Golden Boot-winning 2013 campaign.
Prior to 2013, Camilo was under intense scrutiny for an average 2011 (12 goals in 32 games) and a worrying 2012 (5 goals in 28 games). However, the “wee Brazilian” scored 22 goals in his final MLS season, eclipsing eventual league MVP Mike Magee on the final day.
In the aftermath, Camilo infamously forced a transfer to Liga MX team Queretaro, signing a contract in Mexico and posing in his new team’s jersey while still under contract with the Whitecaps. In his first season with Queretaro, Camilo tied for the Golden Boot with 12 goals. He then suffered a pair of serious injuries, leaving him out of action until 2016. Despite the setback, Camilo has scored 29 goals in 57 appearances in Mexico.
The present day
This brings us to current star forward and much-ballyhooed Designated Player loan signing Fredy Montero – a proven, heralded scorer in Major League Soccer with the Seattle Sounders, or so we were told at the start of the season.
Montero has five league goals so far in 2017, tied with teammate Cristian Techera. That’s not a Designated Player-calibre scoring rate, especially when you consider other DPs like Nemanja Nikolic (14 goals), David Accam (10), and David Villa (10) are banging in goals for fun.
Even more worryingly, four of Montero’s five goals came in a burst near the start of the season. One was a rebound off a missed penalty shot.
His fifth and most recent goal was the gimme against Atlanta United FC six(!) games later, scored after Tim Parker’s header was incorrectly ruled to have not crossed the goal line.
This is, to put it mildly, troubling.
Some might say Vancouver’s strike corps have been done wrong by poor formations or bad supporting pieces. Other place the blame squarely on the front office for not spending buckets of money on world-class strikers.
To both points, I’m not buying it.
In the former case, head coach Carl Robinson has shown this season a willingness to drop the 4-2-3-1 readily when the situation calls for it. To the latter point, appreciable amount of cash were used to bring in Montero, Yordy Reyna, and Bernie Ibini. Only a perplexing and vexing string of injuries have kept the ‘Caps from firing all their newly acquired weapons with wild abandon.
It’s a mystery, and a difficult one to crack at that. Until the Whitecaps figure it out, I have a sinking feeling we haven’t seen the last grave dug for a striker’s career in Vancouver.