As the 2016 MLS Cup playoffs roll on without the Vancouver Whitecaps taking part, it’s time for the yearly review of what went wrong.
For head coach Carl Robinson and his staff – the majority of whom were signed to contract extensions – it starts and ends with personnel.
Throughout the year, Robbo was consistent in his mantra: this team has the talent to deliver. Unfortunately, the proof is in the pudding; they didn’t deliver. Oops.
Some of the responsibility for that shortcoming will be placed on the coaching staff. The rest will be put on the players themselves and it’s likely more than a few ‘Caps will have seen their last days in a white and/or blue kit.
Who’s a keep and who’s a cut? Who stays and who goes? Here’s my take.
(Naturally, this all assumes the players currently on the roster are interested in coming back. For example, if Jordan Harvey decides to pull a Steven Beitashour and follow the money out of Vancouver, suddenly the left-back situation is markedly different.)
The obvious keeps
|David Ousted||David Edgar||Marco Bustos||Masato Kudo|
|Jordan Harvey||Alphonso Davies||Kekuta Manneh|
|Brett Levis||Kianz Froese|
|Tim Parker||Andrew Jacobson|
|Cole Seiler||Matías Laba|
In the midfield, the Canadian trio of Marco Bustos, Alphonso Davies, and Kianz Froese will likely stay into the new year. Whether or not Bustos and Froese survive training camp is another question; they may end up seeing time with WFC2 if they don’t show enough to warrant a place in the first team.
Anyone questioning Davies, Matías Laba, and/or Nicolás Mezquida’s place in the team is insane.
David Ousted is still the uncontested number one goalkeeper for the squad, so he’s staying.
David Edgar, Tim Parker, and Cole Seiler are an excellent mix of veteran and up-and-comers in the centre of the defence.
On the left, the tireless Jordan Harvey – this year’s team MVP – and the bright light that is Brett Levis should be a great tandem to get the team safely through double-game weeks.
It’s slim pickings up front, with Masato Kudo the only out-and-out striker worth another season and Kekuta Manneh an optimistic “keep” if he can finally shake the injury bug.
The obvious cuts
|Paolo Tornaghi||Marcel de Jong||Deybi Flores||Giles Barnes|
|Christian Dean||Pedro Morales||Blas Pérez|
Sorry, Paolo Tornaghi. You’re a great guy and a very capable goalkeeper, which is why you shouldn’t be here in 2017. You should be starting for a team, not showing mountains of patience while you wait for table scraps.
I don’t like saying Marcel de Jong – a Canadian national team player who I have loudly lobbied for in the past – is an obvious cut. In fact, it kinda hurts. Unfortunately, De Jong didn’t play Harvey out of a job and that left-back position is starting to get crowded. Now, if he can suddenly learn right-back, whole new ball game. Right now, no.
Meanwhile, the injury-prone Christian Dean is coming towards the end of his Generation adidas contract (translation: he doesn’t count towards the salary cap now, but he will soon) with naught but poor luck to show for it. Sadly, that means he has to go. Ditto Jordan Smith and Deybi Flores, who quite simply are just not cut out for MLS.
Pedro Morales. We loved you and your land-it-on-a-dime long passes. You were, by dint of a string of favourable penalty decisions, this season’s top scorer. However, you also have injury trouble, you’re starting to show your age and your designated player salary is something of an albatross. Adios, capitan.
As for Giles Barnes and Blas Pérez, the former makes way too much money for his rate of production (6G in 24GP with HOU/VAN) and the latter is… well, I’ve already made it known how I feel about the guy.
The not-so-obvious ones
|Marco Carducci||Sam Adekugbe||Christian Bolaños||Erik Hurtado|
|Fraser Aird||Ben McKendry|
|Kendall Waston||Cristian Techera|
The signing of Levis puts the writing on the wall for Sam Adekugbe. One of those two players will be the understudy to Harvey; the other will be loaned out. It’s that simple. For the record, I would be happy with either.
The curious case of goalkeeper Marco Carducci centres on the best path forward for youth development. In short, is it better for a young goalkeeper to sit on the bench with the first team or share time with the other ‘keepers on the second team?
In an ideal world, Fraser Aird is secured either on another loan or a full transfer from Rangers for 2017 – assuming Rangers let him go, of course, hence the question mark. In a season of questions at right-back, Aird provided the fewest. He wasn’t perfect, but he showed a lot of upside. That counts for something.
Kendall Waston got another suspension in the season finale and will miss the opening match of 2017. Is that making me question his position on the team? Oh my, yes. Paying someone to sit in the press box after questionable physical play is not good business.
Andrew Jacobson is a solid veteran presence. Veterans need successors though, and I’m unsure as to whether or not Ben McKendry and Russell Teibert have what it takes to fill the box-to-box role.
Out wide, Cristian Techera was not same player this season as in 2015. He was, in a word, disappointing. On the salary he’s making, the Whitecaps cannot afford disappointment. I’ll cut Techera some slack because 2016 was a generally poor season across the board, but 2017 had better be the year of El Bicho.
Similarly, Christian Bolaños did not rise to the level of his pedigree. We were spoiled in Vancouver to have Y.P. Lee for as long as we did, showcasing just what a World Cup veteran is capable of doing when he owns his role. Bolaños impressed at times but was generally inconsistent.
Finally, we reach Erik Hurtado, which I’m sure has shocked many of you. Hurtado’s role in the team is a needed one, though it goes without saying a dozen or so goals would make Hurtado more attractive. Without a clear replacement or tactical idea in place, I’m hesitant to pull the trigger on dumping the former SuperDraft pick. Maybe another loan?
It will be a short offseason for the Whitecaps, despite not making the MLS playoffs. They will begin the Champions League quarter-finals against New York Red Bulls before the MLS season starts, sometime in late February/early March.