This is part four of a four-part series reviewing the 2016 season for Vancouver Whitecaps FC and Whitecaps FC 2.
2016 was a busy season for Vancouver Whitecaps FC in terms of transfers and signings.
With a strong 2015 season behind them, it looked like head coach Carl Robinson would only need a few key additions, a goal-scoring striker and a new right-back mainly, to put together a championship winning squad.
Looking back now, however, it is apparent that’s not what happened for the ‘Caps. Their woes in front of goal were not solved and 2015’s airtight defence sprung many leaks throughout the season.
With hindsight always being 20/20, now is the perfect time to look back on the Whitecaps’ key transfers and signings in 2016 and see just how well they went over.
Masato Kudo (Transfer from Kashiwa Reysol)
When the signing of Masato Kudo was announced in late December 2015, ‘Caps fans rejoiced.
Kudo came to the Whitecaps from Japan with a great resume and looked to possibly be the end of Vancouver’s scoring problems.
However, it was not meant to be.
Kudo got off to a slow start, struggling to adjust to MLS play in the early part of the season. To make matters worse, just when it looked like the Japanese striker was starting to find his feet and pick up form, he collided with Chicago Fire goalkeeper Matt Lampson and suffered a broken jaw.
While Kudo miraculously recovered quickly, he was never able to regain form. He finished the MLS season with two goals before his contract was mutually terminated at the end of the season.
Christian Bolanos (Transfer from Deportivo Saprissa)
Christian Bolanos, the Costa Rican right winger, is arguably the best acquisition the Whitecaps made in 2016.
It did not take Bolanos long to get accustomed to life in MLS and quickly found his way into Carl Robinson’s starting eleven.
In a season where the ‘Caps struggled to find the scoresheet, Bolanos was able to shine, scoring five times in MLS play, leaving him tied with Kekuta Manneh for second in MLS goals on the Whitecaps.
One of the biggest skills he brought to the team was the ability to set-up plays. With the Costa Rican’s play making skills allowing him to lead the team with eight assists in MLS play.
With his first MLS season under his belt now and continued strong performances in international play, Bolanos looks to be a potential star for the Whitecaps going forward. His 2016 performance gives him a solid base to build upon.
Fraser Aird (Loan from Rangers FC)
With reliable right back Steven Beitashour shipped off to Toronto FC and loanee Jordan Smith the only other right back in the squad, Carl Robinson looked to Rangers youth product and Canadian international Fraser Aird.
Aird got off to a slow start in MLS play but began to improve as an attacking fullback as the season wore on.
He mostly split the right back duties with Smith, but became Robinson’s go-to player in the latter half of the season, although injuries harmed his development.
While Robinson sought to keep Aird permanently upon completion of the loan, the young Canadian decided to continue his career with his boyhood club, Rangers FC.
Cole Seiler (SuperDraft Pick)
For the third straight SuperDraft, the Whitecaps selected a centre back, opting to go with Cole Seiler from Georgetown.
While Seiler only played two MLS games, he was able to feature extensively in USL play for Whitecaps FC 2 playing 14 games.
Seiler’s path to MLS starter will be difficult, however, with the likes of Kendall Waston, Tim Parker, David Edgar, and Christian Dean ahead of him in the depth chart. More strong performances in the USL can increase his odds of success.
Blas Perez (Trade with FC Dallas)
With Robert Earnshaw’s retirement, the ‘Caps looked for a similar super sub that could come in late in games to score big goals, turn losses to draws and draws to wins. Robinson found that in Perez.
Although the ‘Caps gave up Mauro Rosales, who was essentially replaced with Bolanos, in the trade, it looked like the Whitecaps found their Earnshaw replacement.
Unfortunately for the ‘Caps, however, Perez was not as successful as hoped.
In five starts and 17 substitute appearances in MLS play, Perez only scored two goals for the ‘Caps.
With the lack of success from Perez, Robinson decided not to renew his contract at the end of the season.
Caleb Clarke (Option Declined)
Andre Lewis (Option Declined)
Ethen Sampson (Option Declined)
Robert Earnshaw (Retired)
Mauro Rosales (Trade with FC Dallas)
Steven Beitashour (Trade with Toronto FC)
Gershon Koffie (Trade with New England Revolution)
Andrew Jacobson (Trade with New York City FC)
Although being listed as a mid-season acquisition, Andrew Jacobson joined the ‘Caps from NYCFC only one game into the season.
In an already crowded Whitecaps midfield, Jacobson quickly earned himself a spot in Robinson’s plans.
While Jacobson is mainly a central midfielder, his versatility allowed himself to shine in various roles on the pitch. For example, he was selected to the MLS Team of the Week when he played as a centre back against the Houston Dynamo.
Scoring two goals, equaling the goal scoring tallies of three of the VWFC’s strikers, combined with his strong defensive play allowed Jacobson to make a difference in both the offensive and defensive aspects of the game.
With Pedro Morales, who mostly played as a central midfielder in 2016, leaving the squad, Jacobson should be expected to take on an even bigger role beside Matias Laba in the Whitecaps midfield going forward.
David Edgar (Transfer from Birmingham City FC)
David Edgar was the first half of the Canadian duo signed by the ‘Caps on July 11th along with Marcel de Jong.
Although he joined a Whitecaps team with a wealth of centre backs already, Edgar was able to find himself fighting his way into Carl Robinson’s plans, starting eight games over the latter half of the MLS season.
Edgar made an immediate impact in his first game with the ‘Caps scoring in the 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace. Although his only goal of the year came in the friendly, he impressed Robinson, finding himself in the first CONCACAF Champions League game against Central FC.
While the ‘Caps still have a wealth of talent at centre back heading into 2017, a reliable backup, with the added bonus of being a domestic player, is just what Vancouver needs to ensure their depth in case of busy schedules or an injury crisis.
Marcel de Jong (Transfer from Ottawa Fury FC)
Along with fellow Canadian David Edgar, Marcel de Jong joined the ‘Caps in the summer to not only provide left back depth to Jordan Harvey but to serve as a versatile option for anywhere in the midfield.
While de Jong didn’t have a wealth of MLS playing time in 2016 with five starts and two substitute appearances, he played an important depth role, starting in two Champions League games.
He struggled to challenge Harvey for MLS starts at left back, like Edgar, but he provided important depth with the domestic bonus. For a team like the ‘Caps who rely heavily on international players and are frequently up against the international player limit, de Jong has an important role to play in the squad.
Although Harvey looks to have the starting job again going into 2017, don’t count de Jong out. The Canadian should be expected to challenge Harvey more for minutes in the upcoming season and it would not be shocking to see him playing various roles in the midfield, as well.
Alphonso Davies (Promoted from Whitecaps FC 2)
Alphonso Davies, the then 15-year-old Canadian-Liberian wonderkid, was the first promotion from Whitecaps FC 2 to Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
After quickly rising through the U-16, U-18, and then USL ranks, Davies proved himself to Carl Robinson with four strong appearances with the senior team in the Canadian Championship.
In MLS play, despite not scoring in his two starts and six substitute appearances, Davies caught the eye of scouts from English behemoths like Manchester United and Liverpool.
The second-youngest player to start an MLS game, behind only the infamous Freddy Adu, looks to be something special.
If the ‘Caps are able to keep hold of arguably their best homegrown talent to date, expect Davies to quickly find himself in the starting eleven and as a star player for Vancouver and possibly, MLS as a whole.
Fabian Espindola (Trade with DC United)
Fabian Espindola spent very little time with the Whitecaps, being brought in from DC United on July 20th and being shipped out to Club Necaxa of Mexico on July 26th.
Despite never playing a game for the ‘Caps, Espindola was originally acquired to replace Octavio Rivero and supplement Masato Kudo as the main striker for Vancouver, but an offer from the Mexican club cut his time with the Whitecaps short.
Fabian, we hardly knew ye.
Gilles Barnes (Trade with Houston Dynamo)
After Espindola’s incredibly short time with the club, Robinson again turned to the trade market to bring in a new striker, this time Jamaican Gilles Barnes.
Barnes was a much more permanent addition to the club than Espindola, playing in 10 of the ‘Caps final games of the season and starting eight of the 10.
He matched Rivero’s goal total of two goals in two fewer games and became an important part of the Whitecaps starting eleven for the latter part of the season.
Both of Barnes’ goals came in the final game of the Whitecaps season against the Portland Timbers proving his worth to the club.
With the Whitecaps still seriously lacking in strikers, as only Barnes, Erik Hurtado, and Kyle Greig are currently signed, if Robinson does not delve into the transfer market for a new striker, Barnes will be getting a larger share of the playing time in 2017.
Brett Levis (Promoted from Whitecaps FC 2)
Brett Levis was the second player to benefit from WFC2 as, after impressive performances with the USL side throughout the season and strong performances with the senior team on loan during Champions League matches, he was rewarded with an MLS contract on August 23rd.
The bulk of the Canadian left back’s appearances came in the USL in 2016, as he scored four goals in 24 matches, an impressive tally for a full back.
Unfortunately, when he made his first MLS appearance in the final game of the 2016 season as a late substitute, despite only spending six minutes on the field, Levis suffered an ACL tear in his right knee.
On the positive side, he underwent a successful surgery on November 8th. With the MLS season around the corner, hopefully the young Canadian will be back to full health soon and ready to challenge for minutes in MLS and the USL again.
Darren Mattocks (Trade with Portland Timbers)
Octavio Rivero (Transfer to Colo-Colo)
After a poor start to 2016, scoring only two goals in 9 starts and 12 appearances, it was determined that Octavio Rivero was not earning his Designated Player salary and was shipped off to Colo-Colo, a historic Chilean club.
Despite a strong 2015, leading the club with 10 goals, Rivero was unable to find his past form.
With Designated Player spots limited to only three per team, better performances were expected from the Uruguayan striker.
The ‘Caps have yet to find a striker to fully replace Rivero, however, his transfer at the time seemed necessary.
Sam Adekugbe (Loan to Brighton and Hove Albion)
Fabian Espindola (Transfer to Club Necaxa)
Deybi Flores (Loan to CD Motagua)
Pa-Modou Kah (Joined Whitecaps FC 2 as Player/Coach)
Sheanon Williams (Trade with Houston Dynamo)
Upon the completion of the loans of Fraser Aird and Jordan Smith, the Whitecaps were in desperate need for a right back, which Robinson found in Sheanon Williams.
Although he may not be the quality of a full back like Steven Beitashour, Williams brings a solid MLS resume to the ‘Caps having spent seven seasons in Major League Soccer with the Philadelphia Union and Houston Dynamo.
While he shouldn’t be expected to turn a lot of heads, he is a solid, reliable right back that Vancouver needs after a somewhat chaotic season with loanees Aird and Smith splitting the duties in 2016.
Spencer Richey (Promoted from Whitecaps FC 2)
On December 19th, Carl Robinson promoted a pair of Americans from WFC2 to the senior team: Spencer Richey and Kyle Greig.
Despite strong competition for the job of WFC2 starting goalkeeper in Sean Melvin and Marco Carducci, Richey took the reigns and kept hold of them, playing in 14 regular season USL games and all three playoff games.
He led WFC2 with a .731 save percentage and a 1.29 goals against average in the regular season and helped to guide the ‘Caps to the Western Conference finals.
Moreover, he guided the ‘Caps through two CONCACAF Champions league games, allowing only one goal in his two games as goalkeeper.
With Marco Carducci on his way out from the senior team, Richey’s role in 2017 will depend on the fate of current backup Paolo Tornaghi. Tornaghi was expected to leave the club prior to the 2016 season but was re-signed at the last minute, forcing Carducci to be the third-choice goalkeeper again.
If Tornaghi leaves, however, Richey will have a big role to play in the upcoming season. In this case, expect Richey to feature heavily in the Canadian Championship and possibly in some early Champions League knockout games, as well.
Kyle Greig (Promoted from Whitecaps FC 2)
Kyle Greig, the other December 19th promotion, captained WFC2 to the USL Western Conference final and an increase of 15 points from the 2015 regular season.
The captain led WFC2 in scoring with 11 goals in 27 regular season games, tied for eighth in USL scoring, with an additional two goals in his three playoff appearances.
Beyond captaining the USL side to a strong season, Greig made good use of his loan appearances with the senior team, debuting against Crystal Palace and coming on as a substitute in three Champions League games, earning himself an assist against Sporting Kansas City.
With the ‘Caps serious lack of forward depth and only Barnes and Hurtado in front of him in the striker depth chart so far, Greig has a big opportunity to get minutes in MLS in 2017.
Whether he is ready for MLS or not is to be seen, but if his USL appearances are any indication, expect excitement from the big American.
Pedro Morales (Option Declined)
Despite leading the ‘Caps with nine goals in 2016, captain Pedro Morales was playing nowhere near a player of his capacity and caliber should have been.
Morales was incredibly inconsistent throughout the season and the only time he seemed effective was from the penalty spot.
After being moved from his old position as central attacking midfielder to central midfielder, the $1.4 million earning Designated Player looked like a fraction of his old self.
His leadership capabilities also waned significantly, as exemplified by his exchange with David Ousted in training near the end of the season when Ousted asked if Morales had “checked out” or not. Based upon Morales’ play throughout the season, it looked like he had checked out and was only going through the motions.
In the end, Morales was more harm to the team than good, which is unacceptable, especially when occupying a valuable Designated Player spot.
It was an unfortunate way for Morales’ Whitecaps career to end, but it only made sense for the ‘Caps to rid themselves of the Chilean heading into 2017.
Fraser Aird (Loan Return)
Marco Carducci (Option Declined)
Blas Perez (Out of Contract)
Jordan Smith (Loan Return)
Masato Kudo (Mutual Contract Termination)
Although the Whitecaps improved their squad from 2015 on paper, in reality, 2016 was far from the best season for Vancouver.
Looking forward to the 2017 MLS season, the roster looks far from promising, however.
With no goal-scoring striker to replace Rivero and no central attacking midfielder to replace Morales, the ‘Caps have a lot of holes to fill before they can be considered a playoff contender, let alone an MLS Cup contender.
With the season officially starting on March 5th against the Philadelphia Union, Carl Robinson doesn’t have long left to patch the gaping holes in the line-up.
If he doesn’t, however, 2017 looks very bleak for the ‘Caps.