VANCOUVER, BC – It’s going to be a busy offseason for Vancouver Whitecaps FC after the club announced this past week that it had declined the contract options of eight players.
The team’s roster now stands at 19 players – Major League Soccer clubs have rosters between 28 and 30 players – meaning Whitecaps FC’s incoming head coach will have a major opportunity to put his stamp on the roster in advance of MLS First Kick in March.
There are a number of different player acquisition mechanisms the new coach could use to shape the squad, such as the upcoming MLS Re-Entry Draft, which will take place following the MLS Cup, the 2014 MLS SuperDraft in January, in which the 'Caps hold the third, seventh, and 30th picks, free agency, trade, or the graduation of Residency players.
In this two-part series, whitecapsfc.com will breakdown Vancouver’s current roster and examine what holes need to be filled this offseason. First up: we look at the club's goalkeepers and defenders.
Under contract (1): David Ousted
Breakdown: After joining Whitecaps FC from his native Denmark midway through the 2013 season, David Ousted took over as the team’s starting goalkeeper in August. In 13 appearances, the Danish shot-stopper recorded a team-high four clean sheets and posted a 4W-5L-3D record.
“I would put Ousted in the same category as Kenny Miller and other players coming into the league in that summer transfer window,” Whitecaps FC president Bob Lenarduzzi told reporters on Thursday. “There’s no doubt that it took him a little while to get settled in. I don’t think we saw the best of him but we’ve seen enough to feel that he’s someone who can be a top goalkeeper in this league.”
The club declined the contract options of its three other first-team goalkeepers: Joe Cannon, Brad Knighton, and Simon Thomas, so this is a position that will require some attention in the offseason. However, Lenarduzzi said it’s possible the team could investigate the possibility of bringing back one of the three keepers if the new coach is interested.
Another option is for the 'Caps to look within to add depth at the goalkeeping position, potentially with standout Residency goalkeepers Marco Carducci or Nolan Wirth. The club also has the MLS Homegrown rights for NCAA keepers Callum Irving and Sean Melvin.
WATCH: Behind the scenes with Young-Pyo Lee
Breakdown: With the retirement of Young Pyo-Lee, the biggest priority for Whitecaps FC should be to find a replacement at right back. The South Korean started all but five matches over the last two seasons so his presence will no doubt be missed.
Midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker filled in at right back on occasion this past season, but the Englishman’s contributions are felt much more in his natural midfield position so he should only be considered an emergency option.
Right back Gleg Klazura is also no longer with the club, which means the club will also need to look at some depth acquisitions. South Africa fullback Ethen Sampson, who trained with the first team this past season and played for Whitecaps FC’s Reserves and PDL squads, could be an option. They could also look at signing Ghanaian fullback Emmanuel Adjetey, another member of the ‘Caps PDL side who spent this past season on loan with Charleston Battery, though he’s naturally a left-sided player.
The rest of Whitecaps FC’s back line likely won’t require as much attention. At left back, MLS veteran Jordan Harvey took over the starter’s shirt after Alain Rochat was traded in June and emerged into one of the team’s most consistent defenders. Harvey started 23 straight matches up until the regular season finale, when he was suspended due to caution accumulation. In his absence, 18-year-old left back Sam Adekugbe made his MLS debut and didn’t look out of place, which gives the ‘Caps experience and youth at the position.
“Sam is not going to be given the opportunity to play just because he did well in the last game,” Lenarduzzi said. “He will need to come into training camp, work his backside off, respect the hierarchy in amongst the club, as will all the other kids coming from our Residency program, earn their spot and then retain their spot by doing well.”
Meanwhile, there are currently three centre backs under contract: Johnny Leveron, Carlyle Mitchell and Andy O’Brien, each who have proven to be dependable MLS starters. It also remains a possibility that out-of-contract captain Jay DeMerit could be re-signed, which would give the ‘Caps another strong option at the position.
After going down with a ruptured Achilles tendon in Vancouver's season opener, DeMerit returned to action in September and didn't appear to miss a beat – the 'Caps posted a clean sheet in each of his first two appearances. DeMerit, who started each of Whitecaps FC's final six matches, brought an added level of intensity to the back line, which seemed to trickle across the lineup. The decision on DeMerit’s future will be made once a new head coach is hired.
If the new coach deems it necessary to add more depth to the position, which would be hard to argue with given the international call-ups and injury woes Vancouver faced at centre back this past season, U-18 Residency defender and captain Jackson Farmer could be a prime candidate. Farmer was a regular fixture at first-team training sessions throughout the fall.
Whitecaps FC 2014 season tickets are now on sale and start at just $349, subject to applicable fees. The club is also offering a flexible range of additional products, including half-season packs, 5-packs, student season tickets, and a youth soccer half-season ticket. For more information on all Whitecaps FC ticket options, call 604.669.9283 ext. 2 or visit whitecapsfc.com/tickets.