Dos Santos unable to reel in prized fish ahead of MLS Transfer Deadline

Vancouver Whitecaps manager Marc Dos Santos was out with his lure and rod on Wednesday but ultimately came back empty-handed, with the luck of the sea not turning with his Caps on the night. While a lot of it may have been circumstantial, with his bait not being enough to get any names to bite, it did little to appease a disappointed fanbase, who was expecting the Caps to reel in a catch that would have supplemented a roster hungry for some big names. 

Dos Santos was frank in his assessment of what his team did during the MLS Summer Transfer Window, which officially came to a close on Wednesday, with his club unable to push through a signing or a trade that would boost a squad that has only won once in the past 2 and a half months. 

With his team coming close on a couple of moves, it instead proved to be a frustrating 11th hour for the Caps, who would be left to play the bridesmaid on a couple of potential trades. The biggest rumour, coming both from Vancouver and Montreal media, was that Vancouver was in serious negotiations with Montreal Impact forward Anthony Jackson Hamel, a 26-year-old Canadian International with 70+ games of MLS experience, as well as 9 caps for Canada.

 While the Caps already employ two expensive options at striker, with Fredy Montero and Joaquin Ardaiz both being brought in on DP level contracts in the offseason, Jackson Hamel seemed a good option, if not curious in terms of timing. With the pair of South Americans misfiring on the pitch, the Caps saw Jackson Hamel as a cheap alternative, with the striker having always scored despite limited minutes, leaving many to wonder what he could do if given a regular starting spot. 

So when reports came out on Wednesday that the Caps had pulled out of a possible deal last-minute due to disagreements over who would carry the bulk of Jackson Hamel’s salary for the remainder of the season, there were a lot of angry Caps fans, who felt the move was yet another example of cheap ownership denying the Caps of a quality player. With reports out of Montreal suggesting that the Caps were unwilling to pick up much of Jackson Hamel’s cheap salary (around $65 000 for the rest of the season) in a trade, it caused a lot of angst amongst many corners of Caps land. 

It also frustrated Dos Santos, who had heard of the rumours from many people he is close to, so he took the time to address things after training Thursday. 

“With Anthony Jackson Hamel, I was told, and I had calls from some people asking me about it, and I’ll tell you about this, the media has to be very careful to analyze what’s true and what’s not true,” Dos Santos said frankly to reporters. “It’s a lie, our interest in Jackson Hamel was that we enquired about it, we never moved forward for other reasons that don’t even have anything to do with the financial side because it didn’t make sense.”

“The reports I got didn’t even make sense from a cap perspective”

For a team in a precarious situation, it created unnecessary strife, with the club still recovering from a tough summer. It was expected the team could possibly be in playoff contention this season, but things went south in a hurry, but despite that, Dos Santos remains calm, as he has always preached patience with what had been termed a “rebuilding year” from the start. 

“I’m very confident in where we are going,” Dos Santos said of his team. “But for now we’re going to take some bullets, and I understand the frustration, but be frustrated with the real things, don’t be frustrated with lies.”

It’s been a less than ideal summer period for Dos Santos, who had long preached that this window was one that the club hoped to be active in, with the space left over from the winter moves expected to be filled by some impact names. While he did fill part of it with the shrewd loan and subsequent signing of Ali Adnan, there was still room for a big splash, if not more. 

Earlier in the window, the Caps looked ready to add another figure alongside Adnan, with South Korean striker Uijo Hwang being linked with a move to both Europe and the Whitecaps, but they were unable to negotiate a deal, with Hwang eventually making a move to Bordeaux in Ligue 1, with the French side paying out over 2 million dollars for his services. Dos Santos didn’t mention Hwang by name, but he spoke of his pursuit of the player, citing a want to go to Europe as a reason why things were unable to finally work out. 

“So what happened was that we went very hard to try and get a forward,” Dos Santos said of the pursuit. “I know the name came up that signed in Europe, that’s real, we were forcing for him, we tried, the owners were strong and committed to get him, but he (eventually) went to Europe.”

While the signing of Hwang would have required some serious roster reconstruction, as three strikers on a DP level salary is not feasible, he fit a profile that would have improved the team, and at 26, he is in the prime of his career. 

But while the pursuit of Hwang was widely shared news, the Caps had also made some under the radar moves to bring in a DP, apparently getting close to bringing in a player that would have put bums in seats. 

“In this window we tried to sign a DP,” Dos Santos said bluntly. “ A name that would have made fans happy, a name our owners forced for, but it didn’t work out, not because of money, but because of the choice of the player and in the moment he was in.”

Dos Santos has spoken candidly of these troubles in the past, which is a tough part of negotiating all over the world, but especially tough when you’re a smaller club in a league like MLS. Sometimes terms will be agreed between both clubs, but the player will have cold feet about the move, pulling out for various reasons. It goes the other way as well, with players also sometimes being denied moves with clubs holding out for various reasons, which adds an intriguing layer to the acquisition of new signings. 

But as frustrating to state that his club had fallen short of a player that would have boosted his team’s profile, the frankness with which he outlined the rumours was refreshing. While it was definitely not the first time that the Caps have been close to signing a big name, having Dos Santos outline the process that he went through is only positive, emulating something that many have accused this club of not having over the years: transparency. While many people will still bandy Dos Santos a liar, saying it’s all fluff, he has no reason to do so, and he’s known for being an honest man, but the criticism will be something he’ll have to continue to deal with, as people bring out their pain of the Caps past out on him. 

Despite all the close calls, the Caps did get some business done, shipping out both Felipe and Venuto, freeing cap space for both now and the future, where the Caps look to be busy. The midfield looks to be the biggest point of upgrade, with a need for an attacking midfielder as well as a box-to-box type remaining high. While it will take time to fill that hole, it’s something that Dos Santos remains committed to.  

Lucas Venuto was one of the dominoes to fall this window (Bryan Woodward)

“We want to bring guys in the long-term that make the team better,” Dos Santos said of possible moves. “We want a foundation that is better, guys that are better, that’s why we moved Felipe, that’s why we moved Lucas, it gave us a chance to better our profile, better our midfield, give us certain volume and creativity that can work with the forwards.”

“After that, nothing came on, we almost got a trade done, but the club we were working with sent the player someone else. Nothing came up in July that we felt was the right thing to do, besides that player we tried hard to get (something), and nothing worked out.”

They did also bring in one name, with Michaell Chirinos being brought in as a potential Venuto replacement, bringing speed and creativity on the wing. While his loan for the rest of the season presents an interesting option, with the Caps having an option to buy, but it remains to be seen how effective he will be. 

While Dos Santos would have liked to have been more active than just bringing in Chirinos this window, he understands that as part of MLS’s shifting recruitment profile, how he approaches signings may deviate from what others have perceived to be the norm. 

“If we look at the market, what I learned is that the market of July is the sexiest one,” he said. “Because we’re mixed with Europe, it’s Sane going there, Ronaldo going to Juventus, so we think it’s (a good) market, but it’s not the best market for MLS. For MLS, the best market is actually some leagues in South America, leagues that finish in December.”

“There’s a lot of things happening in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia that we’re very interested in now.”

While those players are part of a new trend that is starting to emblemize recruitment in this MLS 3.0-4.0 era, for Dos Santos it’s not just about the will of those players to come and prove themselves to MLS, but instead the similarity of the leagues calendars, with South American and North American leagues operating on similar schedules. 

“We feel that there’s a big adaptation for players coming from Europe,” Dos Santos continued. “Then they come in July they come from vacation, they need an adaptation for preseason again, and then the season ends earlier now”

So while the transfer fairy was unable to come around and bless fans with much this window, rest assured he and his scouting team will be scouring to find those players that will have a more seamless adjustment to MLS. He may flop in his assessment, and the team will continue to struggle next year, but at least it won’t be for a lack of trying. 

But until that happens, things are not all dark for Caps fans today, with Dos Santos saying things aren’t quite done yet. While the trade and transfer window is closed, teams are still open to negotiating with free agents, and it appears the Caps have brought one in themselves, with a couple of last-minute hurdles remaining before the player is officially announced. 

There are a couple of intriguing options on the Free Agent market, with players coming from all sort of pedigrees and having all sorts of level of experience, so it’ll be interesting to see who the player ends up being. While one option seems to suggest right back Mehdi Zeffane, who has been linked to Vancouver for much of this window, until anything becomes official, we will be left to wonder who the player exactly ends up being. For what it’s worth, Dos Santos expects that to be soon, also suggesting that the player could push the needle offensively, which seems to indicate a forward or midfielder, but it could be anyone.

“The player we did bring in will help us right now, giving us another option,” Dos Santos said of the signing. “It’s maybe not a long-term solution, but it’s a solution that can help us with another piece, another attacking piece for the rest of the season.”

 “He’s from outside (MLS),” Dos Santos finished before heading off. “I’ll learn more now, he’s gonna be here with the team on Monday, I think”

So while the big catch remains yet to be reeled in, the Caps can be confident in the fish they were able to catch, and the ones they were able to send to market. While this campaign will be unlikely to bring much in terms of on the field success, how they perform these next few months will be intriguing heading into what looks to be a crucial 2020 season. 

Update: This piece was scheduled to come out at 9:00 AM Friday. About an hour beforehand, the Caps announced that they had signed veteran Canadian striker Tosaint Ricketts, putting an end to the speculation.

“Tosaint is an experienced player who will have a fast adaptation period and provide us with another option for the remainder of this season,” said Dos Santos in a press release. “This move gives both our club and Tosaint an opportunity to evaluate as we continue to compete this season, as well as a platform for Tosaint to prove he can have a role on this team moving forward.”

Ricketts knows the league very well, having played nearly 75 matches in his last stint with Toronto FC, where he scored 15 goals. He’s fresh off a stint in Lithuania, where he scored 10 goals in 20 games with FK Suduva. While he is not a midfielder or a right back, the two areas that appear to need the most upgrading for the Caps, he adds a veteran face to the front line. The big question, however, is how Ricketts is going to fit into a crowded front line that already includes Theo Bair, Fredy Montero and Joaquin Ardaiz. One of those dominoes is going to fall, and with Ardaiz in on loan, he seems the likeliest to receive a big cut in playing time.

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