Time Ticking: Breaking down how Alan Patrick’s links to the Vancouver Whitecaps highlights their growing need for DP #10

Reports came out on Thursday morning that the Vancouver Whitecaps were linked to Brazilian midfielder, Alan Patrick, from Shakhtar Donetsk. In this, we see what these reports might mean for Vancouver, as the ‘Caps need for a DP #10 continues to grow by the game. 

As the days tick by, the calls get louder. 

Now that the Vancouver Whitecaps have completed just over 20% of their 2021 MLS campaign, we can get a pretty good idea of what sort of team they are through 7 games of action, games in which they’ve shown to be quite the interesting side. 

They’ve been yet to play at full strength, as visa issues, injuries and quarantines have made it impossible for the ‘Caps to field their best squad so far in 2021, but despite that, they’ve given onlookers a pretty good idea of the sort of team they can be. 

Based on what we’ve seen, they’re certainly not a bad team. 

There is enough talent on the roster to compete for a playoff spot, and on their day, they can be quite the team to deal with for opponents. 

On the flip side, however, there are a lot of cracks to still be filled heading into the last 80% of this 2021 MLS season, which for the ‘Caps, who are currently on a month-long break, starts at the end of June, giving them some time to hit the restart button. 

The biggest of those cracks needed to be filled? 

A DP #10, giving the ‘Caps some much-needed chance creation in midfield and in the attack. 

Defensively, they’ve proven to be a solid unit on their day, but offensively, they’ve been nightmarish by most categories, except set-pieces, proving their need for someone to be the key that unlocks the door offensively in games. 

Anyone watching the team knows that, the ‘Caps brass knows that, heck, some of the players appear to know it. Nothing new there, as Vancouver’s recruitment department has been searching high-and-low for this player since the beginning of the year, knowing the value that sort of player could provide. 

There have been efforts made to make that signing happen, but approaches for #10s Otavio, Chiquinho, Jean Pyerre and Gabriel Pirani have all proven to be fruitless, leaving the ‘Caps empty-handed so far. 

So what’s next for the ‘Caps heading into the rest of the season? 

As we’ll outline here, no one’s quite sure, but as reports on the great wide web have suggested, some sort of solution will come one way or another, giving the ‘Caps what they need. 

When will that come? No idea, but as the numbers suggest, the ‘Caps need it to come pronto. 

The need for chance creation:

And when we say the numbers are concerning offensively, that is not an exaggeration. 

Through 7 games, the Whitecaps are tied for 6th-worst in MLS with 0.85 goals per game, which to be honest, is pretty generous considering they are tied for the league lead with 2 goals via the penalty spot. 

They’ve only got 1 goal via open play, which is 2nd-worst in the league, and only take an average of 9.2 shots per game, which is also 2nd-worst among their peers. 

But while they’re not shooting the ball much, that’s because they’re not getting much of an opportunity to do so, as they only average 47.9% of possession, which is 8th-worst in MLS, and they don’t spend much of that in the final third, as only 24% of their possession is in that area of the pitch, which is the 4th-lowest percentage in MLS. 

What’s interesting is that they actually do a good job of getting the ball on target in the final third, as 36.5% of their shots go on target, which is 4th-best in the league, but considering how little they shoot the ball, as their 3.6 shots on target per game sits 5th-worst, it shows where the problem lies.

All of that’s reflected in their advanced stats, as the ‘Caps are 6th-worst in Expected Goals (xG) per game with 1.13, and that’s when factoring in their blistering set-piece numbers, with their 0.54 xG per game off of set pieces placing them 7th-best in MLS. 

For example, when you just factor open play chance creation, they average a cool 0.59 xG per game from that phase of play, which is 3rd-worst in MLS, showing how big of a problem chance creation is for this team right now. 

No matter how you look at the numbers, they don’t paint a pretty picture for the Whitecaps offensively right now, giving a good idea of why they need a #10 so badly. 

To be fair, having someone like Ali Adnan back with the team would help, as the ‘Caps star left back has missed the start of the season through visa issues, but even then, it’s unsure how much damage he could do from a deeper position, when the ‘Caps issues mostly originate from their inability to crack into their opponents final third. 

That doesn’t mean that they can’t find a solution to at least try and fix this problem internally, as their conservative formation and hesitant style of play offensively isn’t helping, but there’s no doubt that this team could use someone who does a lot of that dirty work in terms of transitioning the ball forward. 

Ultimately, though, based on what the numbers suggest, this is why the ‘Caps need to use this break to at least tinkers with their tactics as well as find that #10, because if not, it could be a long season of praying to scrape through games 1-1 or 2-1.

Had there been a talent deficiency on the roster, that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, but it’s hard to look at this roster and suggest that they should play that way, especially when and if that #10 does finally make an appearance for the ‘Caps. 

A race against time: 

So they need that #10, nothing new there, but what’s the latest on that search? 

Time’s ticking, as MLS’s primary transfer window closes on Tuesday, June 1st, which means that if the ‘Caps fail to sign a #10 by then, they wouldn’t be able to sign a player until July 7th, which is the day the ‘Caps would play their 12th game of the season. 

And even if that player was signed right on the day the window opened, he’d still need to be registered, travel and get his visa in order, before then having to get up to speed with the squad once he’s in the fold, meaning that it wouldn’t be far-fetched to imagine them not suiting up until after the halfway point of the season. 

For a team that needs chance creation now, that’s not ideal. 

It isn’t necessarily their fault that their inquiries for some of the names mentioned earlier fell through, as there is a lot more business behind transfers than what people realize, but surely at this point they should’ve been able to find someone to bring in, right? 

Even if it’s not completely their guy, any sort of #10 could bring a big boost to this team, even if they have to slightly adjust their way of playing to integrate him in. 

According to ‘Caps Sporting Director, Axel Schuster, it’s something he’s well aware of, speaking

to JJ Adams of the Province a few weeks ago, but despite having that need, he’s trying to avoid using that desperation as a reason to rush, outlining the risks of doing so. 

 “I always think to do things rushed, if you are getting too desperate for one position or the need of one player, it’s always dangerous,” Schuster said. “It’s hard to correct mistakes if you do them in that moment.”

Despite that, he acknowledges that it’s something his team would’ve liked to have completed a long while ago, knowing the value of such a player. 

“We would like to do it as soon as possible so that the player can come here and train with us and adapt to us, and also be with us, and to help us as soon as he is ready.

But despite that, there’s an interesting wrinkle to note with the transfer deadlines. 

As noted by Adams in his piece, if the ‘Caps were to bring in that DP #10 in the secondary transfer window as opposed to the primary one, they’d save some money on the Salary Cap, as his budget charge would only be $306 250 if he signed after July 7th, as opposed to the $612 500 he’d count for if he were to sign before June 1st. 

Assuming that the ‘Caps wouldn’t be done wheeling and dealing after that move, that added bit of flexibility could allow them to add another good player if the right deal came about, giving them a tad bit more room to work with. 

But considering that the ‘Caps are the lowest-spending team in terms of wages in MLS, with a payroll of $8.7 million, meaning that they should be well under the cap unless they’ve completely misallocated their GAM and TAM on the salaries of some players. 

From what it sounds like, their patience is stemming more from the fact that they’re yet to lock down their guy, instead of bartering over dollars and cents, but it’s interesting to note the timing of these transfer windows, as they do add a bit of a wrinkle into this whole situation. 

If the ‘Caps could get their guy tomorrow, they would, but until then, they’re going to have to find some sort of solution to make something happen, because if not, they could be left with absolutely nothing. 

Does Alan Patrick offer a possible solution? 

And based on some of the rumours that emerged on Thursday morning, the ‘Caps are continuing to pursue new solutions, as Territorio MLS reported that Vancouver was looking to bring in Brazilian midfielder Alan Patrick from Shakhtar Donetsk as their #10. 

Upon first glance, there’s plenty to like there, as Patrick is a very skilled player, one who is fresh off a season where he scored 4 goals and added 8 assists in 21 games in the Ukrainian League, as his team fell just short to Dynamo Kyiv by finishing 2nd in the title race.

He had a decent season in European competition, as well, scoring 1 goal and 1 assist across 9 games of UEFA Champions League and Europa League action. 

Plus, based on what the numbers suggest, his European performances look even better when you dive into the underlying numbers, which show that he actually had quite the year for Shakhtar. 

Just take a look at this chart from FBref, which takes his numbers for Shakhtar in European competition over the past year (since they don’t track the Ukrainian League on FBref), comparing him to all players at his position in the top 5 leagues and European competition. 

As the numbers show, he’s a transition monster, sitting in the 79th percentile in assists, 89th percentile in Expected Assists (xA), 84th percentile in non-penalty xG+xA, 70th percentile in shot-creating actions, 86th percentile in progressive passes, 97th percentile in progressive carries, and 98th percentile in dribbles completed. 

Considering these stats are only from European competition, where his team had to play the likes of Real Madrid, Inter Milan, Borussia Monchengladbach and Roma, they look even better, showing that he was among the most creative midfielders in Europe this year. 

That’s reflected by FBref, who lists Luka Modric, Frenkie De Jong, Ilkay Gundogan and Toni Kroos as some of his closest statistical comparables, giving an idea of how good he was at progressing the ball up the pitch. 

So statistically, all of the boxes are ticked for the ‘Caps in their quest to find a needed creative player, as Patrick would definitely fill that gaping hole in the ‘Caps midfield as a #10, giving them the sort of transitional player that they’re currently lacking. 

But despite all of those positive numbers statistically, there are a few questions to be asked about this potential move, as other than Patrick’s obvious talent and underlying numbers, some things don’t add up. 

First, there’s the fact that Patrick is 30 years old, which isn’t that old, but may as well be ancient compared to most ‘Caps signings over the past year and a half. 

In MLS, 30 isn’t that old, so it’s not like Patrick would be seen as an old player, but it’s just surprising to see the ‘Caps linked to someone that old considering most of their other targets have been in their early-to-mid 20s, which is an age group they’ve mostly targeted recently. 

Secondly, there’s the strange structure of this potential deal, as the ‘Caps are reportedly looking to bring him in on an 18-month loan with an option to buy, which is strange considering that the ‘Caps are looking for more of a long-term solution at the #10 as per Schuster. 

Obviously, if they were to buy him at the end of the loan, that’s a long-term solution, but with his age and talk of a loan, his signing would definitely feel like more of a short-term stopgap solution at the moment. 

To be fair, if the ‘Caps were to sign him and the 19-year-old Gabriel Pirani from Santos with a Young Money slot, giving the ‘Caps a veteran and a green player to fight over minutes at the #10, that could be a potential solution, but it’d be strange to drop a bunch of money on both players just to rotate between the pair of them. 

So ultimately, while Patrick would bring a lot to the team, the rumours feel like a case of the shoe fitting the wrong foot, at least in terms of what the ‘Caps have previously targeted. 

But despite that, that might not be a bad thing. 

At this point, the ‘Caps need any shoe, and it’s not like Patrick would be a bad shoe, either, as his only complaint would be that he’d be a bit worn as a shoe, but he’d certainly go on the right foot in terms of what the ‘Caps need. 

The time is ticking for that perfect solution the ‘Caps have long talked about, and as seen by these Patrick rumours, that could be a realization that a creative resolution to their #10 problem might trump that need for perfection at that position. 

Looking Forward: 

Now, all that’s left to see is for more reports to come out about these links, confirming or denying these potential links between Patrick and the ‘Caps. 

And even if they prove to be fruitless, there appears to be other names on the ‘Caps #10 list, so it’s not as if trying to sign Patrick will be the team’s final push in that hunt for their guy. 

So even as the desperation levels continue to creep up by the day for this Vancouver team that has continued to sputter offensively, it does feel like some solution is on the way, but it’s just not yet sure what sort of solution that is. 

But despite that, at least they’re starting to expand their options, and hopefully that leads to them finally locking down that player, putting all of these transfer sagas behind them. 

Sooner or later, it has to be done, so for the ‘Caps sake, they’ll be hoping that the next week before the closing of the primary window yields some positive news heading into the next 80% of their 2021 MLS campaign. 

Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs Real Salt Lake, Friday, June 18th, 2021, 19:00 PDT, 22:00 EDT (Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy)

Stats provided by FBref, American Soccer Analysis and WhoScored.

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