Are we sure this is smart?

The Vancouver Whitecaps are making big moves. They have added Richie Laryea on loan from Nottingham Forrest and Sam Adekugbe on a permanent deal from Hatayspor. The additions of Richie Laryea and Sam Adekugbe are flashy and exciting. But I have some dour and unfun reservations that I can’t quite shake. Let’s explore those. 

First, let’s discuss Laryea. Stylistically, he should fit like a glove. He’s an attacking fullback who could fit nicely as the more aggressive fullback in the Christmas Tree formation or as a wing-back in the 3-1-4-2. His ball progression stats are a little bit more eye-popping than his production in the final 3rd. But Toronto F.C. are really bad and the Whitecaps are pretty good, especially in the final 3rd, so it’s not unreasonable to think he has more to offer. Of course, even when he was on good Toronto F.C. teams he really only has one season of exceptionally higher expected goal contributions. But still, he’s a clearly good player in a position the ‘Caps could use some re-enforcement. 

Similarly, Adekugbe makes a certain amount of sense. Luis Martins is not unplayable but he is pretty clearly the weakest link in the team. Plus, Martins is the only left-footed fullback on the team. So a better left-footed defender is a natural addition. I have seen Adekgube described as a wing-back but I think he gained this reputation through being involved in several important goals for the Canadian national team rather than the actual content of his career. In all of the league matches Adekugbe has played over his career, Adekugbe averages 0.11 xG+xA/90 according to Wyscout, lower than the average in MLS. His time in just the Turkish Super Lig is even lower at 0.09. This number does come up slightly when he plays for Canada, to 0.15, but even that is not the markings of an offensive dynamo. I think it makes more sense for Adekugbe to either play on the left side of the back three or to make occasional forrays forward in the Christmas tree formation like Javain Brown or Mathias Laborda have done on the right side this season. 

So, two good players in positions of need. What’s not to like? Well, as we have learned countless times over the years in MLS, simply being a good player is not necessarily enough to make you a good signing. The salary cap necessitates that you not only sign good players but optimise the amount of value you are getting out of each roster spot. Frankly, I’m not sure these signings are doing that. Both Adekgube and Laryea are 28 so while they are good there is nowhere to go from here but down. Laryea is a loan but keeping him permanently, as the reporting indicates the Whitecaps are keen to do, is likely to be very expensive. 

Will Laryea be good in the short term? Yes, almost certainly. But everybody lost their minds when Ali Adnan was a DP fullback, so how are we supposed to feel about a DP fullback in his 30s? 

Similarly, Adekugbe is not likely to come cheap. Reports last year from Manuel Veth indicated the Whitecaps were keen on him but the transfer fee required would have made him a DP. Evidently, that’s not the case now but negotiations were reportedly held up by Hatayspor “moving the goalposts” of the deal. So I don’t imagine the ‘Caps are getting a bargain here. Axel Schuster confirmed on Thursday that Adekugbe’s salary is in the same range of what they were paying/offering Julian Gressel.

We won’t know for sure just yet, but it seems like both of these players are coming with a tremendous opportunity cost. Were there better alternatives out there? It’s hard to say. But the Whitecaps are locked into this now (or at least will be if they make Laryea’s signing permanent) so they had better hope it works! 

The Whitecaps have been very specifically burned by this sort of thing in the recent past. On the old website, I had a very popular article called Lucas Cavallini: The Most Whitecaps Signing of All Time (Not in a Good Way). In that, I outlined how the Whitecaps missed a number of opportunities to sign Cavallini when he was young and relatively cheap, and then spent a ton of money on him when he was in his late prime to disastrous effects. It’s hard not to see some parallels here. I mean, Adekugbe was literally their player! But Laryea was, at one time, acquired by Toronto F.C. for 56k in GAM. They moved him to fullback and turned him into a valuable asset. 

Axel Schuster’s Twitter bio says “Look at life through the windshield, not the rear-view mirror.” He also said similar things in interviews. Fundamentally, I think signing late-prime national team players is at odds with this philosophy. There are, of course, times when you would want to acquire a more established player. I think we can agree that the trade for Julian Gressel worked out pretty well, even if he didn’t stay. But in most circumstances, the Whitecaps’ philosophy of building a squad of players that are undervalued and greater than the sum of their parts is undercut by chasing after already established players that are only going to depreciate in value. There is nothing wrong with being thrifty and trying to spend your money wisely. But if you are going to do that you need to be smarter and faster than everybody else. 

But, in the team’s defence, we also have to consider the circumstances. When the Whitecaps signed Cavallini the squad was terrible and in no position to make a run at anything. Now the squad is good and the key players are all in their mid to late 20s. Now isn’t the time for reclamation projects or prospects, now is the time to push all the chips in and try to win something in the short term. They don’t give out trophies for having a perfectly efficient cap situation or for playing an entertaining style and finishing 5th in the West. Plus, things are in such a state of flux in MLS who knows how the roster rules may change in the coming years or even months? 

I don’t have any doubt that the Whitecaps are improved by the moves that they made at the deadline. What’s less clear to me is how much they improved and how long that improvement will last. If the improvement isn’t enough to elevate the ‘Caps to genuine contender status then that’s probably it for this group of players. They won’t get many better chances than this season and next. This is the team. It’s pretty good. Is it good enough? I guess we’ll see.

9 thoughts on “Are we sure this is smart?

  1. “i am traditionally a glass half empty kind of guy” – You need to pour your drink into a smaller glass. Problem solved. No charge.

  2. Laryea”s signing is about this final part of the regular season and (hopefully) a playoff run…as a LOAn. If it doesn’t work out, well, he is still a Nottingham Forest employee and the Caps and Laryea can go their separate ways. Not sure why there is angst here.

    Adekugbe is a different story because they are on the hook for him now. Howver, I think he is a plus because he will be better at LWB than Martins and Raposo. Martins has basically been in the back three rotation and that is where he’ll stay until his too prcey contract ends. Raposo will be a limited, garbage minutes sub to finish the year: Johnson might eat into those late game sub minutes ahead of him as a LW attacker because of his 1 v 1 threat.

    I’m seeing a team making a fairly bold move to make things happen for THIS SEASON and we have people having doubts? Laryea is a PROVEN commodity in this league and he is here on a LOAN, folks. But I suppose some people would (stupidly) prefer to roll the dice on some obscure foreign player few people have ever heard of and then be on the hook for a cap eating multi-year deal if he bombs. Or they could have stood pat with the not-good-enough incumbents and fans would be whining about the club yet again showing no ambition!

    Great job, Axel! (I am neither Axel nor Greg Kerfoot, btw 😉)

  3. hmm, I hadn’t considered that for Sam. I think you can’t claim homegrown if you sold them or they otherwise left the club (aside from a loan) and came back later.

    But who knows, MLS rules change so often, so maybe?

  4. i am traditionally a glass half empty kind of guy- but with these 2 players, i think its a glass half full– on paper, the Caps have 2 solid- not spectacular- upgrades and with a difficult 7 road games coming up, we will need the added depth– we dont need inexperienced Whitecap 2 players to take us into the play-offs

    their experience alone is worth the risk and through their time with our national team, they were reliable, durable and rarely made serious mistakes

    lareya and adekugbe will make our defence 25% stronger, so that is significant- AND both are Canadian internationals


  5. They are domestics so that helps on the salary cap and Sam they may be able to claim homegrown on to drop the cap hit further.

    I like both players and at 28 they are in their prime. Worrying about how fast they will go downhill is not a concern we have any measure on. They could get 3-5 great years before that happens.

    1. I think the article is a playing devil’s advocate, but it isn’t like we haven’t been disappointed by the Caps before, so I can’t really complain about taking a keen eye to the transfers.

      That said, there is two other aspects that weren’t really touched on in the article that I think are key:

      First, marketing. Having a pair of regular CMNT starters as the face of the franchise, along with hopefully Ahmed, could lead to higher attendance, more coverage from our “national” media overlords in Toronto, etc

      Nothing is guaranteed, but it doesn’t hurt and might be worth the gamble to not be super cap efficient if it means another 2K attendance or whatever the line is for Schuster.

      The second point is related, and it’s that they are Canadian. Aside from the domestic angle for International spots, that helps for the Voyageurs next year as we try to defend again for a hat trick of Championships.

      Remember how badly we had to scratch to get 3 Canadian starters after Ahmed was hurt? And Teibert/Raposo are bench options in an MLS match vs starters in the CMNT duo.

      And if we win the Voyageur’s again, that’s another entry in CCL the following year, etc

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