WFC2 Give Me Everything I Want

In addition to some major first-team additions, the Whitecaps also added four players to their reserve side. I feel extremely positively about these signings as they follow essentially exactly the recruitment strategy I have previously advocated for. Allow me to explain. 

WFC2’s roster will always be primarily made up of academy graduates and draft picks, that’s what it’s for. But not every generation of academy graduates is going to have a player with MLS potential at every position. We also know that the hit rate on draft picks after the first mid-first round is extremely low. So there is a need to make some outside additions to fill the gaps. The old WFC2 mostly did a bad job of this. 

The external additions in the USL days fell into a few categories. Firstly we had slightly older players who had little chance of making it to MLS. Do you remember Billy Schuler? What about Andy Thoma? I do! These were players over the age of 23 who were basically just there to fill space. They did little for WFC2 and few of them had careers that lasted much longer afterwards. You also had international players, mostly drawn from players that had been released from academies in Europe. The problem with signing players through this pathway is that scouting in Europe is very efficient. Information on players playing in Europe is readily available. Even I, a guy who pays a few hundred bucks per year for a Wyscout subscription, can look up data on pretty much any player in any professional European league. So if you’re getting a player from Europe you can be sure that everyone knows about him. If he’s coming to play in MLS Next Pro or USL for free, that probably means that bigger clubs have decided to pass. They could be wrong, even the best recruiters in the world still miss sometimes. But your odds of finding an unknown talent in Europe are low. 

So, let’s examine the profiles of the players WFC2 added in the last window. 

Dembo Saidykhan

Dembo Saidykhan is a right-back who was a part of the Gambian U-20 team that got every nerd online extremely excited at the last U-20 World Cup. The Gambia not only qualified for the World Cup but made it to the quarter-finals, something their nation has never really achieved before. Naturally, this created a lot of interest in the players who made that achievement possible, including Saidykhan. The Whitecaps had to compete with European teams for his signature so there seems to be a consensus that he is good. But Gambian teams have almost no history of success in continental competitions so we don’t really know how he’ll perform against top-level senior opposition. This makes MLS Next Pro the perfect place for him. If he is as good as everyone seems to think he can be then great! You got an elite MLS defender for almost nothing. If not, oh well, it didn’t cost very much and it didn’t cost you any first-team games. He has a highlights package but it’s pretty useless for evaluating him as a player (the song is a bop though).

Malek Mehri:

Conversely, Mehri has a lot more of a track record at a good senior level. The 19-year-old Tunisian has 20 first-team appearances for Esperance, including four in the African Champions League. The CAF 5-year ranking (the equivalent of the UEFA Coefficient) ranks Tunisia as the 5th strongest league in Africa (N.B., there is a gigantic drop off in “points” between #5 and #6). It’s a good league and playing in it at such a young age is a good sign a player has high potential. But Mehri doesn’t have enough of a track record that you could really feel confident throwing him into MLS at this stage. So, by signing him to an MLS Next Pro deal you can stash him for a year or two, develop him a bit, and then call him up when he’s ready. This is a great way to beat bigger fish to emerging talents.

Because he plays in an established league Mehri is the new signing that the hobbyist scout has by far the most information on. Based on what I can see from the available data and video, Mehri is a box-to-box midfielder who is an active, though not necessarily super efficient defender. His dribbling appears to be strong, he makes a lot of passes into the penalty area, and he seems to be an absolute monster in the air, having won 87% of his aerial duels in league play (Kendall Waston’s career average is 68%). It’s a tiny sample size but it looks pretty tasty. Here is a highlights package of all of his touches from a match against Egypt U-20.

Malcolm Simmons:

Malcolm Simmons is a 20-year-old midfielder who most recently played for Benfica’s U-23 team (on loan from a different Portuguese team). On the face of it, he seems to fit the profile I was complaining about earlier. But there is one key difference. Simmons is Canadian. Domestic players who cost very little and turn out to be good are so valuable that really any cheap Canadian with even a whisper of MLS potential is worth a shot in MLSNP. Just look at what a difference having Ali Ahmed on a very cheap contract made both to Vancouver’s on-field performance and their ability to add big pieces. There is a small sample of data on Simmons. His defensive numbers look Cubas-esque and he does just enough progressive passing to make up for a total lack of direct offensive contribution. But it’s a tiny sample and at the U-23 level so it’s hard to say how real that is. But WFC2 is a great place to find out!

Cyprian Kachwele 

Kachwele is a 19-year-old striker arriving from Azam F.C. in Tanzania. He was apparently just breaking through to the senior team. The Tanzanian league ranks 6th in the CAF 5-Year Ranking, though you will recall that this is the point where there is a large drop off in the success of a nation’s clubs. But, highly relevant to teams recruiting from Tanzanian clubs, the fortunes of these teams are rapidly improving. Tanzania jumped 5 places in the coefficient between 2022 and 2023. Only Togo and Uganda saw bigger improvements, and they started from a much lower baseline. So something positive is clearly happening in Tanzania and getting a top young player from that milieu could be a great way to snatch an under-the-radar talent. There is hardly any information about the Tanzanian League online. So I don’t know how many games Kachwele has played or how many goals he scored. He’s essentially magic beans at this point. But fortunately, the art of highlight editing is a lot more developed in Tanzania than in the Gambia so we can get some idea of what he’s about. 

Kachwele seems to be an opportunistic centre-forward with good off-the-ball movement and pace in transition. Will that translate to the MLS level eventually? I don’t know, he’s the one that I have the least information about. 

The odds that all four of these players pan out are very low. But each has a fighting chance and three of the four are coming from markets where it’s actually possible for the Whitecaps to be first to a talent. It’s important to have multiple players pushing for spots because development is unpredictable. Consider WFC2’s forward depth going into the season. They had Gloire Amanda, Levonte Johnson, Lowell Wright, and Joseph Hanson vying for minutes in the striker (or striker-adjacent) position. But really only one of those has worked out so far (though Wright and Hanson are still young). The more darts you get to throw the greater your chance of hitting a bullseye. It’s also good to have competition for places to prevent any sense of complacency (something Whitecaps prospects have been accused of in the past). 

4 thoughts on “WFC2 Give Me Everything I Want

  1. As a supporter of a small and troubled team in Greece, one with a neighbourhood identity (New Smyrni in Athens) built on the memory of trauma (refugees from what is today Turkey), I have always been skeptical of the “big name strategy” of larger clubs like Olympiakos, Pantathinaikos, AEK, or even PAOK. Panionios (the team in question, now relegated to the third division because of debts) was one that developed talent. Yes, said talent was poached and our stars eventually thrived in the larger teams, but at least you knew you had a grassroots presence that was respected. Thus, since 2015, when my partner and I started going to the Whitecaps’ games (on the 9th year of our Canadian experience), we have yearned for locally developed “home-grown” talent. We’re not utopians, we do not expect that a new Ryan Gauld will grow pronto out of BC earth like the ancient Athenians sprung from Attica’s ground, but we want to see something more like the Philadelphia Union rather than Toronto FC, Galaxy etc. With Axel, the rhetoric of homegrown development started getting louder and in this past transfer window, for the first time, we see logically articulated actions matching the verbal declarations. Caleb’s systematic analysis of the feeder teams and their strategy gives one hope that what we see in the field now (for the first time in my experience, joyous football) will not be a flash in a pan. Here’s to hopping its all real!

  2. I was hoping for an article on these players who got lost in the altogether reasonable hype surrounding the Adekugbe and Laryea signings.

    Fair enough, but I think these guys are newsworthy in their own right, first, because there was apparently considerable competition to land Dembo from some pretty significant European teams like Rangers and Southampton and secondly, because (as Caleb points out) it shows the Whitecaps leveraging the second team in a clear and purposeful way.

    In a few years time, when we’re looking at Sam and Richie coming to the end of their top levels, one hopes that decisions like these are beginning to solve first team issues before they arise, keeping the ‘Caps in playoff contention year upon year.

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