Signing players with something to prove from obscure leagues could be just the antidote to the Vancouver Whitecaps' anemic offense, writes Goal.com's Martin MacMahon.
As the league’s third-lowest scoring team in 2012 and lowest scoring team to qualify for the MLS Cup playoffs with just 35 markers, addressing the dire goalscoring tally has to be No. 1 on the offseason priority list.
But at this point, it seems the club is shying away from a big signing – perhaps understandable given the disappointing showings from Scottish designated player pairing Barry Robson and Kenny Miller. Those players were brought in to create goals and score them in midseason and seemed to inexplicably worsen what was an already struggling offensive group.
This week the club made its biggest offseason acquisition by signing Japanese attacking midfielder Daigo Kobayashi, but he’s hardly a household name. He’s played for a number of clubs in Japan, had what seems like a dire time in Greece with Iraklis FC, and had a successful spell with Norwegian side Stabæk four years ago, where he bagged eight goals in 29 matches.
Internationally, Kobayashi has just one cap for his native Japan, as a substitute in a meaningless friendly with Trinidad and Tobago in 2006.
The benefit to signing this obscure player is that he should come to MLS motivated. Unlike Messrs. Robson and Miller, Kobayashi has a lot to prove.
At age 29 he should be in his best years rather than his twilight, and if he’s as technical as Jun Marques Davidson has suggested to the Vancouver media this week, he should be able to add a bit of much-needed guile in the centre of the park for the ‘Caps.
He should also come with a reasonable price tag, assuming he didn’t have whoever Miller’s agent is negotiating with the club.
Kobayashi headlines the moves, but there are others. Paulo Jr. is a promising attacker who struggled to become a starter on a very good Real Salt Lake team. Tom Heinemann is a player who made a promising start with the Columbus Crew before missing most of last season due to injury, and Brad Rusin is a powerful, athletic defender/defensive midfielder who still has plenty of upside at age 26.
These are the sorts of players the club will benefit from adding. They have talent, they have something to prove, and they all have upside.
There are also a couple of interesting trialists who have linked up with the squad. Jaime Peters is a player Canadian fans will be familiar with. He’s out of contract after playing with Ipswich Town in England’s second tier since 2005.
The barrel-chested wide player should just be entering the prime of his career at age 25, and if he’s available and Whitecaps head coach Martin Rennie deems him capable of contributing, he’s just the sort of Canadian player the club could benefit from adding – both on the field and to appease some supporters who feel the club isn’t making enough of an effort to help the national program.
On Tuesday the club Tweeted the it's giving a trial to former Irish international Joseph Lapira.
A projected first-rounder in the 2008 MLS SuperDraft after winning the Hermann Trophy in 2006 as the top college soccer player, Lapira was drafted by Toronto FC in 2008. He fell to the third round after he made it known that he would pursue a European career rather than stay in North America.
Toronto’s gamble didn’t pay off, and Lapira kept his word, eventually landing in Norway with Nybergsund, where he has played most of his soccer since 2008 apart from a brief spell with Indian second-tier side United Sikkim FC.
Such was his early promise, then Republic of Ireland boss Steve Staunton made Lapira the first amateur player to receive a full cap since 1964 by giving him a run out during Ireland’s USA tour in 2007 in a match against Ecuador.
It seems Lapira never fulfilled that early promise, but if he can convince Rennie during this preseason that he’s ready to star in MLS, it could be quite the story indeed.
This batch of new signings and trialists have something to prove, and sometimes, that's a whole lot more valuable than elite success half a decade ago.