Goal.com's Martin MacMahon ponders whether maintaining a foreign-dominated first team squad is really in the best interests of the Vancouver Whitecaps.
While international players have certainly been important to the growth of Major League Soccer – and no doubt will continue to play a role for some time – the Whitecaps have demonstrated in their two seasons in MLS that as a club they believe that soccer played elsewhere in the world is better than it is here – and that players from those leagues deserve more cash than players who have proven themselves on this continent.
With news that the ‘Caps shipped Atiba Harris to the Colorado Rapids in exchange for an international roster spot for the 2015 and 2016 seasons on Monday, that philosophy looks to carry on well into the future, with the club holding 11 international spots for the 2013 campaign, and 10 spots through the 2016 season.
While having the flexibility to play more international players is a positive, Vancouver’s obsession with players from far flung lands has had mixed results.
Of the many international players brought in by the club, only defender Lee Young-Pyo, midfielder Gershon Koffie and striker Darren Mattocks can be seen as having an indisputably positive impact.
Given a full healthy season, former Ireland international Andy O’Brien may well join that list after finishing 2012 strong.
Players like Camilo, Davide Chiumiento, Eric Hassli, Martin Bonjour and Barry Robson are players who did or have brought positives, but often inconsistently, and with heavy price tags. In a salary capped league, it’s not just about getting good players – it’s about getting good players at a good price.
On the other end of the spectrum, when things go wrong with an international, they can be very pricey mistakes. Mustapha Jarju was Vancouver’s big 2011 bust, eventually being bought out of his four-year designated player deal after looking hapless in a Whitecaps kit.
While Kenny Miller’s story has yet to be concluded after signing this past season, the early signs haven’t been promising from the $1.2-million man.
The bottom line is that when you bring players in from the other side of the world, they will most likely demand higher salaries based on the perceived superiority of foreign leagues, potentially require a settling in period in which they will be a liability or non-contributor – and, in some cases, they may not have the same vested interest as a player born on this continent.
There’s also the added factor that assets must be traded to acquire international spots beyond the eight spots made available to each team per season from the league.
In short, the risks involved with bringing international players are higher, and the costs are greater, than bringing in a domestic player – essentially, these players don’t generally fall in the value-for-money category.
And those costs could go beyond the dollar figure, if international players get priority over cultivating local talent. While importing quality to fill problem positions in the short term, as the ‘Caps did by bringing Lee in to solve their troubled right-back slot, seems sensible enough, one must wonder about what impact having over a third of the 30-man roster – and in reality over half of the first team squad – from abroad will have on the impact of young Canadians trying to break through over the coming seasons.
Of course proponents of a significant international presence will counter by saying that having those players around will actually help accelerate the development of Canadian youngsters – and there may be some truth to that.
But the question is – is there a plan to gradually shift away from a foreign-dominated squad and focus more on North American talent?
Maybe, but not until after 2016.