The Vancouver Whitecaps' decision to trade Alain Rochat for a minimal return to D.C. United surprised some MLS observers, but it's a deal that makes sense for the Canadian side.
Not many saw this move coming, but now that it’s been done -- the Whitecaps actually received a second-round pick in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft and a conditional pick in 2016 -- it makes a bit more sense than some would think.
Essentially, this move is a salary dump. Rochat makes $190,000 -- pricey by the standards of left fullbacks in MLS -- and quite frankly hasn’t earned that level of wage this season.
He’s a player whose contract expires at the end of the season, and at age 30 will likely be demanding the same salary, or possibly even a raise, although United has a club option with details unknown. Add in that the Swiss-raised player is a Canadian by MLS roster rules and the fact that 16 of the team’s possible 18 suitors in the league must use an international spot in order to carry him on their roster and that makes him even less marketable.
This season has been Rochat’s poorest from his three years in Vancouver. There’s no question he has been one of the club’s best servants in the MLS era, but this season that hasn’t continued. Certainly in away situations the Swiss-Canadian has not pushed forward on the ball as much as he typically has done in past seasons, instead opting to sit back.
This has hurt the team offensively and in some ways has invited pressure given opposing wingers and fullbacks don’t have to worry about much traffic coming their way.
Head coach Martin Rennie was so dissatisfied with Rochat’s road performances that he moved the player up into midfield in recent weeks in away situations, instead opting to use backup Jordan Harvey at left fullback, who offers a bit more running if a bit less guile.
If a player makes nearly $200,000, he cannot be a guy who only shows up at home, regardless of how popular he is or whether he’s done the job in past seasons. In salary cap leagues, every dollar counts, and it’s better to send a high-earning underachiever out of town for a low return than it is to keep him around and hope things improve.
Some fans on social media have expressed concern about Harvey as a regular starter and that the decision to move Rochat must mean the team will soon receive an upgrade in this position. I disagree with that view, as Harvey is serviceable if unspectacular, and the defense as a unit hasn’t been this team’s biggest problem.
Also, with the likes of Lee Young-Pyo capable of slotting over to the left, there are options. Greg Klazura is a player with a bit more potential than some give him credit for, and at the very least has looked promising in his limited appearances so far.
If this trade is a move to free up salary and a roster spot, the club will likely move to address an area of weakness – likely in the final third with the addition of an experienced striker or perhaps a wide player who can help the club score more goals more often, and generally place opposing teams on the back foot.
This move in isolation makes the Whitecaps weaker, as Rochat still had his moments going forward at home, but it’s difficult to imagine this isn’t the precursor to another move. And if that is indeed the case and the club adds a quality winger or striker that improves this team’s offense, that vending machine grub acquired from D.C. United won’t taste so bad after all.