The Vancouver Whitecaps season is over, but the rebuild under head coach Marc Dos Santos continues. After a miserable 2019 campaign, the club has learned some tough lessons and is ready to exhibit more ambition in the transfer market this winter.
Reports emerged this week that the club had reached out to Chelsea striker Olivier Giroud, and although Giroud turned down a move to Vancouver, reportedly preferring other destinations in Major League Soccer, it’s a sign of the Whitecaps newfound ambition that the club was even in the conversation for such a big-name player.
Giroud is reportedly earning £5.725 million ($7.1 million) this year at Chelsea, which puts him in the same category as LA Galaxy striker and designated player Zlatan Ibrahimović, whose 2019 payroll is $7.2 million, according to the MLS Players Association.
“A big name is a big name,” Dos Santos said when asked what a marquee player could mean for a club that has never signed a superstar by Sportsnet 650 radio show Fine Lines. “We are talking players that have won the World Cup.”
Always frank, Dos Santos is not one for keeping secrets when it comes to Vancouver’s offseason strategy.
“Whatever it takes to make the team better,” Dos Santos said after Sunday’s defeat to Real Salt Lake. “We finished last in the West — we have to improve. So, 100%, we want to get the right players.”
One of those players will be, without a doubt, a marquee signing of Giroud’s caliber. Dos Santos has alluded several times to the Whitecaps targeting a player that has played in a World Cup final. Giroud certainly fits that mold, and the forward was indeed one of the players on Whitecaps’ list.
The club, however, also knows that signing a striker of any caliber would not be enough to improve the side. Even a designated player of Giroud’s pedigree would have had a tough time producing for a Whitecaps side that was last in MLS in key passes (1.85 per 90 minutes) and final third passes (42.44 per 90 minutes) this year.
“I think, overall, yes,” Fredy Montero said after the Columbus Crew game on Sept. 21 when asked whether the lack of service has hurt his team. “Not only me, anyone that was playing upfront.”
Signing a world-class striker, therefore, will not be enough for the Whitecaps. The club also needs to identify talent that can aid any potential No. 9 signings — players that could potentially come from within MLS.
“We’re also looking at leadership from within the league,” Dos Santos said.
Last year, the Whitecaps made the mistake of going into training camp while still assembling a squad, and Dos Santos wants to avoid next season with a goal to have 90% of the squad signed by January. In other words, the ‘Caps season hasn’t even been over a week, but the club is already hard at work at assembling a new squad.
But what does that mean for players already on the book? That is less clear.
“For me to stand here and say, ‘A, B, C are part of the core, I want to see D moved,’ that would be very bad,” Dos Santos said.
Dos Santos isn’t ready to name names, but there is no doubt that the ‘Caps will go separate ways with some players on the roster, especially if those players could be moved for key pieces available elsewhere in the league.
As the field roster shifts, questions linger in the front office, too. The club still needs to acquire a new technical director/sporting director, and that person should be working with Dos Santos in talent acquisition and in building a scouting network.
Vancouver was recently linked with former Fortuna Düsseldorf CEO Robert Schäfer, who has significant experience in the Bundesliga but was never in charge of talent acquisition.
Another name that has made the rounds is current Düsseldorf managing director of sport Lutz Pfannenstiel. The former Whitecaps goalkeeper has expressed his wish in an interview with Forbes that he would one day like to return to Vancouver. Pfannenstiel was hugely successful at Hoffenheim, where he was in charge of the club’s scouting network from 2011 to 2018.
Pro Soccer USA asked Dos Santos over the weekend about the rumored links to Pfannenstiel and, the Whitecaps manager expressed surprise and deflected the question.
For now, the Whitecaps still appear to be in the hunt.
There’s a lingering perception that the Whitecaps have struggled to attract top-level talent due to the damaged reputation of two seasons without reaching the playoffs. However, the city of Vancouver, as a place to live, and the Whitecaps, as an organization in need of a fixer who can oversee major changes, are likely enticing enough for ambitious sporting directors of Pfannenstiel’s caliber.
Whether Pfannenstiel would be genuinely willing to swap the Bundesliga for MLS is up for the Whitecaps to figure out.
Either way, the prospects of a new technical director, as well as a marquee signing from Europe, means that even without the playoffs, the coming months should give Whitecaps fans plenty to be excited about.