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Vancouver Whitecaps add Tunisian defender Jasser Khmiri

Khmiri in action for Stade Tunisian (Courtesy of Vancouver Whitecaps Paul-Michael Ochoa)

VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Whitecaps added Tunisian center back Jasser Khmiri on Friday via transfer from Stade Tunisien. Khmiri agreed to a three-year contract through 2021, with a club option for 2022, and becomes the first-ever Tunisian player to sign a Major League Soccer contract.

The 6-foot-4 defender is Vancouver’s most recent roster acquisition, but is unlikely to be the last.

Khmiri had been rumoured to join the Whitecaps for some time. Whitecaps head coach Marc Dos Santos told Vancouver-based radio show Sportsnet 650 on Thursday that a defender from Africa would be announced soon. 

In that radio interview, Dos Santos revealed the Whitecaps will announce two defenders in the coming days — CA Colon defender Érik Godoy has also been heavily linked with a move to the club. 

As for Khmiri. The Whitecaps noticed the 21-year-old after he burst onto the scene with outstanding performances at the youth level with the Tunisian national team. He was first called up to Tunisia’s senior national team in preparation for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, but ultimately did not take part at the tournament. 

“Jasser is a player who caught our eye thanks to his strong performances with the Tunisian U-21 national team,” Dos Santos said in a statement issued by the club. “He’s 6-foot-4, he has very good speed, and he’s comfortable with the ball, which are all qualities we are looking for in a centre back.”

Khmiri has spent his entire professional career at Stade Tunisien, where he made his debut at the age of 18 in May, 2016. He played three seasons with Stade Tunisien, collecting 38 appearances and scoring three goals, including cup competition.

Playing in Tunisia means only a small statistical sample size is available for center back. But, going by statistics from his U-21 national team game against Italy in October, Khmiri appears to be a bit of a project. 

In that game, Khmiri had 75 actions, of which he completed 59 percent. Defensively, he struggled against Italy’s attack and won just 13 of his 27 duels. He completed 58 percent of his passes in that game. 

But the Whitecaps are certain they can develop Khmiri into a solid defender.

“At 21 years old, we believe Jasser has a tremendous upside and that he can become an important player for this club,” Dos Santos said on Friday. 

Fans worried about his game against Italy in October should also look beyond the numbers. Video footage of his play in Tunisia gives foundation to Dos Santos’ statements. 

Khmiri looks like a defender who is comfortable on the ball and capable of opening the game from the back. He is not shy to join the rush forward and is dangerous on set pieces. 

Can he carry his impressive form displayed in the Tunisian Championnat de la Ligue Professionnelle 1 to the Major League Soccer level? Only time will answer that question. 

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