Tasked with filling a Julian Gressel-sized void after the star midfielder/fullback’s trade request was granted with a late-July move to the Columbus Crew, the ‘Caps acted swiftly and decisively. Once the Aug. 2 deadline day passed, they emerged arguably stronger than before after acquiring the Canada national team fullback duo of Richie Laryea and Sam Adekugbe.
Calling both 2022 FIFA World Cup veterans the club’s “two top prospects throughout the whole transfer window,” Vancouver sporting director Axel Schuster highlighted the importance of their arrival in light of Gressel’s departure.
“He was also a veteran and a leader on and off the pitch,” Schuster said of the 29-year-old German-born US international who is one of MLS’s top crossers (24 goals and 65 assists in 202 regular-season games). “And for that reason, it was very important to bring that back to the team.
“And as I have said on the day that we let Julian go, that ideally we would like to use the allocation money that we had to add more than just another player, another player that can help us in certain areas."
They did exactly that. In Laryea and Adekugbe, the Whitecaps now boast two top-level fullbacks with ample European experience who should fit in seamlessly in head coach Vanni Sartini’s wingback-heavy formations with three center backs.
Laryea joins on loan from English Premier League side Nottingham Forest through the end of the 2023 MLS season after a standout first half of the year at Toronto FC, where he posted 2g/3a in 18 games. Judging by his statements during this week’s official club unveiling, Laryea considers himself one of the final pieces needed to take Vancouver to the next level.
“The bar for this group is set high. For myself, I set it high and it’s to win," Laryea said. "So there’s no doubt in my mind this team can go on and make a run in the playoffs and go to MLS Cup.
“That’s what my vision is for the club. It might sound ridiculous to some people, but that’s just the way I do business.”
Adekugbe, a Whitecaps homegrown who made his professional debut in 2013, returns to Vancouver after nearly a decade in Europe – most recently at Turkish top-flight side Hatayspor. And, just like his close friend and Canada teammate Laryea, the 28-year-old left back has his sights set on silverware. Lots of it.
“I want to create history here, you know? It’s my home, this is where I started and it’s important for me to leave my mark on the club that I have so much passion and love for,” Adekugbe said.
“If you don’t have that expectation for ourselves, we’re really wasting our time.”
That ambitious mindset is shared by Sartini, who has already helped Vancouver – currently seventh in the Western Conference with an 8W-7L-7D record (31 points) – clinch a spot in next year’s Concacaf Champions Cup after guiding the club to a second straight Canadian Championship title this season.
But after missing out on the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs, the Italian manager knows that tangible league results have to come sooner than later – especially with this latest injection of veteran, international-caliber talent.
“Now the team is even better. So now the problem for the coach is that he has to deliver," Sartini laughed, although not necessarily joking. "But it’s ok.”