One typically busy morning for an MLS head coach, Marc Dos Santos got a text from a scout. The two disagreed on how urgent that message was.
The message included a link to a game: Braga against Farense in the Portuguese top flight. The scout insisted that Dos Santos needed to look. Now. The player in question was Scottish attacking midfielder Ryan Gauld, a prominent player among their shortlist to use a Designated Player slot on a No. 10.
Now, the Vancouver Whitecaps head coach was well familiar with Gauld. He knew of his obvious qualities – Gauld's technical expertise that can make the game look so easy – but he also knew of his shortcomings that had kept him bouncing around on loan between Portugal and Scotland after a huge move to Sporting CP as a teenager.
I'm busy, Dos Santos wrote back, I don't have time to waste. The scout insisted. Dos Santos acquiesced and made time.
The scout was right.
“I told this to Ryan," Dos Santos told media on Tuesday, shortly after Vancouver officially signed the 25-year-old to a DP deal. "I’ve never had a doubt of his technical ability. Great vision, first touch, last pass and delivery on set plays. The doubt I had was always in the moments the team lost the ball or Ryan without the ball. There’s been an incredible improvement.”
After years of aggressive hype and then a bit of anonymity when he signed with Farense in the second tier of Portuguese soccer, Gauld began to realize his tantalizing potential. He led Farense to promotion in his first season, with nine goals and three assists while playing in 21 of his side's 24 matches (shortened because of the pandemic). In 2020-21, he had nine goals and seven assists, directly contributing to more than half of Farense's 31 total goals scored.
It's why the Whitecaps made him their top target and, despite numerous hurdles and headaches, officially landed Gauld last Saturday through 2024.
“We had frustrating moments and exciting moments throughout the whole process, but we hung in and waited. We never gave up, he was the top of our list," sporting director and CEO Axel Schuster said. "There was also risk to bet on something that maybe would not work, so that is exciting to get it done.”
There have been several illuminating articles and videos produced on Gauld's abilities, specific strengths and how he may fit in the Whitecaps' team. Perhaps the quickest way to describe their hopes for Gauld: They believe he'll turn draws into wins.
Vancouver sit six points below in the playoff line in the Western Conference and eagerly await their first home game in front of fans on Canadian soil in a year and a half. They've had low points this year, but encouraging results as well. They've lost just once in their last seven games, a stretch that included results against LAFC, Seattle Sounders, LA Galaxy and more. But there's just one win in that stretch, perhaps a nod to their time away from BC Place and setting up home away from home at Real Salt Lake's Rio Tinto Stadium while awaiting border travel restrictions to ease.
“First of all, I leave everything I can on the pitch," Gauld said. "I’ll give everything I’ve got to the team. Hopefully my creative side can help create opportunities and score some goals, help turn a few draws into wins.”
It certainly wasn't an easy process.
In addition to competing interest from other clubs, Farense didn't give up without a fight. They disputed a contract clause that made him a free agent, so the Whitecaps arranged an agreement to compensate them. Gauld arrived at the airport to fly and complete his medical, but an immigration officer didn't let him on the plane. Then he had to get his work permit sorted and quarantine. J.J. Adams of The Province went into great depth of all the hurdles they had to clear before officially signing the player.
“There was plenty of mishaps that came along the way, but it never entered my head that it was a sign to say I was making the wrong decision," Gauld said. "Since I arrived, I know I 100% made the right decision. Everything the club’s got, the potential. I made the right decision. I’m looking forward to getting going, paying back the faith they showed in me.”
Gauld took part in his first training sessions this week, but hasn't played in a competitive match since May. For much of the last few months, he's been training alone and working towards finalizing this transfer. It'll take him a little bit to get match fit.
Dos Santos has internally targeted a date for Gauld to debut, but firmly denied to reveal when publicly so to alleviate pressure.
“We think that Ryan is going to make the team better, the other players around Ryan, not just Ryan alone," Dos Santos said.
It was almost a year between the club transferring Hwang Inbeom to Rubin Kazan and promised they would sign a more attack-minded DP. There had been constant questions and expectations along the way, with the process taking longer than assumed. They were intent on finding the right target for years to come, a player the Whitecaps can build around long-term.
“The whole search was always about finding a player who fits the profile not only for this season, but the future," Schuster said. "That helps us lift the quality of the team, take the next step. We’ve spoken very often that we need this link player, we think that was a missing piece. .. This is a deal structured in a way that he should stay here for long and help this team for long.”