VANCOUVER, B.C. – On Thursday, the Vancouver Whitecaps announced they won’t be exercising options on striker Etienne Barbara, third-string goalkeeper Brian Sylvestre and midfielder Tiago Ulisses.
The moves won’t have much impact on the first team, as of the three, only Barbara had seen Major League Soccer action – and at that, only 13 minutes from two substitute appearances in 2012.
It was a disappointing showing from the Maltese international, who spent most of the season struggling to attain full fitness after suffering a sports hernia injury in preseason.
“He wasn’t able to be fully fit to get in the team,” head coach Martin Rennie told MLSsoccer.com on Thursday. “It was disappointing for him and for me, because he’s a player who could do well at this level. He just wasn’t able to get over an injury, which he now has got over, but it was difficult for us to take up his option after he missed most of the season.”
Rennie’s history with the player – he coached Barbara with the Carolina RailHawks before the pair made the jump to MLS – perhaps made the decision more difficult on a personal level. Regardless, the tactician was sympathetic to Barbara’s situation.
“Having seen the rise in prominence of players like Brad Knighton, [Jun] Marques Davidson and Matt Watson – they’ve all done well this season – I think it’s frustrating for Etienne knowing how well he did at the level they were all playing at before,” Rennie said. “It was frustrating for him not to be able to show how good a player he is here. But that happens sometimes and he’s dealt with that challenge and I think he’s ready for the next opportunity to play.
“I’m sure he’ll do well wherever he ends up.”
Rennie has shown a willingness to make a move in goal – he dropped starter Joe Cannon in favor of Brad Knighton during the club’s run-in to the playoffs – and wants all three goalkeepers on his roster to compete for the starting shirt. It seems he felt Sylvestre, 19, wasn’t capable of making that jump at this stage in his development.
“He’s a young goalkeeper that we’ve been able to evaluate over the course of the season,” Rennie said. “We just didn’t see him being at a point where he can challenge for playing time. We think at his age it would benefit him to be in a situation where he can be playing games in a competitive environment – maybe at a lower level – or maybe someone else in MLS will give him a chance.”
Ulisses is another player who never saw the pitch for the ‘Caps after arriving midseason. The Brazilian was touted as a hard-tackling defensive midfielder but struggled to adapt to the North American game, according to Rennie.
“With him it wasn’t a huge gamble,” Rennie said. “It was a low-risk decision to bring him in and, at the end of the day, we’ve made our minds up having seen him at close quarters, without really losing anything.”
The players will remain on the Vancouver roster until Dec. 2, when the MLS roster freeze is lifted.
Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com.