After a couple of quiet months, the Vancouver Whitecaps once more began filling out their roster this week with the acquisitions of defensive midfielder Jon Erice from Spanish second-division club Albacete, winger Lass Bangoura from La Liga side Rayo Vallecano and attacker Lucas Venuto from Austrian club Wien.
The moves, all of which required Targeted Allocation Money, were positive steps forward for new Whitecaps head coach Marc Dos Santos. Erice, 32, should provide a stabilizing veteran presence on an otherwise young team, while the 26-year-old Bangoura and 24-ear-old Venuto will add speed and verticality to a Vancouver attack that’s still short on numbers following the offseason departures of Alphonso Davies and Kei Kamara.
“Short on numbers” is the operative phrase of the moment for the Whitecaps. Vancouver, who began preseason training on Tuesday, currently have just 21 players under contract. That’s less than ideal for any club at this time of the year; it’s especially difficult for a team attempting to build a demanding, pressing style under a new head coach.
“It’s far from where we want to be at the moment,” Dos Santos told MLSsoccer.com over the phone on Thursday.
Though Dos Santos indicated that Vancouver would rather wait weeks or months for the right players instead of rushing a signing or two based on positional need, the Whitecaps probably won’t be in this position much longer. Dos Santos said that the club are “very close” to finalizing several moves and that they should have at least 24 players on the books by opening day.
Deals could be made in any number of positions. Vancouver have just two strikers, two center backs and one right back on their current roster. Dos Santos, who plans to primarily use a 4-3-3 formation with a lone defensive midfielder in Vancouver, would like to add at least one player in all those spots, as well as at central midfield.
The club have been linked this winter to central midfielder Hwang In-beom, Chilean-born Canadian right back Juan Cordova, Tunisian center back Jasser Khemiri and Icelandic striker Kolbeinn Sigthorsson, among others. Dos Santos did say the team are looking at a “domestic” option at right back, which would fit Cordova’s profile. He also added that he plans to use 2018 holdover Yordy Reyna as a winger this season. The Peruvian international was used both wide and centrally last year.
“We’re putting all the pieces together,” he said. “Again, I said it a lot of times, that if it takes an extra month to get the best player possible, we’ll wait an extra month. We just want to make sure that the pieces we bring are the right ones.”
One of those new targets could very well end up joining Vancouver as a Designated Player. Both of Vancouver’s DPs in 2018 -- Kamara and Brek Shea -- are no longer with the club, leaving them with the ability to add up to three DPs this season. The club is also flush with cash following the big-money transfer of Davies to Bayern Munich and after they acquired a hefty sum of allocation money from FC Cincinnati in exchange for center back Kendall Waston. They’ve used some of those funds on fees for Erice and Bangoura, but another, bigger move could still be on the way.
“A lot of the players that we’re bringing were not free, so if you spend $300,000 on a player to get him out of his contract, then you spend another $400,000 on another player to get him out of his contract and we’re investing a lot in a young player also that we hope to announce soon, so all of that adds up,” said Dos Santos.
There’s plenty of work left to do in both the transfer market and in implementing his ideas with the first team, but Dos Santos is optimistic about what Vancouver could become. He likes what he’s seen from the current group of Whitecaps in their first few days of training, and thinks they’re responding well to how he’s teaching his more aggressive pressing system. Their extensive offseason overhaul and slow progress with signings will make things tougher, but, with a few late-breaking reinforcements, he thinks they can return to the playoffs this season.
“We want to make the playoffs. Is it realistic? Yes, absolutely. Is there a lot of new players and a lot of changes in the club? Yes. Is it going to be difficult? Yes it is, because everybody wants to make the playoffs, but we can’t shy away from that. I’ve never been that type of guy that is going to shy away from objectives and challenges. Yeah, it’s difficult, it’s not going to be easy, but that’s what we want to do.”