Sporting director Axel Schuster wants to change the narrative around the Vancouver Whitecaps, and the plot continues to reveal itself during his first offseason with the club.
The Whitecaps have signed six players aged 22 or younger this offseason, with just one of their total 10 older than 27. The latest to arrive is 20-year-old Serbian youth international center back Ranko Veselinovic, who was acquired Sunday on loan with option to purchase from FK Vojvodina.
“The signing says about Vancouver that our story of transition becomes more and more clear," Schuster told MLSsoccer.com. “We were able to show him that our way is absolutely to sign players that are not on the last step of their career, they all want to grow. We focus on that. It’s one more piece that will help us grow. We want to be a group of young kids who all want to push.”
Veselinovic follows key offseason signings that include Designated Player forward Lucas Cavallini, plus midfielders Cristian Dajome, Leonard Owusu and David Milinkovic. They're all geared towards the Whitecaps looking to bounce back from finishing bottom of the Western Conference standings in 2019.
Cavallini arrives as the club's biggest acquisition. The 27-year-old veteran of both Liga MX and the Canada national team hopes to be the elixir to the club's goalscoring woes. Meanwhile, a player with Veselinovic's profile ostensibly wouldn't be short of options across Europe now and in the future. Yet, both players chose Vancouver as the right place to continue their careers.
“We want to be a team that develops better," Schuster said. "We were able to convince (Veselinovic), it was not an easy move of course. It’s a move that might not have happened a few years ago. He’s a clever guy … he has a real idea about his future. We had to show him that we have the same pathway for what he has in his mind, that we can provide him with the right place, environment and playing style. We’re really happy we could convince him with our story what we want to be in Vancouver.”
That's the macro-potential of the signing. As for the micro-potential? Veselinovic arrives as a regular at all Serbian youth levels, had already made 64 appearances with Vojvodina and was even named club captain over the summer.
Veselinovic's résumé is impressive and the ball-playing center back also has a rugged side, necessary for defending at top levels.
“You cannot play in all national teams without special qualities," Schuster said. "You cannot get playing time in that age at Vojvodina if you do not have qualities. What we really liked is that he’s a different type (from) the center backs we already have, we want to be more versatile. He’s very comfortable in possession and can travel with the ball into the midfield. ... The Serbian league, it’s a tough league, the strikers there know all the tricks. To defend these types of strikers is a good school for tough defending."
Sources also tell MLSsoccer.com that the total financial package will be around $1 million if they make Veselinovic's loan a permanent transfer. The loan fee and purchase option would factor into the final amount.
“We always said we try to compete for the best we can get, and he’s exactly that," Schuster said.