The Vancouver Whitecaps are reportedly set to sign Lucas Cavallini. Does his arrival signify a new era for the club and MLS as a whole?
Major League Soccer is changing. As the league has developed, expanded and now grown, both in size and stature, so has the mechanics of it. How teams win evolves with how the league is structured. And in recent years, there has been over very clear and defined way to win: spend.
Seven of the last nine MLS Cup winners have been the highest-spending teams in the league. This season, the final four teams were all ranked in the top five most valuable teams by Forbes. The fifth team, the Los Angeles Galaxy, also qualified for the playoffs and have been one of the dominant teams in the league over the past decade.
Those same four teams also rank in the top seven for wage budget. Atlanta United are setting spending records every offseason, LAFC are also ploughing money into their venture, while the likes of Inter Miami are still to enter the league and are expected to spend lavishly.
This makes the way to win in MLS quite clear. While five or ten years ago those that targetted team development, young players, and intelligent coaching were the most successful, teams like Sporting Kansas City, the New York Red Bulls and FC Dallas, in more recent times — the spending, and the talent that the spending provides — has borne out the victor.
As a result, teams must adapt. Those that were previously successful must find new ways to replicate their success and those that have been left behind must now spend even more to make up the lost ground. Sporting KC find themselves in that former group, signing Alan Pulido in a blockbuster club-record deal earlier this offseason. The Vancouver Whitecaps are in the latter.
This week, the Whitecaps have reportedly come close to entering this new era of lavish spending. Canadian attacker Lucas Cavallini, who has repeatedly been linked with a move to MLS throughout his career, is finally set to make a move North, landing in Vancouver.
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Per Jeff Carlisle of ESPN, the Whitecaps have agreed to a $6 million fee with Liga MX club Puebla to secure the transfer of Cavallini, which is now expected to be a formality. He has 30 goals in 81 league and cup games for Puebla, as well as 10 in 17 for the Canadian national team. Given that he is Canadian, he will not take an international roster spot, only adding to his value, and he is a proven goalscorer and creator in a higher-quality league than MLS. This is an extremely astute signing for a team that is desperately short on talent.
His transfer also signifies a change in approach from the Vancouver Whitecaps, which has been echoed throughout MLS. A predominantly tentative team that rarely invests heavily in their squad, the Whitecaps are showing the rest of the small-market or low-spending teams that you must invest heavily to compete in the modern iteration of MLS.
There are plenty of teams that have not invested properly in their teams, even some successful ones. Real Salt Lake, Minnesota and Philadelphia all made the playoffs last season without spending lavishly. But they are the increasing anomaly. Expecting to replicate their performances is naive.
So, for the likes of Colorado, San Jose, Nashville, Columbus and more, the new MLS requires spending. The Vancouver Whitecaps are proving that they can adapt. Sporting KC are, too. What say the rest of you?