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  • Vancouver's new DP Jarju may do more for the team than score goals


    The acquisition of new designated player Mustapha Jarju has put the Vancouver Whitecaps on the front pages for all the right reasons. For once, instead of people talking about a two-win season with ten losses, a Voyageurs Cup loss, and some hapless play, they're talking about something more positive. Vancouver has leapt onto the Major League Soccer trend of signing rising young guns as designated players: Jarju has scored in the Belgium first and second divisions and, at twenty-four years old, will get better. He's a good balanced offensive player who scores with both feet and can set his teammates up like none of the other Vancouver forwards are capable of. With a four-year contract the Whitecaps can be almost assured of holding onto the Jarju for the best years of his prime. Nothing is certain in soccer but Jarju looks like a good bet; if he works out Tom Soehn has done a magnificent day's work.

    That said, Jarju is a forward and if there's one position where the Whitecaps are looking good that's it. Eric Hassli, our existing designated player, needs no introduction. The Whitecaps have also gotten plenty of production from diminuitive Brazilian Camilo. Davide Chiumiento has been used as a withdrawn forward in recent weeks, young Omar Salgado has had his moments of effectiveness, and at some point Atiba Harris is going to return from his knee surgery. They're not the New York Red Bulls, but the Whitecaps don't look like a team that desperately needs forward.

    Mustapha Jarju may be a talented player. But where does he fit in the Vancouver Whitecaps system?


    It clearly won't hurt the Whitecaps to add another body up front. The depth of the Whitecaps forward crew is a bit chancy: Salgado is young and has a lot to learn while even if you rate Harris nobody can tell for sure how his surgically re-constructed knee will hold up to an MLS pounding. There's the lingering possibility of player departure. You'll remember that Camilo has been linked with a transfer to Kuwait: there's been no movement on that front and it's possible it was all smoke, but there's still a chance that somebody will move somewhere. Given Eric Hassli's suspension and injury history, a bit of reliable help is a very good idea.

    Mustapha Jarju, though, isn't "reliable help". He isn't Charles Gbeke. He's a designated player, given big money and a long contract term and expected to help lead this team to glory.

    Fortunately, Jarju brings some different tactical options to this team. He's most comfortable as a withdrawn forward, and despite his accurate two-footed finishing he's won a reputation as a nice playmaker in Belgium. If employed behind Hassli in a 4-4-2, it's not tough to see where Jarju fits in: given how hideously Chiumiento has struggled as a number ten, Jarju will take the pressure off Chiumiento and allow him to concentrate on the pure playmaking that is his forte.

    Jarju provides flexibility throughout the lineup. He's played some attacking midfield in his career, meaning that in case of injury or tactical need he can move back into the middle of the pitch and assist a midfield that's seriously lacked reliable offense this season. With Jarju in the fold we've hopefully seen an end to the spectacle of Terry Dunfield or Jeb Brovsky trying to run an offense.

    A 4-4-2 diamond with Gershon Koffie, Russell Teibert, Shea Salinas, and Davide Chiumiento in the midfield feeding balls to Jarju and Hassli isn't elite, but it's a serious upgrade on anything the Whitecaps have fielded to date. You may quibble with some selections: you might want Terry Dunfield as a defensive midfielder instead of Koffie, or you might think Camilo is a better choice than Teibert on the left, or you might prefer Nizar Khalfan as a right winger. If Jarju's arrival gives the Whitecaps a series of viable options in the event of injury or struggle, though, that's just another point in his favour.

    Jarju could also be a good link between the midfield and the target man when Hassli is out of the lineup. Omar Salgado is clearly athletic and talented but he struggles generating his own chances at this point of his career. With Jarju's help doing some of the scoring and passing the ball, we might see a sudden and dramatic improvement in Salgado's performances.

    This team still needs the ball-holding central midfielder everyone is always talking about as well as no small number of other pieces. Jarju can't bring the Whitecaps into the playoffs on his own. Yet, if he pans out, his impact on this lineup will go beyond his own skills.

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