As the MLS Secondary Transfer Window slammed shut, the Vancouver Whitecaps cooked a great meal.

They wanted to upgrade the wingback position and that is what they did. The Whitecaps signed Richie Laryea on loan (Until December 31 but it’s possible he could be signed permanently but we’ll cross the bridge if we get there) from English Premier League club Nottingham Forest. That was an exciting signing as Laryea is a regular on the Canadian men’s national team.

But they weren’t done. Vancouver brought back former academy graduate Sam Adekugbe from Turkish side Hatayspor for one million euros. That is a starting quality wingback for the left side while Laryea will occupy the right side.

On Wednesday afternoon, Adekugbe and Laryea trained and were introduced to the media with a press conference joined by CEO and Sporting Director Axel Schuster and head coach Vanni Sartini.

The right time to join

Adekugbe spoke about what factored into his decision to come back to Vancouver.

“It’s always nice to be back where I started,” said Adekugbe per Whitecaps club reporter Sarita Patel. “I think it’s important to play in a team where you feel comfortable where you can express your qualities and I think that’s the group that they have going right now, it allows us to do that.”

Adekugbe was part of the Whitecaps first team from 2013 to 2017 but he only played 16 games and went on loan to numerous European clubs such as Brighton & Hove Albion and IFK Göteborg.

Laryea talked about his drive to win with the Whitecaps.

“I’m a competitor, I want to win and that’s the vision I see for the club,” said Laryea. “This team can go on and make a run into the playoff, MLS Cup that’s what my vision is for the club – it might sound ridiculous to some people but that’s just the way I do business.”

Laryea spent 2022 and half of 2023 on loan with Toronto FC, the club he spent three seasons before joining Nottingham Forest. But there has not been success in Toronto for Laryea.

Leadership and experience

Schuster didn’t have much to say during the conference (as he said he has spoken to the media about the two new signings a lot last week) but what he did provide was worth writing down.

“We’re super happy that it’s worked out and we added two players that give us leadership, maturity and experiences,” said Schuster. “At the end of the day this all sounds great… but now we have to work on getting all our horsepower on the pitch and make it work.

Schuster also talked about how leaders step in tough times.

“In good moments, everything is easy, but in tough moments you need leaders,” he said per JJ Adams of The Province. “You need veterans, you need experienced players that help the young players, and also in the locker room.”

Adekugbe and Laryea are both 28. They are both in their prime and have experience playing at high levels and winning trophies. Laryea was part of Nottingham Forest’s squad that won the English Championship playoffs and got promoted to the Premier League in 2022. Adekugbe helped Galatasaray win the Turkish league (on loan from Hatayspor) last season.

Not only do they fit what the Whitecaps need on the pitch but they fit what they need off the pitch.

Joining the Whitecaps together, with Tosaint Ricketts providing the assist.

Both Adekugbe and Laryea are close friends due to them being on Canada’s men’s national team.

“He {Sam] told me he was coming so I came,” said Laryea. 

Adekugbe spoke about how close he and Laryea are. He also added that former Whitecaps and Canadian men’s national team striker was a catalyst for both of them coming to Vancouver. Ricketts retired last winter after a 14-year playing career and his last three and a half years were with the Whitecaps. He is now in the Whitecaps front office as liaison of club and player engagement. Ricketts may not be a player anymore but he is providing that depth role he had, just off the pitch.

“We speak to each other quite a lot,” added Adekugbe. “He’s one of my closest friends on the national team…we’re also both close with Tos. (Ricketts) he’s been really influential in our careers – he’s almost a big brother.”

Getting to work

The Whitecaps do not play until they welcome the San Jose Earthquakes on August 20. After that, it is a seven-game road trip before they return to BC Place on September 30 against DC United. It is going to be a grind for the push to the playoffs but the Whitecaps are ready for the challenge.

Adekugbe and Laryea will provide the attacking void that Julian Gressel left. They are quick players that bring excellent playmaking skills.

Adding them to a Whitecaps squad that is already good is like getting a big video game upgrade for your character, it makes you better but you got to use the new tool to help you get more victories or points.

The Whitecaps and both Adekugbe and Laryea know they can advance to the next level. With the Whitecaps having what is most likely, their deepest squad of the MLS era, the next level is not out of reach but can they overcome the obstacles? We shall see.