Unlike last year, the Vancouver Whitecaps did not wait until the new year to make a signing. The club announced on Friday that they signed Croatian midfielder Damir Kreilach as a free agent to a two-year contract The signing was first reported by Ižak Ante Sučić of the Croatian website Germanijak. hr. The 34-year-old spent the last six seasons with Real Salt Lake. He spent the last two seasons as RSL’s captain.

Kreilach is an attacking midfielder but can also play as a striker. During his six seasons in Salt Lake City, he scored 56 goals and 25 assists

“We are very pleased to welcome Damir and his family to our club and city,” said Whitecaps CEO and Sporting Director in the press release. “Everybody in MLS knows what Damir brings to the table. He is an experienced player, a competitor, and a leader. In our conversations with Damir, we could feel his hunger for another opportunity where he can bring his best skills and compete for some big goals. He is driven to help bring success to Vancouver.”

“I’m very happy and excited to take on this new challenge and be a part of Vancouver Whitecaps FC,” said Kreilach in the press release. “There is a lot of work ahead and I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity. I’m looking forward to meeting my new teammates, coaches, staff and all the supporters. I can’t wait to get started!”

What does the eye test say about Kreilach?

In 2021, Kreilach was an absolute force. He was an MLS All-Star and had 16 goals and nine assists which were both career highs. But in 2022, he had a nasty back injury which saw him only make five appearances and get surgery.

Kreilach only played 1,317 minutes over 27 appearances in 2023. Most of those were off the bench as he was still reeling from that back injury. The Croatian did manage four goals and one assist but it was clear his best days are behind him.

But Kreilach can provide service. He has been known for being a solid passer, especially with long passes and passes into the box. Kreilach can be the catalyst for the build-up with his playmaking and Brian White and Ryan Gauld can benefit.

As mentioned, Kreilach has played as a forward. That’s where he primarily played last season. Goals have been one of his strengths. The Whitecaps are very familiar with this as Kreilach has scored seven out of his 56 goals with RSL against them. That is tied for the most out of any opponent with the LA Galaxy and Colorado Rapids.

Kreilach has a dangerous shot from inside the box. When the ball is cut back, he is ready to pounce on the shot. That’s what he did in Vancouver during the opening weekend of the 2023 MLS season.

This clip probably best shows Kreilach’s abilities. He starts the attack by playing a nice through ball to Bertin Jacquesson. If you watch Kreilach closely he puts his arm up for the ball as Jackquesson plays it to Rubio Rubin and he is there to pounce on the shot as it is played to him.

Don’t expect Kreilach to be fast. Pace never really seemed to be a strength (especially in the last two seasons) but he is someone who can move the ball well and score.

What do the stats say about Kreilach?

In the last three years, Kreilach’s expected goals plus assists per 90 has gone from 0.56 to 0.39 to 0.29 according to FootballReference. That of course, has been mainly due to the limited minutes due to his injury issues. In his six seasons with Real Salt Lake, he has averaged 0.39 xG + XA.

His FootballReference advanced stat show (vs forwards over the last year) that his shooting and goal creation have fallen off but he is still a very good progressive passer

In all but one of his six seasons with Real Salt Lake, he got at least 80% in pass completion rate. (Except 2019 where he got 79.3%)

How does Kreilach fit in the Whitecaps lineup and what would success look like?

The Whitecaps seemed to have signed Kreilach as a depth piece. As he is 34, it is clear that he is on the decline and Father Time has caught up to him. Do not expect him to play over 2000 minutes next season like he did with Real Salt Lake.

He probably wouldn’t be expected to play as a striker. In head coach Vanni Sartini’s 3-1-4-2 formation, Kreilach would be a bench option to play up top.

That is probably best for him. The Whitecaps need someone who comes off the bench and makes an impact as a super sub.

Ideally, Kreilach would come off the bench to play in the number 8 position. He may get a start now and then especially with the number of games the Whitecaps will play next season. Kreilach could come off as someone like Alessandro Schöpf to bring more service.

With Gauld playing as a second striker, Kreilach could come on for him in a game where they are winning to give the Scotsman some rest.

Don’t expect Kreilach to have 2021-like numbers. He came to the Whitecaps to bring depth and veteran experience. A successful season for Kreilach would have him consistently making an impact off the bench. Ideally, at least four or five goals and at least two or three assists would make a successful season for him.

He may be older and his salary is unknown at the moment, but Kreilach is a player the Whitecaps needed.