The Vancouver Whitecaps knocked the ball out of the park with their last two Designated Player signings.
Scottish midfielder Ryan Gauld signed with the Whitecaps from Portuguese side Farense in August of 2021 for a reported fee of 350,000 Euros. (About 504,084 in Canadian Dollars) Pretty much right away, he flourished. Gauld was the creative playmaking midfielder they have been wanting for ages. Now, he is often wearing the captain’s armband and is the engine of the team.
Though that could also be said about Andrés Cubas. The Argentinian-born Paraguayan international joined the Whitecaps as a DP from French club Nimes Olympique for a reported fee of $3.25 US Dollars. Like Gauld, he came as advertised and flourished right away. Cubas’ ball-winning abilities were what the Whitecaps needed and he is vital to the squad.
When the club let Lucas Cavallini leave for free, the expectations were high for the new DP striker mainly because CEO and Sporting Director Axel Schuster and company nailed the first two DP slots.
After months of speculation, the club signed Sergio Córdova from FC Augsburg for a reported fee of 2.1 million Euros last February. But that wasn’t all. The Whitecaps gave up their 2024 natural first-round pick in the 2024 MLS SuperDraft, $300,000 in General Allocation Money (GAM) $100,000 in 2023 GAM and $100,000 in 2024 GAM guaranteed. That was for Córdova’s discovery rights as Real Salt Lake owned them. Again, MLS and their funny money rules.
As you probably know, I wasn’t a fan of the signing because I believed it seemed like a desperate signing. Córdova scored nine goals and managed an assist in 33 regular season games with RSL last season. All of them came in the second half of the season and one of those was against the Whitecaps.
Córdova has tools that the Whitecaps need in a striker. He has size and strength, and while not the fastest guy, he has some pace. What likely drew the Whitecaps to him was his tackling ability and ability to create space for himself to pounce on scoring chances.
But this season, it has not gone to plan for the man they call “La Pantera, which in Spanish, translates to panther or leopard. Yes, Córdova had no preseason and had to adapt quickly to a new system, team and environment. There was also that hamstring injury that kept him out for a month and a half.
But when he has played this season, he has shown glimpses of what he can do. But obviously, glimpses don’t create goals. Forget 007, Córdova has got 10 games without a goal or an assist. He has two yellow cards, however. (Cue the Cavallini jokes)
Córdova has only two shot total attempts and one on target in 377 minutes this season according to Football Reference. That is astonishingly bad, never mind the fact that he is a DP.
With RSL, Córdova had 2.34 shots per 90 minutes and 1.19 shots on target per 90. This season? 0.48 shots per 90 and 0.24 shots per on-target per 90. That drop-off is big.
Not only is Córdova, not scoring goals, he is not creating scoring chances. As mentioned, he only has one shot on target so far this season.
Córdova has the height and strength to win headers but there are times when he doesn’t them when headers come into the box. He also doesn’t consistently roam the box trying to find an opening for a scoring chance.
However, there are times when he has done those things. For example, Córdova was very noticeable in the Whitecaps’ 3-1 loss to the Timbers in Portland on May 11.
But so far, it is fair to say Córdova has been a disappointment so far. One shot on target in almost 400 minutes almost halfway through the season is not what you want to see from your DP striker.
Córdova does look engaged at times but other times he isn’t. Let’s take a look at one of his goals with RSL last season.
Here, he is watching the ball, moving around and is in the right place at the right time for it to land. This is what he needs to do with the Whitecaps. (The ball was headed by the defender but still, you get my point.) Julian Gressel is one of the best crossers in the league and he should feast on one of his crosses.
I also believe Córdova needs confidence. This is what a confident Córdova can do. While he is mainly a target man, as a striker, you shouldn’t be able to take some shots from distance. As Lee Dixon says in the FIFA games, “You don’t buy a ticket as they say.”
There are times when Córdova looks hesitant to shoot. As someone who has played striker, (amateur level and I sucked though) I was often told to “just let it rip.” Perhaps, Córdova should do the same. Well, as seen with RSL last season, he can let it rip.
The Whitecaps need more from “La Pantera.” He needs to be the panther that seeks its prey and when he sees it, he pounces.
It is tough to watch a player that the club paid a lot for, in this funk. When watching Córdova, you can’t help but feel a goal is coming but other times, you barely notice him.
Also, I’m not saying that Córdova is a flop and he should be sent back to FC Augsburg. What I am saying is that he needs to do more and he needs to prove to Whitecaps fans that he is the player that the club paid for.
Besides, there is over half a season left and that includes the Canadian Championship Final on Wednesday. Córdova has time to prove people wrong. After all, all his goals with RSL last season were in the second half of the season.
His head coach believes he is playing well and some circumstances have been preventing him from scoring.
“I think it was the best performance of Sergio since he was here with us,” said Vanni Sartini on Córdova after Saturday’s 1-1 draw against Sporting Kansas City. “He did a very good job defending, he won the ball twice, he almost a red card for the other team. I think everything is going against him. There were two crosses where the bounce could have been in front of him and he could have scored easily. But I think he played really well and did what he is supposed to do. We know that Sergio is more of a striker when there is more space in behind.”
“I don’t believe we have seen the real Sergio yet,” said Gressel after the 3-1 loss in Portland on May 11.
Would the real Sergio Córdova please stand up? He has to be out there somewhere and needs to come out soon. If this is the real, Córdova, then the Whitecaps will want their money back. Hopefully, that isn’t the case.