Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Whitecaps Sign First Ever African Designated Player

The Vancouver Whitecaps announced the acquisition of their second designated player and the first one from the African continent in MLS history with the signing of Mustapha Jarju.  The former U17 captain and current alternate captain for the Gambian national football team played last year in the Belgian 2nd division with RAEC Mons.  The eighteen goals he scored last season helped the club gain promotion to the Jupiler League, the Belgian first division.

The story broke on Monday night when the Whitecaps announced there would be a major player signing the next morning.  Around the same time respected Nigerian based football writer, Colin Udoh, announced that there would be an African DP signing in the Western Conference.  Then he confirmed it was for the Whitecaps, it was a forward and he captained the U17 national team.

Jarju, also known as Toubabo, is versatile enough to play anywhere along the midfield as well as up front as a striker.  In addition to his goal scoring prowess in Belgium, the Gambian international has the skills to play in the central midfield.  For the national squad, Jarju plays that position and they rely on him to control and distribute the ball from the midfield which is partly why he has only scored four times in 25 matches for Gambia.

He arrived in Europe at the age of twenty and joined Lierse SK of Belgium 1st division in 2006 where he scored nine goals in his debut season but the team was relegated to the 2nd division.  In Jarju’s next season he scored fifteen goals in lower division as he signed a three year contract and moved up one level to RAEC Mons.  Unfortuanely his new club floundered despite his efforts and once again relegation was in the cards and the next year RAEC Mons was unable to move up.  This last year was a breakout season for Jarju and with his eighteen goals and eight assists he led the team back up to 1st division football.

At first the six foot striker/midfielder was looking to sign an extension with the hopes of acquiring a Belgian passport but apparently things did not work.  Jarju didn’t show up to preseason training and there were rumours of offers from abroad including one from a English Championship squad. Unfortunately for him because of Gambia's low ranking he would not be able to go to England without a European passport.

At 24 he is one of the youngest designated players in MLS and as mentioned before the first African DP in Major League Soccer history.  The acquisition gives the Whitecaps another attack minded player with pace who can score and setup his teammates for goals.  He is capable of playing multiple positions and is able to score from anywhere which something the Caps have lacked this year.  Because the Gambian national team have used him as a midfielder it would be reasonable to assume that he has the passing skills to play the possession type game the team employs.

The Caps would be wise to continue looking a central midfielder to control the pitch and, with a possible long term injury to DeMerit, a central defender capable of playing the right back spot.  Even with signing of Jarju the Whitecaps still have two international spots available for their roster. With the recent addition of Jordan Harvey and now Mustapha Jarju it is clear the Whitecaps are looking to add players with pace and technical skills.  They are also viewing Jarju’s addition as a long term signing considering the age of the player and commitment to make him a DP. 

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