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Vancouver Whitecaps go big in transfer window, signing national team duo

Wingbacks Adekugbe, Laryea added to help squad lock down playoff spot
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Canada’s Sam Adekugbe and Morocco’s Sofiane Boufal vie for the ball during the World Cup group F soccer match between Canada and Morocco at the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha , Qatar, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022. The Vancouver Whitecaps acquired the Canadian defender via transfer from Turkish side Hatayspor on Thursday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Alessandra Tarantino

The Vancouver Whitecaps brought in some Canadian star power with two national team players joining the club as it looks to hold its spot in the Major League Soccer playoff picture.

The Whitecaps signed wingbacks Richie Laryea on loan and Sam Adekugbe on a permanent transfer in the MLS secondary transfer window.

“We didn’t feel rushed to do a deal,” sporting director Axel Schuster said Thursday. “We had a little bit of a position of strength to go into negotiations and not needing to accept a deal that was not the right one for us.

“That’s why it took until the last minute, we really had to wait and use the deadline in our advantage.”

Adekugbe, 28, was signed from Turkish club Hatayspor for an undisclosed fee. His MLS contract runs through 2026 and includes a club option for 2027.

It’s a homecoming for the Calgary resident, who came up through the Whitecaps academy before signing with the first team in 2013.

The move follows the signing of former Toronto FC player, Laryea, on loan from English Premier League club Nottingham Forest through to Dec. 31.

“Nobody grows up to be a wingback,” Schuster said at a press conference. “Those two guys are the preferred profile for the wingback position and it’s why we put the bar higher in trying to get both.”

Schuster said the deal was easy because the Whitecaps had shown recent success in the Leagues Cup and MLS regular season — sitting in seventh in the Western Conference with nine teams per conference making the playoffs — meaning there was a chance to take a stand during negotiations.

Schuster said the team has US$27,000 remaining in the salary cap.

“We’re not signing a player with that,” he said laughing.

Adekugbe joined Hatayspor in 2021 and made 53 starts for the club across all competitions.

He spent the second half of the 2022-23 season on loan to Turkish side Galatasaray. Adekugbe had one assist over six starts, helping the team secure the Super Lig championship.

He also made three appearances for Canada at last year’s World Cup in Qatar and will be added to the roster pending a medical.

Laryea played in 18 games for Toronto FC this season until his loan from Forest expired on June 30.

He scored 10 goals in 95 matches for the Reds over the past five seasons.

The Canadian international was sold to Forest in January 2022 but lent back to Toronto after just five matches.

“These are two Canadian national players,” Schuster said about the marketing potential of the new signings. “The biggest vibe you feel in our market is around Canadian soccer. Giving them two famous faces of the Canadian national team is something that attracts a wider audience.”

Laryea has played 45 matches for Canada, including three in the group stage of last year’s World Cup in Qatar.

Schuster said the team isn’t looking to offload any more players following the departures of Julian Gressel and Deiber Caicedo, on a transfer and loan, respectively.

The Whitecaps were scheduled to face Tigres UANL in Leagues Cup play on Friday night. Vancouver finished second in its group to advance to the Round of 32.

Tigres, meanwhile, defeated the San Jose Earthquakes 1-0 on Sunday.

“Playing against Tigres in CONCACAF is like playing against Real Madrid in Europe,” said Vancouver head coach Vanni Sartini.

“At the same time when we play at B.C. Place, we respect everyone but don’t fear everyone.”

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