VANCOUVER — Winger Dieber Caicedo has big dreams, and he's hoping a move to the Vancouver Whitecaps helps make them reality.
The 20-year-old native of Barbacoas, Colombia, has signed a three-year contract that will keep him in Vancouver through 2023, with a club option for a fourth season.
“I want to grow. I know (the Whitecaps are) a team that lets young players play," Caicedo said through a translator Tuesday. "I want to move forward in my career and this is a great opportunity for me to play.”
He comes to Major League Soccer following three seasons in Colombia's Categoria Primera A, where he amassed seven goals and 13 assists over 78 appearances, including 53 starts.
Known as an aggressive young forward, Caicedo also has experience on the international stage, having been called to Colombia's U-15, U-17 and U-20 teams.
He believes playing for the Whitecaps will open his opportunities.
"I certainly view the league, MLS, as growing a lot, sending a lot of players to Europe. And ultimately, that's somewhere I want to get to in the future," he said.
Caicedo already has a friendly face in Vancouver. Fellow Colombian Cristian Dajome cemented his spot on the 'Caps roster last season, registering three goals and four assists in 23 games.
The pair haven't played together previously, but Caicedo said he spoke with Dajome several times about potentially coming to Vancouver.
“He’s told me how good the quality of life is in Vancouver, which is very important to me, and also how much the club supports him and would support me," he said. "That gives me a great sense of calm and a great sense of tranquillity.”
Whitecaps coach Marc Dos Santos said Caicedo is still a raw talent, but is a player who has "the right DNA" to fit in well with the Whitecaps system.
“I think he has tools that are very aggressive as a player. He’s quick, he’s fast, he likes to take players one-on-one, he likes to play a lot inside," he said.
Vancouver bought the emerging talent's discovery rights from Nashville SC for US$75,000 in general allocation money.
The club also reportedly paid a transfer fee of $2.5 million — a number that 'Caps sporting director Axel Schuster said "isn't that wrong."
Last week, a FIFA report showed that the Whitecaps were big spenders on the transfer market, doling out more in transfer fees than any other CONCACAF club in 2020.
Vancouver acquired a number of pieces ahead of the MLS season, including Dajome and Canadian striker Lucas Cavallini, but finished the pandemic-marred campaign out of a playoff position with a 9-14-0 record.
“You can spend a lot and not be successful and you cannot spend a lot and be very successful. I think it’s about doing things right," Schuster said, noting that the Whitecaps have been busy developing and refining their recruitment and scouting departments in recent months.
"Spending a lot of money alone doesn’t mean anything."
Work on improving the 'Caps roster isn't done, Dos Santos said. The club is still in the market for an attacking midfielder after assessing last year's roster and determining that there was a lack of quality between the midfielders and attacker.
“What our club is looking for is a player that has the ability to link between our forwards and our midfielders, that has a great attitude with and without the ball, that can help us in the tempo of the possession, that can find the last passes in a good way to feed our forwards," Dos Santos said. "That’s the kind of forward we’re looking for.”
Global conditions have made signing players more difficult.
In order to get Caicedo's deal done, Schuster said the club had to fly him to Mexico for a medical, then wait for the results to be physically shipped to Canada. The Whitecaps are still waiting for his transfer certificate, work permit and visa before he can officially join the team.
Uncertainty around the coming season also has some players considering their options.
MLS announced Monday that it is targeting April 3 as the start date for the 2021 season, but no plans have been announced for where Canadian teams will play as the border remains closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last year, the league's three Canadian squads were forced to move to the U.S. in mid-September to finish out the season. The 'Caps spent nearly two months living in a hotel in downtown Portland and sharing a field with the Portland Timbers.
“Some players, especially the younger players, they just want to go and adventure and face every challenge. Players that are married with kids have more questions," Dos Santos said. "And I think that’s normal.”
Still, Schuster said the club is still targeting three players and hopes to announce at least two more signings before opening training camp at the end of February.
“We are working very hard on other moves," Dos Santos said. "We’re on it right now, today. But we’ve had a lot of surprises with little, different things that we cannot say when those things will happen.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2021.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press