As loan gets set to expire, Richie Laryea leaves door open for Whitecaps return: 'I've enjoyed it here'
From the outside, transfers are always exciting, for a multitude of reasons.
If your team signs that missing piece, moves on that one player that was holding the team back, or says goodbye to an important cog, those sorts of moves can evoke similar thrills to wins and losses.
Vancouver Whitecaps fans experienced that this summer, as they had quite the busy transfer window.
First, they suffered a big loss, losing midfielder Julian Gressel, who had been one of the best players in MLS in the first half of the season, but as an impending free agent, was traded as it didn’t look likely that he’d re-sign in Vancouver, instead wanting to return to the East Coast.
But then, they recovered nicely from that loss. First, they decided to immediately replace Gressel in the aggregate, bringing in a pair of CanMNT wing backs in Sam Adekugbe and Richie Laryea, with the former signing a permanent deal with his old club, while the latter came in on loan from Nottingham Forest.
Then, they weren’t done there, as they then capped things off by signing veteran Junior Hoilett as depth, while selling off Sergio Cordóva to Turkey, opening up a DP spot for next year.
Overall, all things considered, they made out quite nicely considering how things started off with Gressel’s departure, allowing them to push into the playoffs feeling confident in their ability to compete.
Richie Laryea, Sam Adekugbe & now Junior Hoilett!🇨🇦 The Whitecaps have done some incredible business and deserve a lot of credit! #CanMNT fans will be able to enjoy plenty of Canadian talent of this side as they target a deep playoff run. https://t.co/XOWGBTZHw9— Josh Deming (@tv_jjd) September 13, 2023
Yet, while those moves were no-brainers for the club, and made the Whitecaps one of the consensus winners of the summer transfer window on paper, it’s worth noting that didn’t take one key factor into consideration - how the players would adjust to their new roles.
And that’s often a key subject that’s forgotten when these sorts of moves occur - the adjustment period of making moves like this, as players will have to uproot everything to come to a new club, which can have an impact on players, their families and more.
In particular, that’s something that Laryea saw first-hand, especially since he came in on loan, meaning that he had to come in with a true short-term approach. For someone who had previously been on loan to Toronto FC from Forest, where he’d joined from that same TFC side for half a season before going back there on loan, it has made for a wild last 48 months for the Canadian, and this move just added to that.
Never easy for any player to deal with, it’s especially tough for someone like Laryea, who has a wife and a young child to think about, too.
So while he’s welcomed this chance to move to Vancouver (he wouldn’t have given it a chance if he didn’t feel that he was ready for it), he admits that it’s made for an interesting adjustment period at his new club, one that goes even beyond some of the usual things you need to deal with when making a move like this.
“Yeah, it’s not something that people speak about or look at, but midseason transfers are tough on players and their families all around, definitely,” Laryea told OneSoccer. “I’ve been learning every single day and it's good, as I’m 28, but I still want to challenge myself every single day, so this has been a good challenge, I've had to learn new tendencies and forget some old ones, as we worked towards a common goal.”
“So yeah, I feel like midseason changes are difficult, especially when I was on a different team in the same league on the different side of the country, but it’s been good, as I enjoy new challenges.”
Yet, as Laryea also mentioned there, this has been a welcome challenge for him, though.
And for those who have followed his career, they’ll know that he’s always been one to accept challenges.
From his time as an MLS Super Draft pick in Orlando City, to playing a role on a Nottingham Forest team that got promoted to the English Premier League for the first time in almost 20 years, as well as a key starter on the CanMNT team that returned to the World Cup for the first time in 36 years, Laryea has tackled his fair share of interesting challenges across his career.
At the same time, he’s also seen his fair share of tough moments, too. After coming through at Orlando, they cut him and told him he wasn’t MLS-calibre after the 2018 season, and he didn’t get much interest from many teams after that.
Toronto FC finally did give him a call at the start of 2019, but even that was just to go on trial in their preseason, offering no guarantee that he’d earn a contract.
Yet, Laryea took that challenge personally, and won himself a job, at a new position, to boot, as he went from more of a midfielder in college and with Orlando to a full back at Toronto.
And given that by the end of 2019, he was a key regular for TFC as they pushed to an MLS Cup Final, as well as a locked-in starter for the CanMNT (despite only making his debut in September of that year), he took to that move pretty well.
From there, he blossomed into one of the best in MLS at his position in the 2020 and 2021 seasons, earning him the move to Forest by the start of 2022.
Yet, while that rise from cut from Orlando to Forest and World Cup player, came with its own set of challenges, one could argue that this Vancouver stint was one of his toughest challenges to date (although it could also be said his second Toronto stint was as big of a challenge, for different reasons).
Given that he came to the club with the expectations of being one of the best in his position in MLS, that’s given him a different type of pressure than he’s used to, as his stints at Orlando, Toronto, Forest and for the CanMNT always saw him enter as someone just battling to get their foot in the door, instead of having the expectations of being a key cog on a good team from day one.
Despite that, he relished that chance to be that kind of player with the Whitecaps. Someone who puts all sorts of pressure on himself already to perform, he’s felt that this challenge was perfect for him, with the added pressure not changing anything for him in terms of his approach.
“Yeah, I think these are stepping stones that you want as a footballer, to go from having to fight just to play, into then being a guy that people rely on,” Laryea explained. “I think I thrive off having that kind of pressure, I don't shy away from it, and I enjoy it, as I want to be that type of player for my team and to be able to get the best output out of me.”
“Yeah, it puts pressure on you, but I think I enjoy that pressure, and I don't really let outside pressure affect me, as I put pressure on myself to make sure that I'm doing the things required to help the team as much as I can, and as your career progresses, that's the way you should look at football as well.”
So even though his Whitecaps stint didn’t go to plan, as they fell in the first round of the playoffs to LAFC, after just narrowly missing out on top four in the West by three points, Laryea enjoyed his time with Vancouver.
Because of that, as the loan gets set to expire, he remains open to a return to the West Coast.
Even though he was only at the club for a few months, he enjoyed the opportunity he had to be a key cog on the pitch, while he and his family took nicely to the new digs off it.
It took some time to adjust, but he really seemed to find his feet near the end of the regular season, too, putting in some strong performances, even if he then hit a bit of a wall in the playoffs, as he showed that he could perhaps play a big role on a contending Whitecaps team if given more time to adjust.
Of course, the decision of him returning will likely be out of his hands, as it’ll be up to the Whitecaps and Forest to find a deal that makes sense, with the Whitecaps deciding how much they’ll want to give to acquire Laryea, and Forest figuring out how much would make sense for them to sell.
In particular, the Whitecaps will have to figure out if they can get it done without making Laryea a DP, or if they believe that giving Laryea that status is worth it given what he can bring to the table, which will be a crucial decision as it could determine some of the other moves that they make to elevate their potential as contenders.
Yet, as those negotiations get underway, Laryea will patiently wait, having controlled what he can control.
“Yeah, I’ve been enjoying the things over here,” he admitted. “Obviously, it’s a different side of Canada to what I’m used to, and it’s a different team, all different things to put into perspective, but it’s been really good.”
“I've always said that the best way for me to operate is to go on a day-by-day basis, and that's what I firmly believe in, but I've also enjoyed myself, and my family has enjoyed it, so this would definitely be a place that'd be good for us moving forward, but so many different factors will come into, as it’s not just myself making the decision, so I think for me, taking it day-by-day is what I thrive on.”
Before a decision is likely made, Laryea has other important matters to take care of, however.
The big one? Helping the CanMNT qualify for Copa América, which they can do later this month if they defeat Jamaica in their two-legged Concacaf Nations League quarter-final.
There, Laryea should play a big role, as he remains a key cog on this Canadian team.
And his team will have plenty to prove in this tie, too. Given that they’re coming off a 4-1 drubbing at the hands of Japan last month, a loss that added further misery to what has mostly been a frustrating year for the CanMNT, they’ll want to end off the year on a good note with a win over Jamaica.
Knowing how important making it to Copa América next summer would be, as well as the chance to compete for a Nations League trophy in March, that’s not lost on Laryea, who will want to play a big role in both of those quests.
GOAL 🇨🇦— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) March 26, 2023
OSO ➡️ LARYEA ➡️ JO DAVID 🎯
Just like @KristianJack wrote it up on our pre-game show:
- Instinctive timing ✅
- Run-in behind ✅
- One-touch finish ✅
And #CanMNT are up 1-0 ✨
🔴 https://t.co/7JFAUhgjL6 pic.twitter.com/4Z5V4QhjDW
So while he’s not sure where he’ll be playing his club football at the time, he’s just focused on getting there, first, continuing to employ that ‘day-by-day’ mentality that has worked for him up until this point.
“It’s massive, but I think the game against Japan will help us a little bit,” Laryea said of the Jamaica tie. “(Japan) gave us, I don’t want to say a reality check, but it almost was, as that’s a Japan team that people have been underestimating how good they’ve been ever since the World Cup until now, seeing what they’ve they've done to big nations around the world, so I don't mean it was a reality check as if we needed our hopes to be crushed before the game, but I think the reality check was that we played against a very good team and saw the level it takes to win, and I think that's the type of experience we can take into this two-legged series against Jamaica.”
“Obviously, with Copa América coming up next year, we want to be qualified for that, so I know all of the guys will be fired up and ready for that match. This Japan game will have helped us a lot to see what the highest level looks like, and even in the game, I don't want to dwell on it too much, but we had a chance to level it early, and maybe it'd be a different game if we did, but I think there are bits and pieces in there where we went head to head with them.”
“Yes, we gave them goals that a team of that quality shouldn't be given as well, but I think that’s the learning curve that was there for us, but we also took a lot of positives from the fact that we went head to head with them on a lot of different occasions in the game, as well.”