After much speculation, the Vancouver Whitecaps officially announced 23-year-old Gambian international Mustapha Jarju as MLS's first Designated Player to compete on the international level for an African nation. Jarju most recently played professionally for Belgian second-division side RAEC Mons, who he helped lead to promotion after they finished the regular season in third place and won the playoff.
"Mustapha is a proven goalscorer at the club level in Europe," said Whitecaps FC president Bob Lenarduzzi. "He has pace and the ability to find the back of the net with regularity, as he did during his successful spell in Belgium. Mustapha will be a great addition to our strike force."
Jarju enjoyed a bit of a breakout season last year, scoring 18 league goals, the fourth-highest total in the league. He also had eight assists in league play. In the playoffs, he stepped up his game, scoring four goals in six games. He also scored three goals in two Belgian Cup games. In three years with the Mons, he scored 43 goals in 118 appearances. On the international level, he has made nine appearances and scored two goals. He is also the team's alternate captain, a role he served at both the U17 and U20 levels.
As a midseason DP, Jarju will count $167,000 against the cap. He won't be available to play at least until July 15 when the international transfer window opens.
The Whitecaps will likely be planning to use him in some combination with Eric Hassli and Camilo Sanvezzo, who have combined to score 12 of the Whitecaps' 19 goals this season. Whether Sanvezzo or Jarju slide back into the midfield, the ultimate plan would likely involve Davide Chiumiento playing more as a center midfielder. The addition of Jarju could help provide a little more balance to an offense that has become overly dependent on Hassli and Sanvezzo, both of whom have missed significant time for a variety of reasons. From the sound of it, Jarju will be used primarily as a withdrawn forward.
"I am very happy to begin the next stage of my career with Vancouver Whitecaps FC and play in a one of the rising leagues in the world in MLS," Jarju said. "I had many options throughout Europe and the Middle East, but Whitecaps FC made me feel very welcome and the city is beautiful. Recently, I have watched several matches and believe the club is ready to push for the playoffs."