Eric Hassli's signing by the Vancouver Whitecaps caught almost everyone by surprise. Could little-known Nigerian forward Peter Utaka be next? (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)

Vancouver Whitecaps Make Mustapha Jarju Team's Second Designated Player

Gambian international played in Belgium last season

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Vancouver Whitecaps Take Calculated Risk With Mustapha Jarju's Signing - 86 Forever

You could certainly be excused for never having heard of Mustapha Jarju before the Vancouver Whitecaps announced him as their second Designated Player on Tuesday. The 24-year-old's most extensive professional experience came in the Belgian second division, where he helped lead the RAEC Mons to promotion and has scored 43 goals over 118 matches.

No one is going to accuse the Whitecaps of making this kind of signing for scoring publicity points with fans, something that actually pleases 86 Forever. SB Nation's Whitecaps blog notes that in a season that has gone off the rails, this is a reason to believe better days are ahead:

The Vancouver Whitecaps have gotten a lot wrong this season but this looks like exactly the right thing to do. They've signed a promising 24-year-old with international pedigree, someone who brings a good balance of skills but has also proven he can score in leagues better than Major League Soccer. He fills a position that doesn't need filling but he can move around the field and brings a skillset the team probably doesn't have right now. He gives the team more desperately-needed flexibility up and down the lineup and far more options going forward. This is a player who, if all goes according to plan, should help them right now and will help them even more in the years to come.

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Vancouver Whitecaps Sign Mustapha Jarju As Second Designated Player

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."

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Vancouver Whitecaps Designated Player Rumor: Mustapha Jarju Latest Name To Surface

With the Vancouver Whitecaps set to make a "major player announcement" during a 9:30 a.m. (Pacific time) press conference, speculation is building that Gambian international Mustapha Jarju will be the first Designated Player to have competed for an African nation at the senior level. Jarju most recently played for the recently promoted RAEC Mons, now of the Belgian First Division.

A series of clues as to the to DP's identity were left by Nigerian journalist Colin Udoh on Twitter over the past few days. Udoh said the player was from West Africa, scored 20 goals in Europe last season, captained his U17 team and was not a well-known name. Udoh fits all those criteria almost perfectly. The 23-year-old scored 21 goals across all competitions last season and has made nine appearances for Gambia, scoring twice.

Adding a bit of relevance to the rumor are reports that Jarju recently refused to meet with RAEC officials about signing a new contract. Assuming that report is accurate, Jarju would be a free, meaning the Whitecaps could sign him without paying a transfer fee.

The signing of a player like Jarju would seem to fit the Whitecaps' preferred strategy when it comes to DPs. Eric Hassli's, the team's current DP, was hardly a known quantity when he joined the Whitecaps after playing most of his career in Switzerland.

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Vancouver Whitecaps Transfer Rumor: Might Peter Utaka Be MLS's First-Ever African Designated Player?

The Vancouver Whitecaps will make an announcement on Tuesday morning, this much we know for sure. All indications are that it's a Designated Player signing. To determine that player's identity, we've been given a virtual bread crumb trail by Nigerian journalist and national team press officer Colin Udoh through a series of tweets.

First, Udoh let it slip that a MLS team was getting ready to announce the first ever African DP. Then he said he captained his national team. Finally, he added that he captained his country at the U17 level and that he scored 20 goals in European competition last season.

It's very much speculation, but one player who seems to pretty closely fit Udoh's criteria is Peter Utaka, a 27-year-old Nigerian forward who scored 20 goals while playing with Danish side OB in 2010-11. Utaka reportedly fell out of favor in Denmark after being accused of laziness. 

While hardly a household name, the move would make some sense, at least from a speculative standpoint. If Utaka is, indeed, on the outs in Denmark, MLS would seem a reasonable landing spot. He has national team experience -- seven caps and three goals -- but not so much that the bigger European leagues would be willing to overlook a potentially questionable work ethic. 

The Whitecaps also showed a willingness to look at mid-level European leagues when they signed Eric Hassli out of Switzerland. Like Hassli, Utaka appears to have the kind of size -- 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds -- that MLS tends to reward. Utaka had been linked to rumors in England that West Ham was interested, but that was before they were relegated.

Other players who seem to fit the vague profile include Mamadou Niang, the Senegalese forward who scored 20 goals for Fenerbahce last season. Perhaps the biggest problem with him as a possible candidate is that he signed a 3+1 deal with Fenerbahce in 2010, is coming off a very good year and seems unlikely to be within the Whitecaps' price range.

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