Vancouver Whitecaps: No Easy Way Up

“Turn off your mind relax and float down stream
It is not dying, it is not dying
Lay down all thoughts, surrender to the void
It is shining, it is shining”
 
 
I can’t say for certain that John Lennon’s missive on the power of hallucinogens as the most effective method of finding inner peace with regard to Ringo’s vocals was the Mission Statement by which the Vancouver Whitecaps ownership and Front Office lived up until this season, but they did accept the vagaries of life in a way that would make even Zhàozhōu Cōngshěn wonder if he wasn’t maybe getting bogged down a little too much in the mundanities of everyday life.
 
But, eventually, the time and the tide of events must swallow up even the most obstinate of empires and the last few months have been marked by changes of both personnel and tone that some historians have compared to Mikhail Gorbachev’s attempt to transform the Soviet Union via the concepts perestroika and glasnost.
 
Restructuring and openness weren’t words one associated with the previous regime, but the arrival of Axel Schuster as Sporting Director and Mark Pannes as Chief Executive Officer gave physical embodiment to what had previously been nothing more than empty promises and lip service.
 
So things are looking up?
 
Yes they are. And next week I will look at the squad in full detail.
 
Wait? What? That can’t be the end.
 
Why not?
 
Well, it wasn’t fully formed and left me feeling a vague sense of promise unfulfilled.
 
Maybe I was foreshadowing the Whitecaps season?
 
Ooh that’s clever!
 
Thank you.
 
But go on. It’s Sunday morning, there’s nothing else to do. Give me some detail!
 
Well, no doubt there have been changes in the way the ownership and the Front Office are run. Huge changes, the kind of changes that many have been wishing and hoping for for the longest time.
 
But they have only just happened and you don’t change the culture of a club overnight and, even if you do, those changes don’t seep down into the roots for a long, long time.
 
So we’re still just looking at surface changes that are essentially a version of a Chris Rock routine.
 
“You’re supposed to have a scouting network! You’re supposed to interact with the supporters! You don’t get credit for this!”
 
Which leaves us with the coach and the team on the field.
 
The signings certainly seem more ambitious and coherent this time around. As though it hasn’t just been left to the coach to do all the legwork and, more importantly, the core of the team is in place in time for the preseason to allow Marc Dos Santos time to mould them into the shape he wants.
 
We can still look at the midfield with a vague sense of terror, but hopefully there will be additions there too before long.
 
The summation of all this is that the Whitecaps have given themselves a chance to succeed and that if they fail this time around they will have failed for the right reasons rather than the wrong.
 
That’s more than we had before.

Copa Del Rey

The year is almost over (I assume you know this already but one must never underestimate the ignorance of one’s readers) and, an inevitable consequence of year end, are those interminable “Best of” lists outlining the “Top 100 YouTube Commercials of 2019” or “The 20 Tweets That Defined The Decade” or some such zeitgeist defining cultural landmarks.

Back in the day, when it came to the “Albums of the Year” lists I would probably own half of them and have a very definite opinion (Unfavourable) on the rest of them. But these days I haven’t even heard the latest from Lil Gel Boy & MC Louis XIV and so feel mostly unqualified to pronounce on this particular list in any meaningful manner.

Except this year one album kept cropping up at the top of said lists. “Norman Fucking Rockwell” by Lana Del Rey.

“Don’t want to listen to that.” I sullenly said to myself, assuming we were dealing with unbearably pretentious angst at best, or unbearably derivative dirges at worst.

But, eventually, I did give it a listen and Jesus fucking Christ “Norman Fucking Rockwell” is a great album.

It certainly could have veered toward pretentious angst and it certainly could have turned into a series of dirges.

But instead NFR avoids the pitfalls and exists in a world of an older, better America. An America where cars and boys were the only things a girl needed and where music held the answer to pretty much every meaningful question.

In many ways the whole album is music about music. Songs about songs. A Beach Boys reference here, an Eagles reference there, a Joni Mitchell hat tip everywhere. A 2019 woman yearning for the simpler times that used to be.

Except Lana Del Rey is too smart for that.

“Give me Hallmark
One dream, one life, one lover
Paint me happy and blue
Norman Rockwell”

She knows those old songs weren’t celebrating real life, but instead offering greeting cards versions of what might be or have been.

“Norman Fucking Rockwell” isn’t an album that yearns for something that is just out of reach but attainable, it’s an album that mourns the loss of what never was.

A lifestyle, a culture, a country that only ever existed within the contact of needle on vinyl.

It’s great songwriting and, in particular, it’s great American songwriting.

And maybe all great American songwriting, maybe all great American art, can only ever live in that purgatory between the America that is and the America that is not?

The Vancouver Whitecaps aren’t specifically mentioned in the album but I do wonder if Lana Del Rey was contemplating the 2019 season when she wrote some of these songs.

For the whole season was marked by a longing for something else.

The ideal idea of a team, a club, that could never exist but offered itself as stark contrast to the forest fire of a season we lived through.

That conflagration combined with the knowledge that such an ideal will never be attained has turned some against the club (possibly forever). But what do those of us who will be back in 2020 want from the year?

Well, setting aside the blatantly obvious and necessary signings, we want an actual on field plan.

You know?

Coach the team toward a system and style of play during the preseason and stick with that for more than one or two games before deciding to revert to a “this might work” philosophy for the rest of the campaign.

Treating every game seriously might help too. Every year the Whitecaps adopt the attitude that the early season games don’t count as much as the late season games and everybody shrugs off a dour 0-0 tie with a visiting east coast team as not really that important.

All the games matter! Three points is three points is three points.

Off the field the club just has to be so much better at pretty much everything. Paying lip service to being better doesn’t count.

Oh well, 2019 is a year everybody around the Whitecaps will be happy to move on from and 2020 still doesn’t exist so we can be optimistic about it until it walks through the door and throws ice cold water into our face.

To paraphrase Lana Del Rey “Hope is a dangerous thing for a Whitecaps fan to have.”

Vancouver Whitecaps: Finally it is over

It’s probably more of a blessing than a curse that the Vancouver Whitecaps didn’t follow up last week’s thrilling 4-3 win in LA with a similar performance at BC Place in  their final game of the MLS season.

After all, that could have left too many people thinking “Hmm? Maybe there isn’t too much wrong this team.”

But nobody could sit through the 1-0 defeat to Real Salt Lake and think such Pollyannaish thoughts because the game, and the Whitecaps, were dreadful.

On the plus side Marc Dos Santos did get a glimpse of the kind of team he should be building on the budget he will be given.

Salt Lake passed well and pressed well. And while neither of those traits scream startling tactical innovation they were enough to win this game comfortably.

It’s somewhat baffling as to why Dos Santos hasn’t got his team to press in any meaningful way this season. If your team aren’t effective with the ball then at least make them effective without it.

But it’s even more baffling why a succession of MLS era Whitecaps’ coaches have been either uninterested or unable to get their players to move effectively on the field.

Almost every time a Salt Lake player had the ball he was offered a simple pass because a team mate had moved into space.

Almost every time a Whitecap player had the ball he was offered either a long pass into the channels or the prospect of turning around and passing the ball backwards because nobody had thought more than one move ahead.

This isn’t rocket science people! This is one of the basics of the game.

No point in fretting over it now though as the club go into another off season of rebuilding once again hoping that changing the bricks will make the house more secure than finally fixing the foundations that have been rotting away for years.

But there will at least be intrigue in watching the comings and goings of players in the coming months and let’s hope that Dos Santos has learned the lesson that a massive overhaul of players makes getting things right a lot harder than he first supposed.

The Whitecaps simply can’t afford go into the first few months of next season still trying to find the best starting eleven or their best way of playing.

The vast majority of fans have no more patience left to give.

time for the Soccer shorts player ratings.

Crepeau-5, Godoy-4.5, Adnan-4.5, henry-4.5, Cornelius-4.5, Rose-4.5, Teibert-5, In-Beom-5, Chrinos-5.5*, Bair-4, Ricketts- 3.5, (Montero-4, Reyna-4)

Vancouver Whitecaps out punch the Galaxy

In many ways the LA Galaxy are the Platonic deal of what an MLS team shouldn’t be.

No recognizable tactical plan. No sense of how to defend in anything approaching an organized manner. But shed loads of money thrown at big name forwards who are able to do just enough to force the team into the playoffs and so give them a puncher’s chance of winning the whole caboodle.

But wait.

Because in many ways it’s the Vancouver Whitecaps who are really the Platonic ideal of what an MLS shouldn’t be.

A tactical plan that doesn’t take into account the strengths of the players available.  No sense of how to set up a midfield in anything approaching an organized manner. And no money thrown around to sign big name forwards who are able to do just enough to force the team into the playoffs and so give them a puncher’s chance of winning the whole caboodle.

And the two competing philosophies met in a surprisingly entertaining game in LA on Sunday evening with, somewhat improbably, the Whitecaps beating the Galaxy 4-3 in a contest of who could score the most in a ludicrously open game.

That’s probably being a little harsh on Vancouver in this particular instance because they did at least look as though they had a game plan, which was to negate Ibrahimovic and to always look to hit the Galaxy on the break as quickly as possible.

And it worked (just).

Possibly because for the first time in a long time the Whitecaps were playing a team with a midfield as poor as their own, with both Rose and Teibert finding themselves in the kinds of open spaces they haven’t enjoyed all season.

Jasser Khmiri finally made his debut in the centre of defence and had a decent game (although one of the weirder tropes of this season is that most defenders can often be said to have “had a decent game”, while the team concede goals with astonishing regularity. Individual competence doesn’t equate to collective cohesion I suppose).

And Erik Godoy offered another example of why he should return next season as he filled in at right back and already has one more assist in 2019 than Nerwinski and Sutter combined.

Goals for Chirinos and Ricketts surely won’t tip the balance when the decision comes to stick or twist on them in the off season, but anything that makes any of us feel a little bit better about this team is very welcome indeed.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Crepeau-5, Godoy-5.5, Henry-5, Khmiri-5.5, Levis-4.5, Rose-5.5, Teibert-5.5, In-Beom-6*, Bair-5, Chirinos-5, Ricketts- 4.5 (PC-5, Montero-5).

 

Vancouver Whitecaps still a not so solid crew

Of all the dispiriting games of a dispiriting season the 1-1 tie with the Columbus Crew on Saturday afternoon at BC Place was perhaps the most dispiriting of all.

And not even a, right at the very death, Fredy Montero equalizer could prevent anybody’s spirit feeling well and truly dissed.

There was always the faint hope that being relieved of the pressure of needing to get points would allow this team to relax and finally find some coherence and fluidity, but such hopes have proven to be in vain.

Whether that’s down to players switching off for the season or just not being good enough whatever the circumstance is up for debate.

But the main cause remains the issue that the Whitecaps are so badly constructed that, no matter how much effort and how little tension they felt, the players couldn’t put together a consistently good performance anyway.

And so the only positive moments the Whitecaps produce (with “moments” being the operative word) come when an individual or two do something out of the blue.

And on Saturday, as it was the Saturday before, it was Ali Adnan creating a late goal for Fredy Montero. Which is great. But there is still no structure for the players to fall back on when things don’t go well. No default setting to see them through the tougher times.

Against Columbus Russell Teibert nearly created a goal for himself by pressing the opposition defence.

But he was the only one doing any consistent pressing all game. Is that the plan? Just a one man press? Because if so it won’t work.

And, if it isn’t the plan, is Teibert going rogue or are the rest of the team just not following instructions?

These are all rhetorical questions because it’s impossible to tell from watching Vancouver play just what the plan is. Or if they even have one.

Oh well, t’s nearly all over and soon we can all spend the off season fretting over which signings will work instantly and which ones will have had a tough year previously and will need a full season in MLS to get used to the rigours of the league.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

MacMath-4, Sutter-4.5, Adnan-4.5*, Henry-4.5, Cornelius-4.5, Rose-3, Teibert-4, In-Beom-4.5, Bair-3, Reyna-4, Ricketts-3 (Chrinos-4, Montero-5)

 

 

Vancouver Whitecaps solve the Houston problem

Vancouver went all Thomas Hardy on us on Saturday by creating a backdrop of grey skies and bouncing rain to externalize the internal emotional torment of having to watch the worst team in the Western Conference play the second worst.

In the end though the game wasn’t without its charm or points of interest and the Whitecaps got a hard earned, and perhaps somewhat fortunate, 2-1 victory over Houston.

In the week Marc Dos Santos had spoken about how his thinking about player recruitment has changed over the course of the season.

Fading out from the belief in signing players to fit his chosen system to instead fading in to signing the best players available and then finding a system to suit them.

In retrospect (and probably in prospect too) that was ambitiously naive.

I’m not sure even the highest spending MLS teams can be quite so selective about finding players to fit a particular system and the nature of the beast is simply to make do and mend with whatever rags and tags of mismatched cloth are thrown the way of the coach.

Against Houston Dos Santos opted for the rag and tag of 4-3-3  and it looked a decent system on paper.

Ricketts as the target man with Reyna and Chirinos free to make hay in the wide roles.

Except that’s not how it panned out, with neither Chirinos nor Reyna ever really being involved in the game to any meaningful extent during open play.

And that’s the issue Dos Santos will face next year and the one he will need to resolve.

He may like the 4-3-3, but all it did was exclude his best attacking player from the heart of the action. Reyna has been a constant goal threat when playing centrally this year so taking him away from the role felt like an error.

Not that such errors matter all that much when Vancouver have a midfield that plays like three strangers with, once again, only In-Beom offering even the hint of attacking threat.

And I suppose we have to talk about Zac MacMath?

The American was signed to be the starting goalkeeper and almost immediately lost the role to Max Crepeau and seemingly he lost either his concentration and confidence (or both) along with it.

And yesterday was textbook MacMath (and none of us like to see the words “Math” and “Textbook” so close to each other right?) He played well for most of the game but still gifted Houston their goal by saving a shot that seemed to be going wide and pushing the ball back toward the centre of the goal for an easy tap in.

Fortunately Fredy Montero is still the same player he always was when he gets close to the six yard box and MacMath’s blushes were spared.

It would be nice to see the Whitecaps close out the next three games with a series of decent results, but what would be even nicer would be for the newly created role of  “Person in charge of finding good players” to be filled in ample time for good players to be found.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

MacMath-4, Sutter-5, Adnan-6*, Hnery-5, Cornelius-5, Rose-4.5, Teibert-5, In-Beom-6, Chrinos-4.5, Reyna-5, Ricketts-4.5 

 

A Brief History of the Vancouver Whitecaps: From 2019 to the present day

 

The Expansion Season

At the time it felt strange that an expansion team would begin their season with only four games of the campaign remaining, but everything seemed a little bit strange back then.

We’ve all got used to it now.

That expansion season began with the Vancouver Whitecaps appointing Marc Dos Santos as head coach and, with his squad somehow already in place, most of the early attention was on events off the field.

During the opening game for instance, some members of BC Place security forced placards supporting the Iron Front into the hands of unwilling fans and, shortly afterwards, the Front Office announced that Bob Lennarduzzi would be moving from his role as Club Liason to the more senior role of Club President.

On the field things were going splendidly as Dos Santos and his coaching staff fielded a team full of attacking intent and one that frequently spent much of the game camped inside the opposition half.

Teibert and Felipe were a joy to watch in midfield as their freakish ability to always find the quick forward pass kept opponents far from the ball and the Whitecaps soon led the league in attempted shots.

The race to the end of the season was a thrilling one (as it always is these days) and it sensationally finished with every team in the Conference level on points and goal difference (as it always does these days).

No wonder wealthier teams sought out the services of Dos Santos and so, after a highly successful year, he was lured to LAFC to be Bob Bradley’s assistant coach.

At the time that move felt like the kind of bitter blow that could derail the club completely. But how wrong the naysayers were.

The Carl Robinson Years.

The decision to appoint Robinson as head coach was controversial to say the least. After all, this was a man with no history within the game whatsoever.

What were the club thinking?

Well, it turned out that the club were (as always) getting things absolutely right.

In his first year in charge Robinson brought in the likes of Kei Kamara, Efrain Juarez and Canadian phenomenon Alphonso Davies and quickly proceeded to produce some remarkable and innovative football.

“Robboball” as it came to be known throughout the world consisted of his team camping within the opposition final third for lengthy periods of time before hoofing a long ball backwards to an isolated central defender who was frequently surrounded by four or five opposition forwards.

It seemed madness at the time but somehow it worked and Robinson led the Whitecaps to joint top of the Western Conference (alongside every other team).

This was a feat he was able to reproduce in all of his subsequent seasons as he demonstrated an uncanny knack to bring in and let go of players at just the right moment.

But in many ways he was a strange man and his almost pathological fear of human contact made him an odd and lonely figure on the sideline; recoiling from any opposition player if they even looked as though they were approaching his technical area.

And, in one now much viewed and retweeted incident, he quickly ran away in horror when Wayne Rooney offered him his hand to shake when appearing as a substitute for DC United.

But his quirks aside Carl Robinson presided over a remarkably successful period which included two legendary playoff performances against Cascadian rivals Seattle and Portland in which his team ruthlessly pressed their opponents back from the first whistle to the last.

So when the club announced that Robinson would be stepping down to become assistant coach to Martin Rennie he had already written his name large in the pantheon of Vancouver sports history.

Martin Rennie’s first year

The Scotsman arrived from a stint in Korea where he was coaching Seoul E-Land and he certainly had big boots to fill, but this first year has been one of huge promise and excitement.

His eye for talent was clear when he snapped up Brazilian striker Camilo (exactly the kind of pure finisher the Whitecaps had missed since their very first year) and his style of play was, if anything, even more exciting than Robinson’s.

A style of play that persuaded captain Barry Robson to fly to his now beloved Vancouver voluntarily in the hope of being signed by Rennie.

And Rennie proved to be a match for his predecessor by also leading the Whitecaps to a joint top finish in the Conference (alongside every other team).

How he develops from here will be fascinating to see, but how reassuring to know that the club has an ownership group who know how to pick exciting young coaches and who always seem to act just before any potential issue befalls the club.

Who knows what MLS will turn into in the coming years or even if the League can survive? But thankfully the Vancouver Whitecaps seem to have safe and steady hands at the tiller for years to come.

And how reassuring is that? After all, none of us are getting any older.

Go Whitecaps!