The night is blue for the Vancouver Whitecaps

Now with a couple of added observations.

There was a time when a 1-0 defeat at the LA Galaxy wouldn’t have been too dispiriting a result for the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Since time is now a fluid concept it’s hard to be definitive about when that was. Last month? Last year? A week on Tuesday?

But it definitely wasn’t on this particular Sunday, because a somewhat buoyed Whitecaps were facing a somewhat deflated Galaxy and, for about sixty minutes of the game, the Whitecaps coped.

To be fair, the Whitecaps were decent in the first half. Not stellar, not great, but decent. the midfield looked like an actual thing (a bigger achievement than it sounds) and there were flickering embers of hope that Godoy and Veselinovic could develop into a decent partnership given enough games.

The biggest problem is that this mini renaissance of late is predicated on the return to the team, and the return to form, of Fredy Montero. And the problem with that is it forces Dos Santos to play a system he really doesn’t want to play.

So, for next season, what are the options? Rely on Montero maintaining this standard for another year? Find a direct replacement for him? Play the system Dos Santos prefers? Find a new coach?

Not one of those options offers concrete grounds for hope and the Whitecaps will be back facing another off season of hoping to make the right move rather than knowing what move they want to make.

Almost looking as likely as the home team to score and safe in the knowledge that, if they avoided doing something stupid, then LA would probably fail to score anyway.

But they did do something stupid.

Or rather Marc Dos Santos did something stupid by not doing anything; certainly not enough.

With at least thirty minutes to go it was clear that neither Cavallini nor Montero were going to be difference makers in this game and it was equally clear that they were failing to hold on to the ball.

So take them off. Give the Galaxy defence the pace and energy of Ricketts or Bair to worry about. At least that would prevent the Whitecaps defence having to deal with the ball returning to them more often than was really necessary.

But the change never happened. Cavallini continued to lumber and Montero continued to chug along to no avail and the Galaxy got closer and closer to the winning goal until, with a bitter tang of justice, it finally came.

Maybe Dos Santos didn’t feel comfortable taking either of his two star forwards off? Maybe he wanted to let the bench players know that he rates them so poorly that they aren’t worth using even when the first choice players are dead on their feet?

Maybe he just thought he’d ride his luck out to the end?

After the game Dos Santos said that he knew his players were tired but he left both Montero and Cavallini on because of their quality in front of goal.

That would make more sense if either of them had looked remotely like scoring in the second half and, while throwing speed on for the final twenty minutes is the most simplistic of all football tactics, there are times when it makes sense.

This was clearly one of those times and everybody but the Whitecaps coaching staff could see it.

Whatever the reasoning, both he and his team now have a week to ponder forlornly on what might have been.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Bush-5, Nerwinski-6*, Adnan-5, Godoy-6, Veselinovic-5, Owusu-5, Baldsisimo-5, Teibert-5, Dajome-5, Montero-5, Cavavllini-3

Vancouver Whitecaps: Which way now?

The Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 win over LAFC on Wednesday evening offered a glimpse into two different reams.

Three if you also include LAFC.

But we saw two Whitecaps teams. One was a Vancouver that offered a glimpse of what they could be but aren’t and one was a Vancouver that demonstrated what they shouldn’t be but are.

One was a Whitecaps team that was organized, pressed effectively with Owusu and Bikel controlling the midfield and Godoy and Veselinivoc offering a solid central defensive partnership while, up front, Dajome and Montero combined to create chances for striker Lucas Cavallini.

The other Whitecaps team was one that conceded a late goal through a penalty and then lost their heads and the ability to control the game, sat back hoping that everything would be okay, but somehow managed to hang on for three points.

The first of those teams we like. They are enjoyable to watch, easy to root for and will get results in MLS.

The second of those teams we don’t like because they have caused us much misery over the years and we have learned to distrust them and the results they bring.

In the end the good triumphed over the evil (a rarity in 2020) and suddenly the playoffs look to be a pleasant possibility rather than a laughable prospect.

But the Whitecaps that could be still need to engage in the eternal struggle with the Whitecaps that are.

And that struggle will never end (that’s what “eternal” means).

Time for the Soccer Shorts Player ratings.

Bush-6, Nerwinski-5.5, Adnan-6, Godoy-6*, Veselinovic, 6, Teibert-5.5, Dajome-6, Owusu-5.5, Bikel-6, Cavallini-6, Montero-5.5

Vancouver Whitecaps: A Thanksgiving Miracle!

With more and more MLS teams being forced to postpone games due to positive Covid tests it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that the Vancouver Whitecaps could simply self isolate their way into a playoff place.

The less likely route to the post-season would be to win some games of football but, astonishingly, that’s what they did on Saturday evening by beating Real Salt Lake 2-1 at Providence Park.

It all seemed a bit too familiar for most of the game, with the Whitecaps starting with some urgency but little control before the “visitors” took the lead thanks to Vancouver defending that looked more like a display in an abstract art retrospective than the work of professional athletes.

For the second half Salt Lake decided, with some justification, that if they just sat back Vancouver would huff and puff in vain and the points would be theirs.

But Marc Dos Santos finally decided to do what everybody else in the known universe knows he should do far more often and gave Michael Baldisimo some minutes.

Baldisimo sent in the free kick that forced the own goal equalizer and then hit a first time cushioned pass to Ali Adnan that began the attack that Lucas Cavallini eventually completed.

When I die and go to hell the flickering Betamax video I will be forced to watch on an endless loop will be a parade of Vancouver Whitecaps midfielders receiving the ball with their back to goal, having space to turn into a dangerous position, but instead opting to play a safe pass back to a central defender.

Baldismo at least spares me that fate before my time by always looking for the simple, but positive, pass.

In the closing minutes Vancouver endured the obligatory backs to the wall desperation accompanied by the mandatory injuries to their goalkeeper, but they hung on for the three points that lend the veneer of respectability to their place in the standings.

Can they build on this?

Probably not, but a win is a win is a win.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Bush-6, Nerwinski-4, Adnan-4, Veselinovic-5, Godoy-6*, Owusu-4. Bikel-4.5, Teibert-4, Dajome-4.5, Montero-6, Cavallini-5 (Baldisimo-6)

Vancouver Whitecaps: What are they good for?

“All good teams are alike; each bad team is bad in its own way.”

And the Whitecaps have taken Tolstoy’s memorable quote about football to a new level. For they somehow manage to be bad in a slightly different way in each game.

In the 3-0 defeat to San Jose, for example, they pressed well in the first half and looked capable of causing the hosts problems as the game went on.

Well, the game went on, but the Whitecaps didn’t. Not really.

Sloppy defending gave away an early goal in the second half and then Andy Rose, included in central defence for his experience and calm head, picked up a silly second yellow card and the game was essentially over.

Apart from two more goals and Erik Godoy being harshly red carded for what looked like a minor, if somewhat foolish, kick to an ankle.

In truth referee Alan Chapman probably did Marc Dos Santos a favour with that decision; allowing him to talk about bad officiating rather than the way his team, once again, fell apart at the first sign of adversity.

But, as Tolstoy also said, “Every coach thinks of changing the team, but none thinks of changing himself”.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Bush-5, Nerwinski-4.5, Adnan-3, Rose-2, Godoy-4.5, Owusu-3, Baldisimo-4, Teibert-5, Dajome-2, Ricketts, 3, Montero-5.5*

Vancouver Whitecaps: The Slow and the Ponderous-11

From last night but now with bonus Director’s commentary.

Marc Dos Santos was about as irritated as we ever see him in the post game media call claiming, with some justification, that his team are having to put up with an awful lot right now and that should be taken as mitigation for the performances.

That’s fair. But the recent performances aren’t an aberration, they’re merely a continuation of a theme.

The Vancouver Whitecaps 3-1 loss to the Seattle Sounders felt like nothing so much as the latest sequel in a movie franchise that has long since lost its way.

Yeah we get it. The Whitecaps defend stubbornly but fall apart once the first goal is conceded.

Yawn. Oh big surprise! The Vancouver star forward has just missed a golden opportunity with the scores still level.

Derivative! The Whitecaps midfield fail to provide any forward momentum at all.

After the game Dos Santos claimed that he needed midfield players who “had the personality to play”. It’s hard to know if that’s a dig at the players themselves or the people who have brought the players in but, either way, a coach rarely wins the battle against either of those opponents.

This felt like Dos Santos beginning to clear the path for an exit strategy that preserves his reputation as much as possible.

If this were an in flight movie half the audience would walk out.

And so it goes.

With all the participants phoning in their parts with little to engage those watching other than the slim hope that it won’t go on too long and it won’t be the unmitigated disaster that some of the previous outings have been.

Actual thoughts on the actual football game?

Lucas Cavallini is a burden rather than a benefit right now. His temperament costs him playing time and he’s a slow player who isn’t a clinical finisher playing in a team that needs pace up front and creates few chances.

I suppose it could be argued that Montero’s resurgence may have, ironically and very typically for the Whitecaps, made the team play in a way that suits Cavallini less. Milinkovic was playing well in the number ten role, but now that he’s been shifted to the wide left to accommodate Montero that only leaves the inconsistent Dajome and whoever is playing left back to supply Cavallini with the crosses he needs.

But that’s thin gruel to fuel an argument in favour of a Designated Player who is more interesting to watch for his body language than his play in front of goal.

Why Michael Baldisimo isn’t starting remains a mystery. He can move the play forward and he cares about keeping the ball (Maybe that’s why?) yet is consistently left on the bench in favour of journeymen who haven’t got a creative bone in their collective bodies.

Ironically, Baldismo does have the “personality to play”, he just rarely gets the chance.

The defence is mostly fine. It’s just that they have to defend for about eighty-eight of every ninety minutes and they will never beat those odds.

Oh, and the referee was hilariously bad.

So on to San Jose for the next installment of this long running debacle.

Time to roll the credits and give you Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Meredith-5, Nerwinski-5.5, Godoy-5.5, Cornelius-5.5*, Adnan-5.5, Bikel-3, Rose-3.5, Milinkovic-3.5, Dajome-2, Cavallini-2.5, Montero-5

Vancouver Whitecaps: Point of No Return

The thing is, if you’re not a very good team, then you’d better make sure you spend some time working on the basics.

Defending set-pieces, passing the ball in front of a runner and not to or behind him, how you will try to break down a defence that is sitting deep.

Things like that.

I’m not sure what the more depressing thought is. That the Whitecaps do work on these basics or that they don’t work on them. But either way they never employ them, so I suppose it doesn’t make any difference in the end.

The 1-0 defeat to Portland on Sunday was better than the 6-0 loss to LAFC in many ways, but in others it was worse. A 6-0 loss can be dismissed as an aberration. One of those nights. The capricious nature of the sporting gods.

But the loss in Portland was painful because it exposed the Whitecaps for what they truly are. A leaden footed and slow witted team who rely on “moments” to create goals rather than anything as substantial as a coherent system of consistent interplay.

The game was a deep dark truthful mirror that told us that it’s not just Russell Teibert who loves to regress play rather than progress it. It told us that caution and cowardice are not bugs but features of how the team play.

It told us that Lucas Cavallini is a forward rather than a goal scorer and will need more than half chances created if he is going to prosper. And that he will probably need more than a few full chances too. It told us that Bikel and Owusu are functional at best in the centre of the pitch and that the full backs cause as many problems for their own defence as they do the opposition.

And it told us that Marc Dos Santos was content with all that. Was content to limit the damage against a Cascadian rival, because that was better than taking a risk.

Better to lose by one and not try to win than try to win and lose by more.

The players already seem to have lost belief in the coach and, in this game, it felt like the coach had lost belief in himself too.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Meredith-4, Nerwinski-4.5, Gutierrez-3.5, Rose-5.5, Godoy-5.5*, Adnan-4, Owusu-4.5, Bikel-4.5, Dajome-4, Montero-5, Cavallini-3.5

Vancouver Whitecaps: Beware of the flowers…

There’s a theory that plants developed caffeine as a way of improving the memory of bees and thus making them better pollinators.

Obviously that particular framing of the theory implies a degree of sentience that plants don’t possess, but using drugs to control the actions of others feels like an almost sinister mode of behaviour from our fellow travellers on this hurtle through space.

I say this though not to cast aspersions or provoke counter insurgency from our Apoidean brethren, but merely to distract us all from the Whitecaps game in LA.

A game in which no Vancouver player performed well and in which the team as a whole were a mess from the very first whistle.

There are moments in life when it is best not to dwell on the suffering of others and move on. Silently thanking the deity of our choice that we were not in their place.

Time then for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Meredith-3, Nerwinski-2, Guttierez-1, Veselinovic-2, Cornelius-3*, Bikel-3, Baldisimo-2, Milinkovic-2, Dajome-2, Bair-2, Cavallini-2

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Vancouver Whitecaps: Living as they dream

The phrase “Road Trip” doesn’t really do justice to the adventure the Vancouver Whitecaps are about to embark upon. “Odyssey” perhaps? “A journey into the dark heart of America”? “Dude, where’s my plane?”

But, whatever nomenclature we eventually settle on, the rollicking escapade did at least get off to a good start.

Actually, it got off to a slow and turgid start, with the Whitecaps spending the first half of the game against Real Salt Lake flailing around for the ball like puppies trying to chase down a scurry of squirrels.

But the second half was better.

Fredy Montero began to get on the ball more and the forward forays did at least seem to have some purpose.

And, once David Milinkovic scored and Salt Lake had Kyle Beckermann sent off, every Whitecaps fan settled down to watch their team sit as deep as possible and allow the ten man opposition to come on to them.

So, as against Montreal in the week, it came to be that this tactic led to the concession of a goal but, as against Montreal in the week, the Whitecaps responded by scoring another goal of their own.

And, this time around, it was substitute Lucas Cavallini latching on to a Fredy Montero cross.

It was brave of Marc Dos Santos to leave Cavallini on the bench. Surprisingly brave. But he will surely have to start the Canadian for the game in LA on Wednesday.

That probably means dropping Montero to the number ten role and moving Milinkovic wide in place of Adnan.

That’s a shame because Milinkovic has been better in the central role than on the wing, but needs must I suppose.

Elsewhere Cristian Dajome showed that he can be both a frustrating and effective MLS player. His first touch at times was awful, but his work rate and pace helped create the first goal and he seems to be developing a basic understanding with both Montero and Milinkovic.

And speaking of pace.

Is this the slowest Vancouver team since they joined MLS? The restless spirits of Kekutah Manneh and Darren Mattocks have hung around the club for years, imbuing each iteration of the squad with at least two or three players who can “turn on the afterburners” before running the ball out of play for a goal kick.

That absence is no bad thing. Speed can be a hell of drug for players searching for the easy pass, but it does mean being more careful in possession. Picking out the man, not the space twenty yards ahead of him.

But that will require an evolution in the way they play. An evolution that can be helped by both Montero and Baldisimo. Two players at either end of their careers who appreciate that the ball is their friend and who want it be the friend of their friends too.

Whether that can happen this season is unlikely. But the process can at least start, and it has to start because the Whitecaps can’t survive if they treat every one of their upcoming matches as the road games they actually are.

Somehow Dos Santos has to instill the mind set into his players that where they are playing is irrelevant for the rest of this season. Every game can’t be a backs to the wall, smash and grab raid. Not successfully anyway.

Wherever they lay their cleats, that’s their home for the rest of the year.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Hasal-5, Nerwinski-5.5, Gutierrez, 5.5, Veselinovic-4.5, Cornelius-5.5, Teibert-5.5, Bikel-5.5, Milinkovic-5.5, Adnan-4.5, Dajome-5.5, Montero-6* (Baldisimo-5.5, Cavallini-5)

Vancouver Whitecaps: Nothing but blue skies from now on?

Who knew that all the Vancouver Whitecaps needed was a player with genuine quality who could link up with his teammates and keep the ball?

Fredy Montero didn’t quite win the game single handedly against the Montreal Impact on Wednesday evening at BC Place, but it felt that way at times.

Only playing because Lucas Cavallini picked up a red card in the previous game, Montero was clearly out to prove a point before the team head south to who knows what.

He drifted around the field, always offering himself as a passing option and always treating the ball with respect rather than as a hand grenade with the pin pulled out that has been the dominant style for this team all season.

He also used a touch of devilry to make a half-hearted punch to his knee look like a hammer blow to the head as wielded by George Foreman in his prime.

Oh, and he managed to score from the subsequent penalty kick.

Elsewhere Cristián Gutiérrez slotted in at left back in place of Ali Adnan and offered the Impact none of the freedom the Iraqi afforded them last time out and David Milinkovic demonstrated that his best position by far is the number ten role where he can be both creative and an early line of defence.

It’s hard to make any sweeping judgments after a game in which the opposition go down to ten men in the first half. And it’s even harder when we remember that this was yet another change of formation for the Whitecaps with a line up that featured several players who wouldn’t be in the coach’s first eleven all other things being equal.

Which poses this problem.

Both Montero and Gutiérrez have earned the right to start the next game in Salt Lake on Saturday, so does Marc Dos Santos pick them and leave out his two Designated Players? Or does he tinker with the formation yet again to accommodate all four and risk unbalancing a system that at least displayed a semblance of coherence?

No doubt he will say this is a good problem to have. But it isn’t. It’s a potential problem for a squad that always seems to teeter on the cusp of discontent.

Every Whitecaps silver lining has a cloud.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Hasal-6, Nerwinski-5, Gutiérrez-6, Cornelius-5.5, Veselinovic-5.5, Teibert-5.5, Bikel-5.5, Dajome-6, Bair-5, Milinkovic, 6, Montero-7* (Baldisimo-5.5)

Vancouver Whitecaps: Random Thoughts

Some random thoughts about the Whitecaps because, you know, we don’t want to let the wound heal.

The odd thing about Marc Dos Santos is that he clearly knows what is going wrong with his team.

He isn’t some intransigent coach who refuses to accept the evidence of his own eyes. He knows the team don’t keep the ball, he knows they collapse the moment a game turns against them and he knows they sit too deep and don’t create enough attacking opportunities.

He just doesn’t seem able to translate that knowledge into the real world. Which is a shame.

Time for Hasal to step aside? He was the third choice keeper about two months ago and he’s had a great run in the team. But last night felt as though the trauma of keeping goal behind that defence finally caught up with him. Best not to destroy his confidence just because he has a good narrative.

The thing about Russell Teibert is that he hardly ever gives the ball away, but he almost always gives the ball to somebody in a position where they are likely to give it away. A backward pass to a central defender may keep the ball in the short term but, two passes later, that possession is almost always gone.

There should be a special passing stat for players who play this way.

Leonard Owusu has gone from the “I like the look of him” zone, to the “For the love of all that is holy just pass to one of your own players!” zone in quick fire time. So he’s settling in nicely.

Who are ya? Seriously, who are the Whitecaps? Or, more pertinently, who and what are they trying to be? Their formations change by the game and their tactics change by the minute. They”ll never be able to assemble a functioning squad if they don’t know what kind of system they are buying players for.

And what of Lucas Cavallini? He presses defenders, but the rest of the team give up on following suit after about twenty minutes.

No wonder his is frustrated. But he’s been no friend to himself since he arrived. If he could take a penalty kick he’d have a respectable three goals from seven games right now and, against Montreal, he was clearly fighting inner demons as much as anything else.

He looks like a man adrift in more ways than one.

Did the smoke affect the mood of the game? None of us have enjoyed living under the grey canvas of wildfire smoke. The unnatural chill, the hint of ash at the back of the throat, the sense that our lungs are working harder for less and less reward.

So how much more frustrating must it feel to be a professional athlete having to perform in such conditions?

A recipe for tetchiness and tantrums if ever there was one.