Whitecaps start to doubt Thomas

From last night but now with additional fumblings.

I think it’s safe to say that Thomas Hasal won’t be starting another game for the Vancouver Whitecaps this season unless every other goalkeeper in the squad (and a few technical staff) are unavailable due to injury.

A road game against St. Louis was probably a tough ask for a player who hadn’t started a game all season but the Whitecaps haven’t seen this level of incompetence since I failed to get a free bucket hat during last season’s much vaunted giveaway.

Sartini clearly wanted to give Hasal a game in case he was needed for the Canadian Championship final but, in retrospect, a midweek home game might have been a better option.

Hasal was certainly to blame for the first and third goals and it’s doubtful that Blackmon would have made the same decision he made for the second had the calming presence of Takaoka been waiting behind him.

Vanni Sartini ended the game furious with the officials (and probably rightly so given some of the decisions) and that might prove to be a useful distration for the performance of his young goalkeeper but Vancouver lost the game because of their own errors not because of the errors of those with whistles and flags.

The coach piled into the referee in his post game comments too. Another attempt to take eyes away from his goalkeeper.

Ironically the overall play wasn’t at all bad.

And if Becher had been sharper in front of goal they could have left the game with even more than a single point without it seeming a travesty of justice.

A word though for Sergio Cordova. Well, more than one. His inability to link up with the rest of the team and to even perform the basics such as pass the ball to within six metres of a teammate mean the Whitecaps are a Brian White injury away from a crisis. Cordova doesn’t look like a player who needs more time to settle in. He looks like a player who doesn’t want to settle in at all.

But, as it is, they somehow continue to pile pressure on themselves to get results at home.

They’ve been able to do just that thus far, but it’s a fine wire they’re walking if they want to finish in a position that their overall play deserves.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Hasal-0, Brown-4, Martins-5.5*, Veselnovic-4.5, Blackmon-5, Berhalter-5, Schopf-4, Gressel-5.5, Gauld-4, Vite-5, Becher-3

Whitecaps Sail into the Final

It feels hard to talk about tactics and to rate performances given the seemingly serious nature of the injury that befell Ali Ahmed in the fist half of the Whitecaps 3-0 win over Pacific FC but that it is, for better or worse, the nature of the game.

In the end the game turned into a play of three acts.

In the first act the Whitecaps stamped their authority by dint of their superior finishing and overall passing and movement.

In the second act (post the Ahmed injury) Pacific pressed an understandably disjointed Vancouver team without ever genuinely threatening to hit the back of the net.

The third act was the second half where the Whitecaps regrouped, survived a few expected scares and wrapped up the game thanks to the obligatory Becher goal from the bench.

Sartini got his selection right by letting Gressel and Cubas keep a grip of the midfield and Cordova and Schopf both had better outings than they have of late playing in the space behind Brian White.

It’s another final then for the Whitecaps but, for now, most of the attention will turn to news of Ahmed and his recovery.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Takaoaka-5.5, Raposo-3.5, Ahmed-6, Blackmon-5.5, Laborda-4.5, Teibert-4, Cubas-6, Gressel-6.5*, Cordova-5.5, Schopf-5.5, White-4.5 (Brown-5)

Whitecaps back in the saddle

So the rollercoaster continues.

The Whitecaps followed two uninspiring road defeats with what was probably their best performance of the season.

Beating the Sounders 2-0 is never a bad thing but beating the Sounders 2-0 and making them look like …well…. like we expect the Whitecaps to look is a horse of a different colour.

Vanni Sartini opted to revert to his favoured three at the back for this game and his players responded to the change with Laborda in particular making a compelling case for a starting role (in central defence).

And Brown had one of those days where his pace and pressing from the back make him seem undroppable.

There were no bad performances anywhere but having Gauld back to his best made a huge difference to the end product and having Luis Martins attacking with such threat was something of a revelation.

Having said all that the Whitecaps still looked a better team when they switched to a back four and added an extra body in the midfield.

And credit to the coach for that change.

The last time his team took a two goal lead at home he opted to switch to a defensive shape and almost cost his team the game. This time around his changes added to Vancouver’s dominance and, by the end, the score line could have been much more emphatic than it was.

The caveat to all this is that Seattle really did look awful.

But to see the Whitecaps pass the ball with purpose (and comfort) and to press with such cohesion was a genuine pleasure.

Who knows what we will get in the next game? But the ceiling for this team does look higher than the floor looks low (that’s just Architecture 101).

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Takaoka-5.5, Brown-6.5, Laborda-6.5, Blackmon-6, Ahmed-5.5, Martins-6.5, Cubas-6, Berhalter-6, Vite-6, Gauld-7*, White-6

Vancouver Whitecaps Swoon in Dallas

In many ways the Whitecaps 2-1 loss to FC Dallas was far more concerning than their previous 3-1 loss to the Portland Timbers.

The Portland game was just shambolic, but the performance against Dallas was far too reminiscent of all their failings from last year.

A lacklustre performance with hardly a player having their head in the game until they inevitably went behind and then rousing themselves to give Vanni Sartini just enough to clutch on to justify an argument that his team really deserved something from the game.

They didn’t.

The first sixty minutes was a throw back to the flat out unprofessional performances of 2022. With very few players really that bothered about doing the basics and certainly nobody willing to get their foot on the ball or link up with a colleague to make a passing move of more than two hasty touches.

The release of the salary figures is never a good time to have a bad game, but Cordova and Schopf in particular continue to look so far away from justifying their pay packets that one of the reasons they may be playing so badly is that they constantly have their heads hung in shame and can’t see where they are passing the ball to.

Although the real highlight (highlight reel) of the first half was Ryan Raposo somehow managing to run the ball out of play even though he had acres of space and ne’er an opponent in sight.

And, for the third game in a row, the substitutions effectively ended any attacking threat the Whitecaps had. This time by taking Julian Gressel away from the danger area and opting to hit aimless long balls from the centre of the pitch into an increasingly crowed Dallas penalty box.

It’s hard to know what Ali Ahmed needs to do to get more playing time. Be less creative? Get rid of the ball faster no matter who he kicks it to?

Recently Sartini claimed that this team was special. It could turn out that they are “special” in the same way that my second cousin Greg was special.

And nobody wants that.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Takaoka-5, Laborda-5, Raposo-3, Brown-4, Veselinovic-3, Cubas-4, Schopf-2, Gressel-5*, Cordova-1, Vite-4, White-4

Vancouver Whitecaps fade away

From last night but now with additional hot takes.

We can probably put the Whitecaps 3-1 loss to the Portland Timbers on Saturday evening as “just one of those nights”.

Vancouver started slowly, gathered momentum as the half went on, but then seemed to lose all attacking cohesion once the Timbers got their third goal.

Having a settled starting eleven is great but, for the second game in succession, the substitutions seemed to set the team back rather than refresh them. A weaker squad than it appears to be or just some players needing more playing time to settle in?

But tactical analysis be damned!

This result was as much about Cubas and Takaoka having their worst games for the Whitecaps as it was about Christmas Tree formations or strikers playing between the lines.

It was also the first start for some time for Sergio Cordova who looked slightly better than he has before without convincing (me) that he is the type of forward the Whitecaps need.

He still looks like a player who waits for things to happen rather than making them happen with his pressing.

What the team needed to sign in the offseason was a better version of Brian White, but instead they went for a variation on the Cavallini theme. A nice option to have. But as a Designated Player?

And Alessandro Schopf continues to be a somewhat ghostly presence in the midfield and a non-existent presence in the opposition penalty area. Maybe the stats shed light on something the eye doesn’t?

Dallas and Seattle up next so it doesn’t get any easier, but it does feel as though this team (and certainly the coach) need a reminder from time to time that they haven’t solved the conundrum of football completely and they still need to work on the basics and focus on every game for the full ninety minutes.

On the positive side this was still a performance where they tried to take the game to the opposition and that alone is an improvement on the passively defeatist displays we’ve seen in days of yore.

“Vancouver Whitecaps: No Longer Passively Defeatist!”

Put that on a scarf.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Takaoka-4, Brown-4, Martins-4.5, Vesenovic-4.5, Blackmon-4.5, Cubas-4, Gressel-5*, Schopf-3, Vite-4.5, Gauld-5, Cordova-4 (Becher-3.5).

Whitecaps March to the Top of the Hill

For much of the game against York United it felt as though the Whitecaps were either heading for a routine victory or an ignominious defeat.

They mostly tried to control the game without really being able to create any clear cut chances but once York decided that enough was enough and they would put the ball into their own net to save Vancouver any further angst the game opened up remarkably quickly.

It didn’t feel like a 4-1 victory, but Vancouver will definitely take it.

Stray thoughts from a strange game?

Sartini made the right choice in keeping his first choice goalkeeper and central defenders in the starting eleven Although that feels like a kick in the teeth forThomas Hasal.

Deiber Caicedo is still a ways away from being up to speed both mentally and technically.

Ali Ahmed showed gain that he can provide a spark of creativity when the Whitecaps most need it.

Berhalter and Teibert were fine but the absence of Cubas was acute.

Another WFC2 “loanee” getting on the scoresheet can doing nothing but good for the development of the team as a whole.

Last season the Whitecaps scrambled their way through the Canadian Championship but, in the end, this felt much more like a better team beating a lesser team without really raising too much of a sweat.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Takaoka-5, Laborda-5.5, Raposo-5, Veselinovic-6*, Blackmon-5.5, Berhalter-5, Teibert-4.5, Ahmed-5.5, Gauld-5.5, Caicedo-3, Becher-5.

Whitecaps almost give it away

It’s not often that a substitute makes an immediate impact.

Changing the flow of the game almost the instance they step onto the pitch.

But Russell Teibert’s introduction against Minnesota United on Saturday evening changed the game from a potential goal fest for Vancouver into a potential point gained for the visitors.

Anybody who has watched Teibert over the last few years will know that his time in MLS should have ended by now. Perhaps there is some value in him as an occasional substitute when the game is well and truly over or even a starter maybe in a cup cup competition or two.

But as the guy to bring on with thirty minutes to go to lock a game down? Well, he’s not that guy.

The Whitecaps held on for a 3-2 win but it really should have been much more comfortable than that.

This is all a slightly over zealous attack on Teibert of course. He is what he is.

But Vanni Sartini’s decision to switch to a more defensive set up just as his team seemed to have achieved maximum momentum was another frustrating moment of the coach wanting to “do something” when there was nothing that needed to be done.

We’re seeing those moments less often this season but they clearly still lurk within the psyche of the coach.

Although the whole thing was almost worth it just to see Andres Cubas (always alert for moments of danger for his team) seemingly take the ball away from Teibert deep in his own half for fear of what would happen next.

And Cubas was, once again, excellent. Breaking up the opposition midfield and responsible for turnovers that led to two of the Vancouver goals.

Pedro Vite shone too. This was probably his best game of the season on the ball so far and it was definitely his best season off it. Committing to the press in a way he’s not really done thus far.

Elsewhere, Brian White finally got the goals he’s deserved and Ryan Gauld finally got the assist he has craved and while Schopf didn’t offer the variety in the midfield that Ahmed has he did at least show that he can fill a role there.

That makes it eight games unbeaten for the Whitecaps and, while there are tougher games ahead, they have shown themselves to be by far the most balanced squad of their MLS era. Defensively sound, solid in the midfield and able to create chances going forward.

If Sartini continues to make selections and decisions that play to those strengths than the the playoffs should be comfortably attained.

If he reverts to being “interesting” it might turn out to be a much closer call.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Takaoka-5.5, Brown-5.5, Martins-5.5, Veslinovic-5, Blackmon-5.5, Cubas-7.5*, Gressell-5.5, Schopf-5, Gauld-5, Vite-6 (Becher-6, Teibert-3)

Whitecaps stare into a deep dark truthful mirror

On Saturday evening the Whitecaps came up against an opponent who was content to cede the possession, sit deep and rely on their ability to hit on the break and set pieces as the best means to get a goal.

And there were times during the first half when it felt as though Vancouver and the Colorado Rapids were so similar in their sporting philosophy that we may all disappear into the vortex of the space/time continuum as the universe imploded at the sheer logical contradiction of it all.

There was no such luck however but at least the second half improved somewhat. But it was still a salutary lesson that the Whitecaps need to learn how to break a team down with far more wit than they displayed in this game.

Javain Brown had success getting behind the Rapids backline but couldn’t find a decent final ball. Luis Martins had better delivery but didn’t get forward often enough and Vancouver failed to (or didn’t even try to) get Julian Gressel into areas where his delivery could cause problems.

Once again the greatest threat came from Ali Ahmed whose willingness to take players on offered the opposition something different to think about.

And the decision to replace Ahmed with Becher effectively ceded control to Colorado for the final twenty minutes and will hopefully be the final nail in the coffin of Sartini’s belief that a two man midfield is a good idea.

And whither Ryan Gauld?

Once again the Scot failed to impose himself on the game, seemed disconnected from his teammates with his passing and movement and was more interested in complaining about the refereeing decisions he didn’t get than causing Colorado concern.

Given their defensive solidity the Whitecaps are probably an in form Gauld away from moving out of the middle of the pack and into the upper third of the standings.

Somebody needs to cure what ails him.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Takaoka-6*, Brown-5.5, Martins-5.5, Veselinovic-6, Blackmon-6, Cubas-6, Ahmed-6, Gressel-4.5, Vite-4, Gauld-4, White-4.5

Vancouver Whitecaps in “Mostly Competent” Bombshell!

From yesterday but now with additional adequacy.

It’s probably crept up on most of us but the Vancouver Whitecaps seem to have transformed into a decent MLS team.

Not a great one by any means, but certainly one that can defend well, control a midfield and fire in enough shots to keep the gods of xG happy.

And the fact that they’re unafraid to move the ball forward, even when on the road, also makes them a a decent team to watch.

How did this happen?

Well, three in midfield has certainly made the biggest difference. No longer having vast open swathes of pitch for the opposition to run into must make defending easier. And Sartini’s revolutionary tactic of allowing the defence to get to know each other rather than swapping and switching players and systems on a whim has definitely produced more solidity.

The arrival of Takaoka shouldn’t be underestimated either. Sure he’s good with his feet and makes a save or two, but he also exudes an air of calm that must be reassuring to play in front of.

There are still issues going forward but Gressel and Ahmed both have a yearning to progress the ball which makes the whole team more dangerous to play against.

And the way they progress the ball helps the team too. Gressel has never seen a ball he doesn’t want to either fire at goal as though he’s trying to make it explode or whip into the area with a first time hit. While Ahmed favours keeping the ball at his feet and trying to beat a man or two. They complement each other nicely.

The haters will probably focus on the White miss in the second half but, right now, it feels as though the biggest difference maker would be Ryan Gauld being involved in games for the full ninety minutes.

The Scot once again flickered and then faded in the 0-0 tie with Austin on Saturday evening

Simon Becher has also been promoted to starting duties too quickly it seems and the presence of Vite would create more clear cut chances in the long run.

But these are fairly minor complaints compared to what has gone before for this club.

A few games ago it felt as though Sartini was living game by game. But he’s managed to find a starting eleven that mostly works while also having players on the bench who can fill in nicely. He’s safe for a few more games at least.

If they keep trying to do the right things then the right things will eventually happen.

Could it be possible that we are entering a period of unprecedented competency and stability in the world of the Whitecaps?

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Takaoka-6, Brown-5.5, Veselnovi-6, Blackmon-6, Martins-5, Cubas-6.5*, Ahmed-5.5, Gressel-5.5, Gauld-4.5, Becher-4, White-5 (Vite-4)

Whitecaps decide to leave the Champions League

Not much to say about this second leg rout really.

But.

  1. Let’s hope this game sated Vanni Sartini’s thirst for playing players who aren’t central defenders in central defence.
  2. Let’s also hope that the team can shrug off this second game as well as they did the first.
  3. Nobody who wasn’t already in the thinking for the actual starting eleven did anything to convince the coach otherwise.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Hasal-3*, Raposo-3, Ahmed-3, Veselinovic-3, Brown-3, Teibert 3, Berhalter-3, Gauld-3, Caicedo-3, Dajome-3, White-3 (Blackmon-3, Vite-3, Ngando-3, Gressel-3, Laborda-3