Vancouver Whitecaps: Still not adding up

With the scores tied at half-time in the Saturday evening game between the Whitecaps and Minnesota United Adrian Heath, the Minnesota coach, decided that his team weren’t good enough and made a change.

It worked and Minnesota dominated the second half.

Meanwhile Marc Dos Santos watched all this happen, made one switch that made his team more defensive, and then waited until his team conceded the inevitable goal before changing to a more attacking lineup and discovering that (Spoiler alert!) playing a more attacking lineup means more attacks.

More attacks means more chances for “things” to happen and Cristian Dajome “won” a last gasp penalty to give the Whitecaps a point they didn’t deserve.

And that point might not be enough anyway. They now face three road games in eight days before they (finally) return to BC Place. And, no doubt, we will hear much about how tough that schedule is in the coming days (while perhaps ignoring that Minnesota were on their third game in eight days without that seeming to be a reason for Vancouver to take advantage of their plight).

The jury has been out on whether Dos Santos is an innately conservative coach or simply one who isn’t capable of sending out a team that can take control of the game.

It’s probably a little bit of Column A and a little bit of Column B, but the arrival of Ryan Gauld should settle the matter once and for all.

And while there are those who think that the appearance of a “Number 10” heralds a new era of free flowing football, samba style soccer and the dawning of the new Age of Enlightenment, all signs point to Gauld being mainly a “get out of jail free” card for Dos Santos. Set up the team in a way that shows ultimate respect to the opponent and hope that Gauld can create something from the scraps.

In a way Minnesota offer some hope that this might work.

Nobody would describe Adrian Heath as a tactical mastermind (Maybe Heath himself I suppose?) but the arrival in recent seasons of better players has allowed him to allow the team to be the sum of their parts and that’s been good enough to make them a playoff team.

And that’s what we have to hope for once Gauld begins to play.

That Dos Santos can find a system that allows Gauld to be on the ball and that he selects the right players to make that system work.

To at least make the team he sends out add up to the sum of their parts.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Hasal-, 4, Nerwinski-5, Gutierrez-4.5, Godoy-4.5, Veselinovic-5, Teibert-4.5, Bikel-3.5, Baldisimo-3, Caicedo-4.5, Dajome-5*, White-4 (Metcalfe-4)

Vancouver Whitecaps do not disappoint us

What a strange situation.

The Whitecaps 2-2 tie with LAFC was a game in which the team played to their strengths, worried one of the better teams in the league and offered a blueprint for how they can achieve success going forward (in every sense of the word).

So what went right?

Gutierrez and Caicedo on the left and Brown with Dajome on the right offer both attacking and defensive options.

The two full backs are always keen to get forward and the two wide players are always happy to help out in defence (often from the front).

There was also more directness in attack. The willingness to hit an early cross and try to make something happen actually made things happen. So much more effective than the instinct to stop, pause and play the safe pass that allows the opposition to regroup.

Godoy and Veselinovic have been allowed time to form some kind of partnership. And the latter’s ability on the ball, and confidence to make use of that ability, offers more control than the patented long ball to who knows who.

The whole team had confidence on the ball. Willing to play out of the press rather than avoid it and so open up LAFC to the always dangerous counterattack.

But perhaps it was the midfield that made the real difference?

Alexandre always wants to play the forward pass, Baldisimo is becoming a nice hybrid of a holding player who can create and Bikel was exceptional at breaking up play and getting forward when the opportunity arose.

So that meant a three man midfield where all three offer some kind of attacking threat. Yes, you read that correctly.

A word to for Brian White, who will never be the long term solution, but offered decent hold up abilities and played with an unselfishness that allowed others to get into dangerous positions.

Impressive too was the way the team as a whole responded to the LA equalizer. Not dropping deep and fearful of conceding a third but pushing for (and probably deserving) a winning goal of their own.

Phew!

A whole slew of sentences outlining how good the Whitecaps were. What a world!

None of this means that all problems are solved of course. This is still the same team that were so turgid against Houston just one week ago.

But it does mean that the problems can be solved.

That there’s already enough in this squad to be competitive in MLS if allowed to play in the right way.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Hasal-5.5, Brown-6.5, Gutierrez-7*, Godoy, 6.5, Veselinovic, -6.5, Baldsismo-6, Bikel-7, Alexandre-5.5, Dajome-6.5, Caicedo-6.5, White-5.5

The Vancouver Whitecaps are not brillig

For years we’ve been told that the Whitecaps are disadvantaged by being based in Vancouver because the travel is so arduous.

For years we’ve been told that visiting Salt Lake is so tough because the home team have the advantage of training and playing at high altitude.

If nothing else good comes from this sinkhole of a season can we at least put an end to these kinds of excuses and get out clauses?

If the Whitecaps are not very good it’s because they’re not very good.

Those of us who hoped the win against the Galaxy would kickstart the team (and the coach) into playing with more determination and brio were left to sigh discontentedly as Vancouver approached the game against a very poor Houston team with the air of a side who thought that winning would be nice but not really all that important.

A moderately decent first half gave way to a listless second and any chance to give the season momentum was cast aside in favour of just letting the game drift away as though it were a pre-season friendly.

It’s not that the players didn’t try.

It’s just that they seem to be the equivalent of chess pieces being governed by a player who understands the rules of the game but doesn’t have a concept of how to make moves that disrupt an opponent.

Move the little horsey thing forward, then move the little horsey thing back again.

I don’t believe there’s an atom of meaning in it.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Hassal-5, Nerwinski-4.5, Gutierrez-5.5, Veselinovic-5.5, Rose-5, Teibert-4, Bikel-5.5, Baldisimo-4, Dajome-6*, Caicedo-5, White-3

All that glisters is not Gauld

For the first half of the game against the LA Galaxy the Vancouver Whitecaps were bad.

You know what? Scratch that, it isn’t fair. They were worse than bad, they were awful. Lacklustre in their movement and thought, they somehow managed to to have three holding midfielders on the pitch without actually having a midfield.

They conceded early and, to all intents and purposes, they looked finished. Carved open at every opportunity they were lucky to go into the break still only trailing by a solitary goal.

For the second half of the game against the LA Galaxy the Vancouver Whitecaps were good.

You know what? Scratch that, it isn’t fair. They were better than good, they were impressive. Closing down the Galaxy at every opportunity and breaking with both pace and purpose.

Two goals fashioned from their own devices sealed a victory that was (kind of) deserved.

It was certainly needed.

And now they go into a game against Houston on Tuesday evening with the possibility (whisper it softly lest the gods be offended by our hubris) of putting together back to back wins.

That won’t salvage the season by itself, but it will put the season onto the standby by list for salvageability, hoping that some other team drops out leaving an unexpected late call to report to the ticket counter for a team that has never looked like getting off the ground up to now.

It’s a hope of sorts.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Hassal-5, Brown-5, Guttierez-5, Godoy-5, Veselinovic-5, Teibert-4.5, Bikel-5.5, Baldisimo-3, Caicedo-5.5, Dajome-5.5*, White-5

Vancouver Whitecaps: No Solutions

The problem when a team is badly coached is that the miasma of the badness begins to seep into everything and everyone.

Is Andy Rose a bad player? No.

Should he be starting every game in order to provide “leadership” in the central defence at the expense of a player (or players) who could play that role for years? Only if the team are getting good results.

The team are not getting good results.

Is Russell Teibert a terrible midfielder? No.

Should he be starting every game ahead of Leonard Owusu (or any other midfielder capable of more attacking intent)? Only if the team are getting good results.

The team are not getting good results.

Is Alexandre really incapable of getting into the opposition box at any time during the ninety minutes? Is Deiber Caicedo incapable of finishing a chance? Is Dajome blowing hot and cold because of his own failings?

The problem when a team is badly coached is that eventually we start to doubt the players and, more likely than not, they begin to doubt themselves.

The problem when a team is badly coached is that the whole becomes less than the sum of its parts and the parts become less than what they are as the whole dissolves.

And what we have here is a dissolving whole.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Hassal-3, Brown-4, Gutierrez-4, Rose-3, Godoy-4, Bikel-5, Teibert-3, Alexandre-3.5, Dajome-4, Caicedo-5*, White-2

Whitecaps Tie!

A 2-2 tie on the road is never a terrible result in MLS I suppose.

But, good grief, the game against FC Dallas was a chilling reminder of just how poor Marc Dos Santos is at in game management.

His side recovered from a terrible start to go into the half-time break with a 2-1 lead and they were playing well.

Keeping the ball, making Dallas do the chasing and pressing high up the pitch to keep the pressure off their own defence.

So what did the half-time team talk amount to?

One can only assume it amounted to “Hang on to what we have and make sure we give Dallas plenty of opportunities to get the ball into our penalty area.”

If that wasn’t the team talk then no matter, because that’s what happened anyway. And, with crushing inevitability, the late arrival of Veselinovic (theoretically designed to shore up the defence) resulted in the unlucky Serb heading passed Max Crepeau as the Whitecaps six yard box was crowded with their own players fighting among themselves for the ball.

Last week Dos Santos bemoaned the fact that his team sat too deep in the final stages against Seattle, so it is somewhat baffling that his every change against Dallas seemed specifically designed to encourage just such a mistake once again.

But inconsistency between what he says and what he does is Dos Santos’ super power.

The Whitecaps now move on, with the Gold Cup removing Crepeau (who was excellent) and Cavallini (who scored but was clearly too tired, lazy or important to close down the opposition during the final twenty minutes of his appearance). And we will see if the last two 2-2 ties will be a springboard or quicksand for a team that is clearly mentally fragile at this point.

There are those who describe soccer as a “weakest link” sport.

And, right now, the Whitecaps weakest link might not be on the field.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Crepeau-6.5*, Brown-6, Gutierrez-5.5, Rose-5, Godoy-5.5, Teibert-5, Bikel-6, Alexandre-5.5, Dajome-5, Caicedo-5.5-Cavallini-4

Vancouver Whitecaps: Not terrible!

One step at a time.

The Whitecaps 2-2 tie with the Seattle Sounders on Saturday evening wasn’t a season defining turnaround in fortune, but it was a sign that Vancouver are capable of better than they have been in the season thus far.

Just the simple act of wanting to progress the ball forward at more than half speed makes them a more effective unit and makes use of the pace out wide of Dajome and Caicedo.

And Dajome seems to be the catalyst for the team right now. If he’s playing well then the Whitecaps are playing well. And even though Caicedo frustratingly lacks the final product (both in finishing and in passing) his presence can be enough to disconcert the opposition.

It wouldn’t be the Whitecaps though if there weren’t some things to baffle us.

Why they refuse to defend the edge of their own area from set-pieces remains a mystery for the ages.

Time after time they will successfully clear a corner only to find that an opponent has an unchallenged attempt on goal from twenty yards out.

Maybe there’s some statistical evidence to back up defending in this way? But, if so, the Whitecaps are defying the odds in all the wrong ways.

It’s also perplexing why Marc Dos Santos doesn’t make more use of his whole squad, both before and during games.

Is Leonard Owusu so bad in training that he is a worse option to start in midfield than the dead zone that is Russell Teibert? Are the defence in so much need of organization that playing Andy Rose is a better option than allowing Ranko Veselinovic and Erik Godoy to try to form a a partnership that could last for a few years?

And what’s with the reluctance to make changes during the game?

It was hotter than the sun in Seattle last night, but it took a Sounders equalizer to prompt the introduction of fresh legs (accompanied by the other relevant body parts too of course).

Next week Vancouver play FC Dallas, the only team in the West who have been worse than them this year.

Maybe there will be news by then that the fabled and mystical unicorn of a number ten has appeared in human form in the shape of Ryan Gauld, just as the prophecies have foretold?

But, whatever the case, the Whitecaps need to play with their heads up, both metaphorically and in actuality.

To be at least the sum of their parts, to always look to the horizon and not the ground, to believe in what can be and not be bound by what is, to avoid trite words of inspiration and reach inside themselves to be the team they want to be.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Crepeau-5, Bikel-5.5, Gutierrez-5.5, Rose-5, Godoy-5.5, Baldissimo-5, Teibert-4, Alexandre-5.5, Caicedo-5.5, Dajome-6*, Cavallini-5

Vancouver Whitecaps: Riddle me this

Now with additional meanderings.

The Whitecaps spent the first half of the game against the LA Galaxy on Wednesday evening not bothering trying to score. They had no shots either on or off target.

At the start of the second half the Galaxy took the lead and suddenly the Whitecaps decided that they should bother trying to score and built up a momentum which was justifiably rewarded with a Bikel goal in the closing minutes.

The fact Vancouver played with such attacking intent once they had conceded makes this game even more annoying. They can do it. They just don’t. One assumes they must be told to play that way. You don’t go a third of a way through a season failing to score a goal in the first half without that being a feature rather than a bug.

Then, because they are not a team that knows how to control a game, even for a few short seconds, they conceded another goal at the death and slumped to their fifth successive defeat.

As Eighty Six Forever pointed out, that LA winner wasn’t just down to bad luck for the Whitecaps. They had switched off. Nobody was stopping the free kick from being taken quickly and players were strolling to get back into position. For sure it was a once in a blue moon, lottery winner of a goal, but Vancouver bought the ticket for Alvarez.

It must be frustrating for the players to know they are really only playing for forty-five minutes per match. It must be right? To look back on every performance and wonder what might have been had they started playing from the first whistle.

Do we need to talk about Lucas Cavallini yet? He may not be getting the service he needs, but for a DP his first touch is poor, his pace in non-existent and his overall contribution is minimal. And I’m not convinced that the plan of playing a lesser version of himself alongside him is the best idea, but maybe a number ten will solve Cavallini’s woes? Buying a player to help make your most expensive player functional isn’t the greatest scenario but there we are.

They must know that character isn’t about stepping up your game when you go behind. It’s about being on your game from the get go.

But it took an LA goal to break them out of their initial torpor. Break the players free from the yoke of whatever tactical harness they were being held up by.

And it almost worked.

But who knows really?

They just keep finding new ways to disappoint us and new ways to demonstrate how far away they are from being a team that can compete.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Crepeau-5, Brown-5, Gutierrez-4.5, Rose-3, Godoy5.5*, Bikel-5, Baldisimo-4.5, Dajome-5.5, Teibert-4.5, Cavallini-3, White-3.5

More of a ripple than a splash

Many of us watched in horror when Danish international Christian Eriksen collapsed on the field during EURO 2020 and then we watched in further horror as the television pictures zoomed in on medics performing CPR on the stricken player.

I joined in the chorus of despair that these pictures were even being transmitted, lamenting the intrusion of privacy for a man who was clearly fighting for his life.

In retrospect, my outraged pleas would have carried more weight had I not specifically turned on the TV so that I could see what was happening to Eriksen in HD rather than on my iPad screen.

But moral outrage is often too good to resist when living in the moment.

Following the relief that Eriksen had survived and been transported to hospital we then had to face the inevitable outpouring of emotion in the following game involving Denmark.

It’s perfectly natural for the Danes themselves to be filled with angst of course. But the rest of us? Do we really need to take a seat on their emotional roller-coaster?

Do we really need to be told that the narrative now is how resilient the team have been and how the footballing community has come together in support of Eriksen?

Perhaps there’s some truth in that.

But there’s also a harsher and colder narrative to be seen.

That narrative reminds us just how insignificant we all are. That even when one of the star players in a tournament collapses and almost dies the games continue with only the merest of pauses. That the trauma he and his family faced, and will face, is already a footnote in the scheduling. An asterisk to be briefly considered for future historians of the game.

In W.H Auden’s poem Musee de Beaux Arts he writes of seeing Bruegel’s painting Landscape with the Fall of Icarus.

“About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position..

In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster;

…and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.”

We all saw something amazing and terrible in that game and then we gave a collective shrug and went back to checking the group tables to see which teams were best placed to qualify if they finished in third place.

How does any of this relate to the Whitecaps?

Only in the sense that it feels like we are watching them fall slowly to the ground as they have, once again, built a team with wings made of wax. Destined to rapidly descend the moment it comes into contact with too much heat.

As a result some people’s lives will probably be altered forever; forced to move to new cities, new countries, new roles and we will once again shrug our collective indifference and carry on with our lives.

Vancouver Whitecaps lost to Salt Lake

We need to be patient.

The Whitecaps (obviously) needed the pre-season to work on their tactics and getting to know each other on the field. Then they (obviously) needed a few games to really hone all that pre-season work. Then they (obviously) needed the self-declared “second pre-season” to work on the initial tactics that weren’t quite gelling following the first pre-season and the initial run of games and now (obviously) they need a few more games following the second pre-season to work on the tactics that were introduced to supplant the first set of tactics that didn’t quite work.

Seems reasonable.

The 3-1 loss to Real Salt Lake was one of those games in which Marc Dos Santos could argue that the score line didn’t reflect the game. But been there, done that.

The Whitecaps had a series of chances from set-pieces that they couldn’t convert and were ultimately undone by their inability to really threaten from open play.

It sometimes seems as though most of the Whitecaps attacking problems could be solved just by encouraging the midfield to turn toward the opposition goal when they receive the ball rather than opt for the safe pass back to a teammate.

Of course it sometime seems as though the Whitecaps problems could be solved by playing as though they’ve met each other before so there’s that too.

Onwards and upwards though and hopefully the Gold Cup will provide the coaches with a chance to implement a third pre-season in which they can work on the secondary tactics that weren’t quite gelling following the second pre-season and the secondary run of games but (obviously) they will need a few games following the third pre-season to work on the tactics that were introduced to supplant the secondary set of tactics that didn’t quite work.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Crepeau-5, Brown-5.5, Gutierrez-5, Godoy-5, Rose-5-Bikel-2, Baldismo-5.5*, Alexandre-5, Caicedo-4, Dajome-4, White-3 (Cavallini-3)