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!

Vancouver Whitecaps still in a bad place

Earlier in the week Marc Dos Santos had complained that his side suffered more than certain other teams when it came to decisions by VAR.

So it was inevitable that during the 3-1 loss to New York City FC VAR would do what it does best.

Two human beings looked at an incident and decided it was a probably a penalty. Then two other human beings looked at in slow motion and from various different angles and decided it probably wasn’t. Then one of the first human beings looked at in the same way and decided it probably wasn’t either.

The exponentiation of human error is the greatest gift that VAR has given us.

Not that the Whitecaps lost because of that one incident of course.

They committed a series of individual errors and were severely punished for each one by a well drilled and well set up team and this was also episode thirty in the “Can you spot the Whitecaps midfield?” sitcom.

Finding that midfield has to be the main priority for the new Sporting Director.

And excitement at that particular appointment reached fever pitch this week as the club followed up their announcement of two weeks ago that they were beginning the search with the further announcement that they had now hired Nolan Partners, a sports executive search firm, to conduct the search.

Once Nolan Partners announce who they will be appointing to conduct the search the process can really begin in earnest.

On the pitch it will be interesting(ish) to see how both Dos Santos and the team handle the brutal reality of their season being over with four games remaining.

And at least a couple of players should probably have played their last game for the club.

Montero and Erice won’t be back next season (surely) so leave them on the bench and give others the chance to at least get a better feel for MLS and BC Place.

It might even be a good idea for Dos Santos to select who he wants to be his captain for next year since neither Montero or Erice will be back (surely) and hand the armband over to Doneil Henry as a start to instilling a different mentality in the team.

But really we’re just throwing ideas at the wall to see if they stick right now.

Because the squad will, once again, be vastly different next year and both the coach and his new Sporting Director need to ensure that player recruitment is based around a particular playing style and not just bringing in random players because they are available.

That sounds obvious, but the Whitecaps have a nasty habit of ignoring the obvious and going their own sweet way when it comes to running a football club.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Crepeau-4, Nerwinski-5, Henry-6*, Rose-5, Adnan-5, Erice-3, In-Beom-5, Teibert-4, Montero-4, Reyna-6, Ricketts-5 (Sutter-5, Chirinos-4)

 

 

Vancouver Whitecaps play well and still lose

In his 1967 essay “The Death of the Author” Roland Barthes argued that subjective interpretations of any work of literature were equally valid. Nothing is right and nothing is wrong.

The reader is as the reader does. Each of us can interpret a text in whatever way we choose. There is no definitive interpretation.

And so we are with every game of football. We form our own opinions on who could have won and who could have lost. Who played well and who didn’t play well.

And so to the Vancouver Whitecaps.

They lost 2-1 to the Montreal Impact on Wednesday evening but, in this readers opinion, on another day and in a world without VAR they would probably have won comfortably.

They were the better team.

But 2019 is 2019 and so they lost and there will no doubt be the usual pile on toward Marc Dos Santos and his tactics and his signings.

But where were these brave paragons of truth and justice when Carl Robinson was in charge?

Where were the tough questions in post-game interviews?

Where were the TSN commentators questioning tactical decisions of the coach and criticizing the work ethic and finishing skills of the players?

Five years of dross and there was barely a critical opinion voiced of “Robbo” and his tactical cowardice, but now almost every broadcaster and podcaster and wannabe analyst can barely contain themselves in their desire to lay into a coach who has been in charge for less than a year.

Maybe Dos Santos will turn out to be dreadful.

It’s possible.

But spare me the moral outrage if you never even bothered to challenge the mediocrity and ineptitude of the former regime.

Your opinions are worthless at best and dishonest at worst.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Crepeau-6, Nerwinski-6, Adnan-6, Henry-6, Cornelius-6, Teibert-6, Erice-6*, In-Beom-6, Chirinos-6, Reyna-6, Ricketts-6

 

Vancouver Whitecaps: Thank goodness it’s nearly all over

It has been one step back, one step forward and then one more step back for the Vancouver Whitecaps this season.

And Saturday’s 3-1 loss to San Jose was one of the more dispiriting backward lurches.

After a spell of five games where Vancouver looked to have found at least a modicum of coherence they played this game as though the very concept of passing the ball to another member of their own team was the athletic equivalent of explaining the existence of the  u=5/2 state in the fractional quantum Hall effect.

It wasn’t a surprise they were pushed back against a home team who were rebounding from being humiliated in LA earlier in the week and it wasn’t a surprise they were out possessed.

But what was surprising was just how deep they sat and just how poor they were in virtually every aspect of the game (we are betting without Max Crepeau here of course).

Marc Dos Santos’ post game interview summed the tactical nuances of the game up perfectly. San Jose were by far the better team and that’s that.

So where does this leave the Dos Santos project right now?

Worryingly it means it is in urgent need of another overhaul and, given the Whitecaps recruitment policy is to mostly take punts on untried players, they are going to have to hit the mark with almost all their transfer gambles in the off season.

How many players are we talking about?

Well, we can probably keep the defence as is (although an upgrade at right back would be nice if not the most pressing priority).

In the midfield only Hwang In-Beom should be starting next season as Russell Teibert and Andy Rose once again disappeared into oblivion in San Jose, offering neither defensive cover nor attacking support.

And, up front, only Yordy Reyna (with Theo Bair as a bench player) should be back.

That leaves four positions (ideally five) to be filled for 2020 and these can’t be players who make up the numbers; they have to be players of genuine quality who can play football in the manner that just about everybody else in MLS is doing right now.

For the last four years (probably five) the Whitecaps have been staring at the “Important updates are available. Please restart your organization” button and asking the world to remind them again in four months.

Now they suddenly discover the rest of the league has moved to an entirely new operating system run by expensively recruited IT teams while they still rely on family members to try and install the whole thing with a disc they bought at that that pop up stall in the mall.

At least the off season will be “interesting” in an apocryphal Chinese curse kind of way.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Crepeau-7*, Nerwinski-3, Adnan-3, Henry-3, Cornelius-3, Teibert-2, Rose-2, In-Beom-3, Montero-2, Bair-3, Reyna-4

Vancouver Whitecaps are a marvel against DC

On Friday the Vancouver Whitecaps sent shock waves through the sporting world by SENSATIONALLY announcing they were DEFINITELY THINKING about putting together a job description in an effort to ALMOST CERTAINLY recruit a new Sporting Director.

This radical change would be stasis by addition however, because EVERYBODY ELSE involved in the running of the club would stay exactly where they were.

With the sole exception of Bobby Lenarduzzi who would move from the somewhat vague role of Club President to the somewhat vague role of Club Liaison.

It’s a little known fact that “Liaison” is a word that, by law, can only be used in conjunction with the phrase “Internal and external stakeholders”.

With all this off the field excitement it’s no wonder a larger than expected crowd turned up at BC Place to watch the Whitecaps take on DC United

And, fortunately, they were treated to both a Whitecaps win and a thoroughly entertaining game.

Marc Dos Santos kept his team unchanged from the defeat in Portland and, once they had overcome their initial consternation at being on the same pitch as Wayne Rooney, and also realized that keeping the ball on the floor was much a better idea than hitting high balls to DC’s towering defenders they began to create chances.

With Yordy Reyna once again being the standout player.

One of the glimmers of hope for next season is that Dos Santos has both identified the best position for Reyna and coaxed consistent performances from him.

Having a coach who can improve players is crucial to way the Whitecaps see their path to success.

The same goes for Hwang In-Beom too.

It took the coach time to discover his best role but now the South Korean is putting in consistently impressive performances from his deeper lying role.

The biggest concern going into this game was that the presence of Russell Teibert and Felipe in opposition would somehow cause the Universe to collapse in on itself and we would all be left trapped in an infinitesimal ball of anti-matter with the concepts of Time and Space no longer applying.

Luckily that didn’t happen, with both players having perfectly decent games and Teibert even turning with the ball toward the opposition area and playing the pass to Reyna to create the winning goal.

It’s felt like a long time since the Whitecaps produced an enjoyable game for the home crowd to savour (because it is a long time) but if they can play with the same fervour and willingness to take chances for the rest of the year then the whole season won’t be a complete washout.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Crepeau-6, Nerwinski-6, Adnan-5.5, Godoy-6, Cornelius-6, Teibert-6, In-Beom-6.5, Rose-5.5, Montero-5, Bair-5, Reyna-7*  (Henry-6)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vancouver Whitecaps find fun from nowhere

From yesterday but now with additional unseasonal periods of rain.

If the Vancouver Whitecaps aren’t going to make the playoffs this season (They’re not) then at least let them continue not making the playoffs in the manner of their 3-1 loss to the Portland Timbers on Saturday evening.

This wasn’t the Whitecaps of a few weeks ago; all half-hearted effort and tactical ineptitude.

This was a team who had some idea about what they were doing and even believed in that idea.

And a large part of that turnaround has been down to Hwang In-Beom.

The South Korean began his tenure in Vancouver brightly, but then seemed overwhelmed by the physical excesses of MLS and underwhelmed by the technical abilities of some of his teammates.

Nobody can argue the Whitecaps don’t need new players, but these recent performances of In-Beom have highlighted just how shallow the team are in midfield, with neither Teibert nor Rose offering anything of value other than work rate.

Give In-Beom two effective players alongside him and Vancouver become a different team.

But, of late, he has been a player reborn.

Maybe it’s to do with him getting used to the league or maybe it’s because he’s being played in a much deeper position? But he suddenly looks like a genuine difference maker.

He wants the ball, he takes time on the ball when he can and he moves the ball quickly when he needs to and (And this is a revelation for a Whitecaps midfielder) he’s always looking for the forward pass, always twisting his body shape to the opposition goal rather than his own.

That must make life so much more fulfilling for somebody like Yordy Reyna who is constantly making runs to unsettle the opposition defence, just that knowledge that the player on the ball is aware of those runs and has the ability to find him must make the Peruivan’s heart sing.

As with In-Beom the Peruvian is in desperate need of quality alongside him. There was a moment in the second half when Reyna chased and won yet another forward pass and stood with the ball knowing he would have no support.

Then he was astonished to see that Theo Bair had made a run into the box and was available for a pass.

It almost resulted in a goal, but Reyna’s surprise was indicative of what a lone furrow he has been ploughing all season.

Elsewhere Theo Bair scored a magnificent goal but still looked as though he has a lot to learn with the ball at his feet.

Once Ali Adnan went off injured both Jake Nerwinsky and Brett Levis got into good positions but couldn’t cross the ball effectively and Fredy Montero continued to not really care when the ball wasn’t at his feet and to want to take his ball away when another teammate wanted to take a set-piece.

Is this too harsh on Montero? Maybe we’re in the same kind of subconscious reinforcement that occurs everytime Teibert passes the ball backwards?

But, at the very least, Montero does not look like a captain on the field.

Oh and the Whitecaps continued their policy (It has to be a deliberate policy right?) of allowing opponents to shoot at will from just outside the box and it failed them miserably.

But this is all a huge improvement on what has gone before and the Whitecaps have now played two consecutive games of football that were enjoyable to watch.

Heady days indeed!

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Crepeau-5, Nerwinski-5, Godoy-6, Cornelius-6, Adnan-5, In-Beom-6.5*, Teibert-5, Rose-4.5, Bair-5.5, Montero-3.5, Reyna-6 (Levis-4.5)