Vancouver Whitecaps: Before this river becomes an ocean

The best thing about the Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 road win against the Houston Dynamo was that it garnered our heroes a valuable three points from one of the toughest trips in Major League Soccer.

The second best thing is that it helped allay any of those “the Whitecaps will be a more possession based team this season” theories that sprung up after last week’s game against Montreal.


Vancouver were back in their familiar territory of conceding chance after chance while somehow managing to win the game thanks to a penalty kick and a breakaway goal.

At this point I’m not sure who the universe is really playing the long con on; the Whitecaps fans who think that this time around Carl Robinson has figured it all out and it will be different in the playoffs this year or Robinson himself who must surely feel that he’s cracked the secret of road success in MLS.

The results may make a convincing argument that he’s done just that but, like a faith healer who strikes lucky with a cancer remission or two, causation and correlation can make convincing bedfellows even when they live in separate cities.

There were times in Houston when the Whitecaps could barely string two passes together. There were even times when they weren’t even interested in stringing two passes together but somehow every Houston foray except one either found a Whitecaps boot or head, a Marinovic glove or the wrong side of the goalpost.

Good defending to be sure but good last-ditch defending and certainly not, in any way shape or form, a composed away performance.

But for all this complaining there were some standout showings.

Alphonso Davies was forced to drop back to cover the left back position when Marcel de Jong was forced to leave the field in the first half and when the youngster did get caught out of position his pace allowed him the opportunity to recover.

Stefan Marinovic produced at least two saves he only had half a right to make and Brek Shea once again proved that when he’s given the chance to break beyond the opposition defence he’s as cool a finisher as the club has.

Less impressive was another display of listless anonymity from Yordy Reyna which must have left Cristian Techera watching from the bench and wondering why the Peruvian got the nod over him.

Aaron Maund still looks capable of getting caught hopelessly out of position and Felipe was the victim of tactics that are in no way designed to get the best out of his particular style of play.

No matter.

Six points from the first two games gives the team a decent cushion for what is actually a pretty tough opening schedule and there’s always the chance that Robinson will integrate the newcomers to the squad in a manner that improves the overall quality of play.

He probably won’t do that of course and come season end we’ll all once again be wondering why the Whitecaps couldn’t break down a stubborn opponent at BC Place.

For now though let’s just enjoy the sense that the plan is working.

We interrupt this blog for five bonus thoughts from the day after

Felipe was advertised as a box to box midfielder (and is) but didn’t get anywhere near the Houston penalty area unless it was to trot over to take a corner kick.

The Whitecaps didn’t complete a single pass inside the Houston penalty area

Robinson got his substitutes spot on. Moving Davies to left back, introducing Blondell for Kamara when the latter looked in danger of picking up a second yellow and giving Mutch the opportunity to wrest a semblance of control back to the game all worked perfectly.

It’s to Kamara’s huge credit that he somehow got a goal and an assist from that game but even a natural number nine can only do so much in isolation.

The rest of MLS is already producing results that are so batshit crazy it kind of makes any attempt at rationalization superfluous.

And now back to your regular blog.

Time for you Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Marinovic-6.5*, Nerwinski-6, de Jong-5, Waston-6, Maund-5, Teibert 5.5, Juarez-5.5, Davies-6.5, Reyna-4, Felipe-5, Kamara-5.5 (Shea-6)




Carl Robinson will choo choo choose who?

Back at the turn of the century a Business Professor and a Psychology Professor conducted an experiment in a California supermarket.

On one day they set up a stand with twenty-four gourmet jams on display and on another day they set up the stand with just six.

What they discovered was that while more people stopped to peruse the larger selection only 3% of those who did so actually purchased any jam.

Of the fewer who stopped at the smaller selection the number who shelled out some cash was 30%.

Too much choice, it seems, can be a disincentive when it comes to making a decision.

And too much choice is one of the defining factors of the world most of us now inhabit, be it household goods, insurance options, streaming services or restaurant menus that traverse the globe and back again in just the appetizer section.

No matter what we ultimately attain we can’t help but feel the pull of what was left behind.

Somewhat ironically, studies on the psychology of choice are now so prevalent that selecting just one to use as an illustration at the start of this piece simply left me thinking things like “I should have used the one that examined the difference between hedonic and utilitarian goods!”

You can see where I’m going with this right?

Seriously, can somebody tell me where I’m going with this please?

Oh yeah. The Vancouver Whitecaps.

Before we get to the choices facing Carl Robinson in the coming weeks let’s first think about whether the 4-2-3-1 system he employed in the 2-1 win against Montreal worked.

“Yes and no” is the right answer to that I think.

In the first half the visitors bunkered down and the only chances the Whitecaps created came from unforced Impact errors. We’ve seen that movie before of course, where Vancouver’s best option is to hope that the ball over the top hits the one in fifty chance of landing in the right stop.

To be fair it did at least feel as though they were passing  those long balls rather than simply hitting them, but even so it’s a low percentage strategy for a team playing at home.

In the second half Montreal were far more confident and thus far more open and Alphonso Davies and Cristian Techera both found the kinds of space they never got close to in the first forty-five minutes and two goals ensued.

So perhaps it’s fair to say that the 4-2-3-1 remains an option for road games and games where we know the opposition are willing to play more open football and that, given the arrival of Kei Kamara and the initial promise of Davies, it will at least be a better option than it was last season.

But sooner or later Carl Robinson is going to have to switch things up if he wants to find a starting spot for newcomers Jordon Mutch and Felipe Martins.

On Sunday he switched Felipe with Reyna but let’s hope we don’t get into the situation where a box to box midfielder is being shoehorned into the number ten role simply for the sake of formational orthodoxy.

And that would mean the coach being faced with what could well prove to be a paralyzing plethora of choices.

Sacrifice one of his wide players to accommodate one more central midfielder while simultaneously reducing the number of crosses delivered to the head of Kamara?

Experiment with three at the back and nullify some of Davies’ attacking threat by using him as a wing back?

Go to a traditional 4-4-2 which would mean two of Juarez, Ghazal, Felipe and Mutch not making the starting eleven?

Employ a 4-3-3 that keeps the wide players in the side and allows a true holding midfielder to play with either Felipe or Mutch as the more attacking option and Juarez as the conduit between the two but only allows a place for Reyna in the more disciplined wide role?

Right now it’s the latter option that probably makes the most sense but Robinson will indeed be faced with the thoroughly modern dilemma of an abundance of choice as well as something akin to that aformentioned decision between the hedonic and the utilitarian when to comes to the type of teams he selects.

And of course there are far too many studies in that particular area to enable us to make any kind of prediction as to which one he will ultimately opt for although, if I were going to switch disciplines for a moment and be the other person in his hell, I’d say he’ll go for the utilitarian option.

Vancouver Whitecaps: One down, thirty three (plus playoff games, MLS Cup Final and victory parade) to go

There was a fifteen minute period at the start of the second half when the Vancouver Whitecaps game against the Montreal Impact felt disturbingly familiar.

Vancouver had dominated the first half without ever really creating a clear cut chance and the second half began with the Impact on the front foot while the home team played with a kind of listless torpor.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Alphonso Davies whipped in a cross from the left and Kei Kamara produced a bullet of a header to change the tone completely.

Seven minutes later Davies slotted home his first ever MLS goal and only the sense that the whole team seemed to feel the job was done allowed Montreal to get a goal back and give fans of the Whitecaps a far more nervous than necessary final ten minutes.

They hung on to that lead however and concluded a mostly satisfactory day at the office.

So what were the main lessons learned?

Well, Kamara certainly doesn’t have the technical skill of Fredy Montero (there were times when his efforts resembled a unicorn trying to control a particularly feisty hedgehog) but that probably won’t matter if he can get on the end of crosses the way he did for the first goal.

Alphonso Davies had by far his best game as a Whitecap as he finally transformed “potential” into real world achievements.

He still takes the wrong option every now and then but he seemed far more interested in hurting the opposition than he has in the past. Let’s hope that level of ruthlessness is  a feature of his season.

Efrain Juarez was fairly anonymous in the first half but about twenty minutes into the second he appeared to suddenly come to his senses and began to get involved in the game both with the ball and as an organiser/coach whenever he could.

I’m not sure the MLS era Whitecaps have ever had a player who fills that kind of pseudo “Captain” role in the centre of the field and it will be an interesting dynamic to watch as the season progresses.

The biggest area of concern has to be the form of Yordy Reyna.

Yes it’s only the first game of the season, but he ended the last with exactly the same kind of lethargic display.

At his best Reyna thrives on devilment and speed of thought and foot and all three were missing on Sunday afternoon.

He probably just needs time to get his form up and running but there are new players waiting in the wings who could well push the Peruvian out of the picture if his overall play doesn’t improve.

Elsewhere Aaron Maund used the ball well from the back but was caught out of position on the Montreal goal and Russell Teibert had one of his better games as he even used the option of the forward ball from time to time.

It’s worth bearing in mind that a 2-1 win against a very poor Impact team is hardly the stuff of  legends in the making but the Whitecaps have failed this kind of test more than once in recent years so it would be churlish to be hyper-critical of the three points no matter how it is was earned.

Two tough road games to come that will no doubt give us a better idea of how Carl Robinson intends to slot his new signings into the team but, for now, all is good in the world of the Whitecaps.

Time for your Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Marinovic-6, Nerwinski-6, de Jong-6, Waston-6, Maund-5, Teibert-6, Juarez-6, Davies-6.5*, Techera-6, Reyna-4.5, Kamara-6

Jordon: The Comeback

The first game of any new season is, at best, a vague foreshadowing of what is to come but for the Vancouver Whitecaps Sunday’s game against Montreal is likely to be even less instructive than that.

One week ago there was the sense that the Whitecaps had finally built a team specifically designed to play in a manner suited to the way Carl Robinson likes to set up his side but then, two days before the season opener, that was all blown out of the water by the signings of Jordon Mutch and Felipe Martins.

Both are the kind of box to box midfielder the coach has consistently said he would like in his team without ever giving any indication that he wanted the players at his disposal to play in that way.

So it will be interesting to see how Mutch and Felipe are used.

Unless he’s suddenly been possessed by the spirit of Pep Guardiola it’s hard to see Robinson fielding a team filled with false number nine’s so the likelihood is that Mutch and Felipe will either share the playing time or at least one of them will be asked to curb their attacking instinct.

That still leaves a whole host of questions around how the team will be set up and who will still be in and who will mostly be out but it does feel slightly bizarre to be stocking up on central midfielders at the very moment Vancouver have finally acquired a target man who loves to feed off crosses from the flanks.

There will be injuries and suspensions and international duty of course but Robinson’s much vaunted (mostly by himself) ability to keep players happy will be severely put to the test.

It’s unlikely that either Mutch or Felipe will feature against Montreal which probably means we’ll see the more familiar setting of 4-2-3-1 with Juarez and Teibert sitting deep and Davies, Techera and Reyna playing behind Kamara.

Perhaps the main question (besides who will play alongside Kendall Waston in central defence) is whether the coach can figure out a way to make use of the expected crowd of 27,000.

This is the first game back at BC Place since that performance against Seattle which saw the sheer lack of ambition of the Whitecaps kill the atmosphere and any semblance of home advantage along with it.

There’s at least a chance that they will come out of the traps flying on Sunday though and an early goal would force Montreal forward which is basically tactical catnip to the way Vancouver play.

If that early breakthrough doesn’t come however let’s hope the Whitecaps don’t pull back into the shell of defensive security that has been their wont in recent seasons.

Right now it’s hard to ignore the suspicion that the recent flurry of moves have been based on who was available rather than who was needed or wanted, but the second best case scenario for Sunday is that the Whitecaps post an entertaining win that provides Robinson some time to integrate the new signings into his team before the Galaxy arrive here later in the month.

The best case scenario is me winning the 50/50.

Vancouver Whitecaps: Season Preview!

Can it really be the start of the Major League Soccer season this coming weekend?

Yes it can, because that’s how we shape the unconnected moments of our existence to form the necessary illusion of linear time.

But what does the “year” hold in store for the Vancouver Whitecaps?

Let’s posit a few theories that are mostly based around the slightly bizarre compulsion for alliterative sub headings.

Form will Follow Function- It sometimes feels as though Carl Robinson’s journey as a coach is one leading him toward a kind of footballing Modernism.

A philosophy in which ornament and style are discarded in favour of the brutalism of functionality.

That’s no bad thing in and of itself despite how stark and grey the viewing fare may be (and that greyness is surely the inspiration for the new “Unity” jersey) and this season may be the one in which Robinson has the building blocks to create the utilitarian monolith of his dreams.

Flair players have been expunged in favour of height and pace which could make the Whitecaps both startlingly predictable and simultaneously difficult to stop.

The only danger in this prognosis is that somebody somewhere convinces the Front Office to splash the cash on a creative number ten, because giving the current coach a creative number ten would be like giving me a Photoionization Microscope.

People would be impressed that I had one but I wouldn’t have a clue how to use it properly.

World Cup Work Outs- The World Cup will hover over the start of the 2018 season like a rescue helicopter hovering over the profusely bleeding body of a hit and run victim.

Sure, it will be great when it gets there but the build up to the arrival will be fraught with a giddy mix of dark thoughts and irrational hopes.

For the Whitecaps there are perhaps two players whose fate will be inextricably linked with the great beast of a tournament slouching over the horizon.

Ali Ghazal is one who knows he has to impress if he is to force his way into the Egypt team and Yordy Reyna was on the fringes of the Peruvian squad before the off-season and nothing has happened since then to improve his standing.

Ghazal appears to be the kind of player who will know that a steady and effective start to the season will be his best chance to make the cut but Reyna is surely more of a wild card who could cut both ways.

He could either rise to the challenge and be the kind of wild mercurial presence we saw when he first arrived in Vancouver or he could try too hard to win every game single-handed and become a liability in a team that very definitely has no “I” in it.

The post World Cup period will be interesting too as Kendall Waston and whoever else gets a seat on a plane will have to deal with the inevitable cold turkey after the emotional high of Russia.

Defensive Dance- The Tim Parker “situation” has certainly thrown a spanner into the defensive machinery and (at the time of writing) we still don’t know how the “situation” will resolve itself.

It’s hard to know if the best case scenario is Parker agreeing a new deal and staying in Vancouver or the club getting an over generous offer that allows them to strengthen elsewhere, but the current reality is that the Whitecaps will be starting the campaign with the central defensive pairing still very much a work in progress.

Quite the “situation”.

Midfield Maelstrom- The news that Tony Tchani has been traded to the Chicago Fire for TAM may mean Carl Robinson wants an upgrade in that role but, when push comes to shove, it’s hard to look beyond Ghazal and Efrain Juarez as the go to guys when the chips are down.

But with Russell Teibert and David Norman Jr. as the only central midfield backups (with maybe Marcel de Jong being platooned in from time to time) the immediate need is more depth there than anything else.

Or maybe this is all a case of positioning for a big move during the Summer?

Whatever the case there’s no doubt all of this speculation will be scattered to oblivion in the coming days, hours and minutes but given that linear time is indeed an illusion (which probably explains my persistent inability to schedule any of these posts in even a vaguely competent manner) what does it matter anyway?


Tim Parker: A Bird in the Hand?

My grandfather was a coal miner and so was his father (which sounds like the start of a bad country song but isn’t).

One day my great-grandfather was working down the mine when a tunnel collapsed killing him and five others.

The mines were privately owned at the time and organizing and membership of trade unions was not permitted and so, because the accident happened before midday, the mining company only paid out half a day of wages to the families of those who were killed in the tunnel collapse.

“And that” my grandfather would often tell me “is why we need unions”.

Tim Parker is in the rather odd position of being in a union that only takes a minimal role in establishing his pay rate which means he (and his agent) have to take a lead role in the negotiations.

That also means that rumours are swirling from all sides about just how much he is asking for, but the most believable of these seem to indicate that he has turned down a deal amounting to about one and a half million dollars over three years.

On the face of it that seems like a very good deal for a player who is very good, but only very good in a limited way.

But let’s at least add the caveat that we don’t really know the true details of how that figure is configured. Option years? Bonuses?

But what we do know for sure is that Parker has been on less than one hundred thousand dollars a year since he joined the Whitecaps while almost constantly being a first eleven starter and even captain in the absence of Kendall Waston.

And we also know that during that time Parker has watched worse (and less used) players earning double his salary and more.

A tinge of resentment at that state of affairs would be more than understandable.

Maybe the Whitecaps could have eased that resentment by rewarding him with an improved contract before now?

Maybe we’re in another situation where the club have taken the cheapest route possible until they are suddenly faced with a player who wants away because of that cheapness?

Whatever the case the fact that Parker wasn’t in the starting eleven against the LA Galaxy on saturday evening coupled with the announced signing of Jose Aja from Orlando mean his moving on is far more likely than not.

There’s probably some right and wrong on both sides but Parker seems to have learned the lesson my grandfather learned way back when.

The people who pay your wages will always pay the least they can no matter what the situation.

The Whitecaps won that game in Los Angeles 2-1 and while it was still only a preseason affair we did get to see what will be close to the starting eleven next sunday against Montreal.

Cristian Techera looked sharp, Davies and Reyna showed that their pace will be a crucial factor all year and the Whitecaps pressed the Galaxy well (even if that pressing was on an individual level rather than a collective effort).

Aaron Maund did little to convince Carl Robinson that he should be a regular starter however and de Jong and Nerwinski were overly reluctant to get forward.

All in all it was a decent effort that probably confirmed whatever inherent bias we already have about the team.

But, bizarrely, they will almost certainly be heading into the next game with what was the strongest area of the team suddenly in a state of flux.

And next time around it’s for real!

Vancouver Whitecaps: A feeling in their knees?

Is Debbie Harry a great singer?

Well, it depends how you define the terms. In live performances she often struggles to find the right note or phrasing but in the studio she is close to perfect.

And not perfect in the “I’m going to sing this ballad over a twenty-five minute period hitting every note imaginable while simultaneously destroying any meaning the song may ever have had” kind of way, but perfect in that her voice moves through the music like a sugar cube melting into a hot morning coffee.

Much of this was also down to producer Mike Chapman (one half of the vastly underrated Chinn/Chapman duo who created so many Glam Rock hits in the early seventies) but it needed Debbie herself to appreciate that her vocal limitations could also be her strength when harnessed in the right way.

And that theme of learning how to accept limitations and use them effectively looks like it could be a recurring theme for the Vancouver Whitecaps this season.

On Saturday evening they beat the Las Vegas Lights (a new USL team) 3-2 in what felt like the first “proper” game of the preseason and although Carl Robinson didn’t field a full strength team it was close enough for us to at least make a few informed decisions.

The limitations are still fairly obvious.

After one brief foray forward Ephraim Juarez reverted to the traditional Whitecap role of sitting alongside his partner in defensive sterility (Russell Teibert filling the role on this occasion) and after cruising to a two goal lead in the first half Vancouver allowed an elbow to Alphonso Davies to completely throw them off track for a five-minute period which saw Las Vegas level the score thanks to a free kick and a penalty.

It’s been a theme of this side that they react to injustice by losing their collective heads and, once again, the bench were at least as guilty as the players with assistant coach Martyn Pert being sent to the stands.

It’s completely understandable that a coaching staff gets angry at a very bad challenge on their young star (especially in a preseason game) but their role isn’t to be the Id of the team, it’s to be the rationale side of the equation that can maintain a clear mind amid the madness.

Thankfully there were strengths on show too.

The Whitecaps were always a danger from set-pieces (no surprise there) and Davies showed that he may well have progressed from a promising kid who could never quite find the right final decision to a player who will be a threat both on the counter and when attempting to break down a packed defence at BC Place.

Chances are he will start the season and if he hits the ground running  he could well be the living embodiment of the “like a new signing” cliché.

Throw an in form Yordy Reyna and Ali Ghazal into that starting eleven on Saturday and the Whitecaps don’t look to be in too bad a position.

They aren’t going to glide through 2018 with the ease and assurance of a peak era Blondie forty-five but the trick will be making sure they make the most of their strengths and don’t play to their limitations (which became the depressing trend come the end of the 2017 season).