Whitecaps face the final curtain

So that’s just about it then.

After the 2-1 loss to the Seattle Sounders at BC Place on Saturday evening the Whitecaps sit four points off the playoff places with only six games left to play and a remaining schedule leaning very much to the “Yikes!” end of the spectrum.

But at least this time Vancouver lost to Seattle displaying some ambition and heart and, on another day, they might have won the game, could have won the game and probably should have won the game.

If anything the Whitecaps were trying too hard.

Mezquida snatched at almost every chance that came his way (including a golden opportunity when the score was still tied), Nerwinski over hit every cross, Davies tried to win the game single-handed instead of using his threat to create space for others and just about everybody took the wrong option when getting anywhere near the Seattle net; an extra touch here, a misplaced pass there.

Thoughts will inevitably turn to what difference the presence of the suspended Yordy Reyna would have made.

The Peruvian would certainly have given the opposition less time and manpower to concentrate on Davies and he would also have injected the elements of quality and pace that neither Mezquida nor Techera bring to the frontline.

And there still remains the frustrating sight of the Whitecaps failing to get enough men in the box to be on the end of the inevitable cross no matter how desperately they need a goal but that’s a result of only being able to function effectively with two defensive midfielders on the pitch

So this game didn’t exist in isolation.

If the disciplinary issues had been dealt with effectively earlier in the year then maybe Reyna wouldn’t have been suspended for his fifth yellow card?

And if the team had worked more on passing and moving over the last few seasons then maybe they would have finally figured out how to break down a deep lying defence beyond relying on set-pieces and a lucky drop of the ball here and there?

And let’s not even think about how much of the salary cap was sitting on the bench last night (You’re thinking about it right now aren’t you!) or how long it took Carl Robinson to find a starting eleven that worked instead of sticking with square pegs in round holes for far too long.

But if the game on Saturday proved anything it’s that BC Place can be a decent place to watch football if the fans have a team they can believe in, a team that wants to win games no matter who they are playing and doesn’t treat the opposition (any opposition) with too much respect.

Hopefully that knowledge can be built upon for next season but for now it’s down to hoping against hope that this team can string together four or five wins and that either Portland or Real Salt Lake fall off a metaphorical cliff (or an actual cliff too I guess).

That’s not going to happen but at least the Whitecaps look like they will go down fighting..

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Marinovic-5, Nerwinski-5.5, Levis-4, Waston-5, Henry-4.5, Teibert-5, Ghazal-5.5, Techera-4, Mezquida-4.5, Davies-5, Kamara-6* (Shea-5, Mutch-5)

 

Vancouver Whitecaps making history

In his book “1491” Charles C. Mann paints a picture of an American continent already utterly transformed by the human hand.

Long before Columbus and his crew touched land people had been shaping the surface of their home to fit their needs; forest fires to create vast clearings to make hunting easier, redirecting rivers and changing the very fabric of the world that grew around them.

But the myth of the continent being an untouched Eden inhabited by the “noble savage” before 1492 has served so many people so well it’s somehow endured in the collective memory.

After all, history is nothing but the recording of change and if a People can be portrayed as never-changing then they don’t really have a history and if they don’t have a history then they are a blank canvas upon which any social or political point of view can be painted.

But even Mann’s book is replete with assumptions and self-projection. Because that’s what history is.

Just as all good Science Fiction is about trying to understand the present then so is all good history. Who were these people? In what ways were they like us? In what ways did they differ? Why are we making the exact same mistakes as they did?

The tragedy of it all though is that we remain incapable of examining our own societies in the same kind of forensic and detached detail. We seem condemned to be forever wise about the past and forever stupid about the present.

Which brings us to the Vancouver Whitecaps.

We can’t know what future historians will say about the 2018 iteration of the team but from the contemporary point of view it’s a difficult narrative to get your head around.

The team have a player with the most “Big Chances created” in the League (Reyna) and a player with the most successful dribbles in the League (Davies) and yet many at the club seem to think they are overachieving by even being within sniffing distance of the playoffs (and that scent is getting fainter by the day).

The status of Carl Robinson and his coaches also remains shrouded in weirdness. The main man still has time to run on his contract but his assistants have yet to have their contracts renewed leading to speculation that this will be his final year in charge no matter what the results from here on in.

It certainly feels as though it should be his final few games because there’s an air of weariness and rancour permeating through everything right now.

The weekly fines for Cristian Techera are one thing, but goalkeeping coach Stewart Kerr has taken to Twitter after he last few games berating naysayers and insisting that everybody at the club is “UNITED”.

Hard to say if this is a genuine expression of solidarity or some kind of Trumpian attempt at proving what can never be proved.

It certainly hints at the kind of edgy malaise behind the scenes and in the locker room that we see reproduced on the field with regularity.

Yet we remain too close to the whole thing to make any kind of objective assessment of the season. That will come later.

But if we were forced to form a coherent narrative of what we have seen we would perhaps say that the whole thing has been a foreshadowing of collapse and change.

Just as there must have been at least one Inca who looked at yet another mountainside eroding and thought to themselves “I don’t know, this seems like really bad news to me” then so some Whitecaps fan must see the inability to keep a clean sheet, the discipline issues, the controversy over how players are attained and the seeming sense of isolation that is engulfing the coaching staff as portents of seismic events that are too late to stop now.

Vancouver Whitecaps still on root to the playoffs (just)

Now with additional “tremors” from the following day.

The Vancouver Whitecaps beat San Jose 2-1 at BC Place on Saturday evening to earn the much needed (absolutely essential ) six points from their consecutive meetings with the worst team in MLS.

And it was a game they both completely dominated while simultaneously hanging on by the skin of their teeth at the end.

Weird.

At least Carl Robinson seems to have finally solved the mystery of what his best starting eleven actually is (not that it was much of a mystery for many who have watched the team this year).

Put Ghazal and Teibert in front of the back four and compensate for their lack of attacking threat by having Nerwinski and Levis move forward from the full back positions.

It worked perfectly in the first half and the Whitecaps should have led by more than one going in at the break.

There’s going to be an awful lot to dissect and discuss once this season finally fades away but one of the main points of contention will be Robinson’s use of his squad.

His persistence in playing Felipe in a defensive midfield role (a role which negates his offensive output and emphasises his defensive frailty) has led to a number of points being dropped (particularly at home) and that’s inevitably linked to his refusal to play Russell Teibert when the Canadian was clearly having the best season of his career.

It’s fairly clear that, in his heart of hearts, Robinson wants his team to set up with two genuine defensive midfielders but for much of this year he has half-heartedly turned that into just one and a half and so much has been lost.

But then we got the trademark flat start to the second half which allowed the Earthquakes to find a semblance of a footing in the game and for the longest time it looked as though Vancouver were going to blow a crucial three points.

It even got to the stage where Kendall Waston made a marauding run forward just to give his team and the crowd the lift they needed (and it says something about just how little import this coaching staff put in the value of the home crowd getting behind the team that Assistant Coach Martyn Pert was screaming at Waston to get back in defence while that run was being made).

The next home game sees the visit of the Seattle Sounders and many of us will still be traumatized by having to watch “that” playoff game at BC Place where the Whitecaps set out to kill the game from the first whistle and almost immediately negated a home crowd of 27,000.

From his many comments about the quality of his players it’s clear the coach doesn’t see them as a match for the Sounders (or anybody much at all really) but he must know that one of the most potent weapons an inferior side can have is to get the home crowd roaring them on.

He must know that right?

Yet it’s not inconceivable that Vancouver will follow another morale boosting (and supporter energizing) win against San Jose with a another performance that shows Seattle the kind of respect they can’t afford to be shown.

In the end it took the introduction of Nicolas Mezquida to find the second goal the Whitecaps so desperately needed and all seemed to be fair sailing until they conceded the obligatory scrappy goal at the death and somehow found themselves putting life and limb on the line to prevent the lacklustre Earthquakes from ruining the season for good.

It’s a two week break now before facing the ridiculously in form Seattle Sounders at BC Place in another “must win” game.

Another narrative that will be thoroughly dissected once this season finally fades away is the disciplinary issues the team have faced all year.

And that came back to bite them in a much more subtle way on Saturday evening as Yordy Reyna picked up a yellow card that means he is suspended for the Sounders game.

Reyna has been the best Whitecap during this good run of form (he may even be the reason for this good run of form) and he will be missed an awful lot in two weeks time.

Robinson could just go for a straight swap and start Mezquida, but the Uruguayan has always been at his best using his energy to wear out tired defenders later in the game.

So that means either a change of formation (which isn’t really Robinson’s forte) or probably playing Felipe in the number ten role.

He’s a very different kind of player to Reyna but his passing should at least enable him to link up with Kamara, Davies and Techera without having to worry too much about his defensive duties.

In truth the other results from the weekend mean the Whitecaps are going to have to pull up both their socks and trees to squeak into sixth place which, when it’s written down like that, is a sad indictment of what might have been for the whole year.

But at least we might finally have some fun on the way to the inevitable despair.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Marinovic-5, Nerwinski-5.5, Waston-5.5, Maund-5, Levis-6*, Ghazal-5.5, Teibert-5.5, Reyna-6, Davies-5, Techera-4.5, Kamara-5 (Mezquida-5)

Vancouver Whitecaps: No way Jose

Now with additional WTF? thoughts from the day after.

For the first half in San Jose the Vancouver Whitecaps went toe to toe with the Earthquakes in a battle to see which team would come out on top if neither of them were set up with any kind of tactical coherence.

The Whitecaps lost that particular skirmish and trailed 2-0 at the break and, let’s be honest, their season looked as good as over.

But ten minutes into the second half Carl Robinson made a double substitution taking de Jong and Felipe off and bringing Ghazal and Mezquida on.

Mezquida added energy to the front line and Ghazal added substance to the middle and suddenly Vancouver looked like they were playing the worst team in MLS (which they were).

On form (and quality too) the best front four for the Whitecaps are Kamara, Reyna, Davies and Techera but it may be that isn’t the best fit for the team as a whole.

The Whitecaps lack of a genuine number ten means that Reyna gets slotted into that role. When he’s on form the Peruvian is the oil that keeps the attacking cogs spinning but he’s not a “creative” number ten in the traditional sense. His strength is his movement and his nuisance factor which means he’s better suited to a wider, freer, role.

What we saw in San Jose was Mezquida pressing the opposition back line in a way that just wasn’t happening in the first half and that created turnovers (which are Vancouver’s lifeblood) and allowed Reyna so much more freedom.

Perhaps a platoon of Mezquida, Hurtado and even Anthony Blondell (if he’s still alive) could play as the first line of defence behind Kamara and allow both Reyna and Davies the space to do whatever they wanted to do?

It might even help the defensive woes.

Three quick goals and a fairly truncated last-ditch defensive effort earned the three points that keep the post-season playoff hopes alive.

It’s been a feature of Carl Robinson’s tenure with the Whitecaps that his side fairly frequently come out at the start of the second half flatter than a pancake in a steamroller factory so it’s a nice twist to find them beginning games that way and improving after the break.

It’s not sustainable of course. Setting up the team up in the wrong way only to rectify it sometime in the second half can only finish in sorrow in the end.

In any normal season one could argue this would be a turning point of a game; the fulcrum around which the campaign switched to full steam ahead.

But 2018 has been a year without a fractured narrative at best and it wouldn’t be a complete shock to find that San Jose come to BC Place next Saturday and hammer the Whitecaps 6-0.

But one way to stop that happening would be for Robinson to select a first eleven that works rather than the one he wants to work.

And that has to start with Felipe.

The Brazilian isn’t suited to playing a deep-lying defensive role; he can’t tackle or track back and that depth limits his ability to play any genuinely dangerous passes.

When we take a look back on this season one of its defining features will be the sheer number of central midfielders the club had on their books.

It’s really hard to figure out why certain players were added when they clearly weren’t needed but avid followers of the team will know that the base of every Robinson team is the central midfield pairing.

No team should actually need two genuinely defensive midfielders in the way the Whitecaps do but this is where we are and the best two right now are Teibert and Ghazal and any attempt to start any other player on a regular basis smacks of decisions made based on salary, personality or weakness.

And whatever the limits of Mezquida’s game may be the team play better when they have a forward who will genuinely harass the opposition defence and, perhaps more importantly, free up Reyna to do whatever the hell he wants to do.

The Peruvian was the catalyst for almost all the good things the Whitecaps produced going forward in San Jose in the second half and setting up the team to give both him and Davies as much freedom as possible might just be enough to counteract the defensive mess that clearly isn’t going to be cleaned up before the end of this year.

The Whitecaps are still fully behind the eight ball when it comes to making the playoffs but at least they only have to rebound off two cushions to make the shot now and if (this is a very big if) they can play their remaining home games as though they actually want to beat teams and get the crowd behind them they have at least a chance of making the shot.

But how much better might this season have been if a few players weren’t signed or, once signed, given so much rope they choked the Whitecaps out of so many points?

The last two games have seen Vancouver play terrible football in the first half only to claw their way back in the second. You decide what that says about the way this team is coached but they are currently achieving the somewhat remarkable feat of being both terrible to watch and fascinating to watch.

Weird.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Marinovic-5.5, Nerwinski-6, de Jong-3.5, Waston-5, Maund-5, Felipe-3, Teibert-5, Davies-5, Reyna-6.5*, Techera-5, Kamara-5 (Mezquida-6, Ghazal-6)

 

 

 

 

Vancouver Whitecaps get mad at getting even

Now with added blasts of inchoate rage from the day after.

The seminal 1976 movie “Network” is best known for the line spoken by embittered news presenter Howard Beale (played by Peter Finch).

“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.”

But to those who know the movie well there’s a more poignant line spoken by Max Schumacher (William Holden) to the Faye Dunaway character Diane Christensen near the end of the film.

“There’s nothing left in you I can live with.”

At least the Beale character has some anger to energize him, some residual sense that there are things to rail against, but for Max there’s just isn’t anything left to cling to anymore.

The feeling that he thought was love, or fascination at least, has gone.

On an entirely unrelated note the Vancouver Whitecaps threw away two valuable home points to the New York Red Bulls on Saturday afternoon at BC Place.

Although “threw away” might be being somewhat generous.

Vancouver were outplayed for almost the entire game as New York resorted to the kind of “pass and move” attacking play the Whitecaps eschew for reasons best known to themselves.

It takes a lot (and I really do mean “a lot”) for Carl Robinson to make a change at half time for anything other than one of his players losing a leg but Efrain Juarez somehow managed to achieve that somewhat remarkable feat.

He was always a step behind the game both in terms of positioning and passing and he’s now getting close to becoming the Whitecaps worst ever MLS signing in terms of on field performance relating to off field expenditure.

For this game he could offer the excuse he had been out of action for some time due to suspension but that would only beg the question as to why he was starting in the first place.

The “no real consequences for your actions” policy continues to run unchecked in this team it seems and those who were left out of the starting eleven to accommodate the Mexican (David Norman jr for example) must sometimes despair.

Amazingly however the Whitecaps went in to the half time break with the scores tied at 1-1 and even more amazingly they then took the lead in the second half.

Both of those goals came from Kendall Waston out-climbing the returning Tim Parker from corner kicks and it’s hard not to think there was an added motivation for the Costa Rican in playing against his erstwhile defensive companion.

The Whitecaps created virtually nothing of any value from open play all game and yet those two set-pieces had given them a glimpse of the three points they so desperately needed.

Then disaster struck.

Alphonso Davies drew a second yellow card from Micheal Murillo and the Whitecaps were suddenly faced with their nightmare scenario; playing against ten men.

It’s not hard to know why they struggle in this situation.

A team with a man advantage are supposed to control the game, keep possession and tire out the opposition with a series of simple passes.

And the Whitecaps are specifically built to do none of those things.

Perhaps the greatest trick that Robinson (and the club as a whole) has pulled during his tenure is to instill the belief into so many people that there’s no other option to the style of play he favours given the limited spending on salary.

Yet the Red Bulls spend less than Vancouver and currently sit atop the Supporter’s Shield standings while simultaneously playing a style of soccer that makes the Whitecaps efforts seem positively Neanderthal (that’s grossly unfair on the Neanderthals of course given that recent discoveries have uncovered convincing evidence they were capable of both language and creating sophisticated art. But what are they going to do? Sue me?)

Anyway, we’re left with the usual “happy to get a point against a good team” post game schtick that I’m not sure even the coach is really buying into anymore.

And, sure enough, they allowed the Red Bulls to pressure them into giving away a needless free-kick near the edge of the area and the inevitable equalizer ensued.

What should have been a smash and grab three points turned into yet another example of why this team fails when it really matters.

It’s not fundamentally wrong to rely on dead ball situations to score some of your goals but it is fundamentally flawed if that is the only way you can score goals when playing against a team of some quality.

It’s sadly instructive to watch Carl Robinson and observe that the only time he gets out of his seat to do any genuine in game coaching is to shout instructions on where his players should be positioned for defensive set-pieces.

Stick to what you know I guess but the team need so much more than that low level of input and expertise.

After the game Robinson was perplexed at the number of individual errors that crop up week after week.

But so many individual errors point to an overall systemic failure rather than the vagaries of happenstance.

What this team needs right now is genuine leadership. It isn’t getting it from the bench and, sadly, it isn’t getting it on the field either.

Kendall Waston is the kind of captain who leads by example but he doesn’t seem to be one who can corral a team into concentration. Or organize them on the fly when the opposition throw a curveball.

Somewhat ironically the one player who looked capable of being that guy at the start of the season was the aforementioned Juarez.

But that ship has well and truly sailed.

There’s a lot of talk about individual “Soccer IQ” these days in relation to the decisions players make when on the ball (and whether such a thing exists at all is a topic for another time) but more important than that is having somebody (anybody) who can think on their feet when a game situation changes.

The Whitecaps have nobody who can do that right now.

The season isn’t quite over yet but this game felt like the one in which most people at BC Place finally excepted that, if they were being honest with themselves, it really was.

So perhaps we can turn back to Howard Beale for the most accurate summary of the game and perhaps the whole of this season?

“This is not a psychotic breakdown; it’s a cleansing moment of clarity.”

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Marinovic-6.5*, Nerwinski-6, Levis-5.5, Maund-5, Waston-6, Juarez-3, Felipe-5, Davies-5.5, Reyna-5, Shea-4.5, Hurtado-4.5 (Teibert-5.5, Mezquida-5)

Vancouver Whitecaps signify nothing

Following the Vancouver Whitecaps fantastic 2-1 win in Portland on Saturday evening we heard little from Carl Robinson other than his refrain on how that game proved the character of his squad could not be questioned.

But those of us who have watched the team all season still had our doubts.

Because when this Vancouver team implodes it really implodes. Be it in terms of discipline or be it in terms of structure and, in the second leg of the Voyageur’s Cup Final against Toronto FC, it was the latter failing which came to the fore.

A 5-2 defeat (7-4 on aggregate) may even have been somewhat flattering for a team who never really looked like scoring until they were four goals down (it’s oh so easy to be “brave” when all hope is lost) and who looked like conceding every time they gave up a set-piece in the second half.

Perhaps Robinson’s dismal record in two-legged ties is down to his sole tactic of trying to snatch a win from a scrappy goal here and there and that really isn’t sustainable over 180 minutes against good teams?

Or perhaps by the time the second leg rolls around the opposition coach has had time to work out how to beat that one trick pony of a tactic anyway?

Not that the Whitecaps began this game badly. They contained Toronto for a while and even made the occasional foray forward themselves but once Altidore gave the home side the lead the jig was up.

The Whitecaps didn’t have a Plan A (subsection 1)  let alone a Plan B.

But going in 2-0 down at half time wasn’t a complete disaster. Shore things up at the start of the second, sneak a goal on the break and TFC may well become anxious.

Except that didn’t happen.

Toronto came out determined to kill the game straight away and the Whitecaps came out as though they had been ranking the flavours of Voodoo donuts in the locker room and, before you could say “overpriced tourist catnip” they were four goals to the bad and done.

The arrival of Mezquida, Shea and Hurtado livened things up just enough to give Toronto pause for concern but to no avail.

So it’s back to the League campaign now and no doubt a series of “gritty” performances that either do just enough to earn a top six spot before bowing out with a whimper in the playoffs or fail to do enough and make the only tangible result of this season the sale of their best player.

Nobody can look at this club right now and believe it’s going in the right direction.

Backroom staff leaving, promising young players getting little or no meaningful playing time, a player acquisition policy that has no coherence and a coach with severely limited tactical acumen.

If change is to be done then it would be well to be done quickly (before whatever it is that’s rotten can no longer be revived).

Time for the Soccer Shorts Player Ratings.

Marinovic-4, Nerwisnki-4.4, Waston-4, Henry-3, de Jong-4, Teibert-5.5, Ghazal-5, Reyna-4, Techera-3.5, Davies-4.5, Kamara-5.5 (Mezquida-5.5, Hurtado-6*, Shea-5.5) 

 

 

 

 

 

Vancouver Whitecaps win the battle in Portland

Anyone who has seen the Bard on the Beach production of Macbeth this summer will no doubt have left the performance with the eternal question about the play circling through their mind.

Is the unfolding tragedy the unstoppable result of the will of malevolent supernatural spirits or is it the result of all too natural human beings latching on to the supernatural to justify their lust for power and glory?

Whatever answer you choose to that conundrum the inevitably of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth destroying themselves and others with every attempt to undo their own destruction makes for compulsive viewing.

And you know what else made for compulsive viewing?

The Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 victory over the Portland Timbers at Providence Park on Saturday evening.

For weeks now the Whitecaps have seemed to be slowly drifting out of playoff contention and prior to this game it felt as though it may well be the one to make the demise be done quickly but, for the first half at least, Vancouver produced some of their best football of the season.

They were a constant threat on the break against a Timbers team who lacked any real coherence going forward and goals from Kei Kamara and Cristian Techera either side of a Diego Valeri penalty miss gave the Whitecaps a surprisingly deserved two goal cushion to defend in the second half.

There were a number of standout performances in that first forty-five but Aly Ghazal stood out in particular. The Egyptian can be far too erratic with his passing at times but when he is on his game he is exactly the kind of defensive midfielder the team needs; breaking up play and providing the cover the back four has been lacking so often this year.

Praise too for Aaron Maund and Brett Levis who used their appearances as understudies to impress.

The second half though was less impressive.

Carl Robinson pulled his team back further toward their own goal with every substitution, eventually switching to five at the back in a move which only served to upset the solidity of the back four and invite more pressure and when the Timbers were awarded another penalty (“Out damn spot” indeed) which Valeri converted the remainder of the game was the kind of “backs to the wall”, “kick it anywhere”, “what is fair and what is foul?” defending that isn’t sustainable over the long term.

And while there’s something Shakespearean about Robinson finding short term success with the very tactic that is constantly his long term downfall nobody can deny that he is capable of sending out a team that is both bold and resolute when given something to hang on to although they still required something of a charmed life to come away with the three points that keep their regular season still relevant.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of this win however was that it was achieved without their two most potent attacking threats.

Neither Alphonso Davies nor Yordy Reyna featured which only serves to emphasise just how deep the squad really can be and the late season renaissance of Brek Shea has offered Robinson an option that wasn’t really there before.

Shea is capable of turning a renaissance into a new Dark Age faster than he can buy a new hat of course and he will no doubt once again become a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the field

The same can be said about the Whitecaps as a whole and it’s impossible to say just who they will be when they play Toronto in the second leg of the Voyageur’s Cup on Wednesday and at home to the New York Red Bulls next Saturday.

Before the Portland game it was clear that Robinson was targeting the cup as the main focus but that Cascadia derby victory may skew his thinking once more.

A win at BC Place followed by two games against the fairly terrible San Jose could make those post-season hopes more corporeal than they have been since it last rained in Vancouver.

For now though what’s done is done and only time will tell if that win in Oregon signifies anything at all.

Time for the Soccer Shorts Player Ratings.

Marinovic-6, Franklin-5, Waston-6, Maund-6, Levis-6, Ghazal-7*, Felipe-5.5, Shea-6, Techera-5.5, Mezquida-6, Kamara-6.5 (Nerwisnki-6, de Jong-5.5)