Vancouver Whitecaps: Deep Breaths!

Within the last three thousand years (the merest blink of any eye in the history of life on the planet) the Tibetan people have evolved their bodies to deal with living at what, for the rest of us, would be abnormal altitudes.

Actually, let’s row that back a little.

“Tibetans have evolved their bodies” implies a degree of agency in the process. As though they have held a series of exploratory meetings and focus groups to determine the whole process.

“Right, the three remaining options on the table are “Being able to live at high altitudes”, “X-Ray vision” or “Being able to slow down time when facing attack”.

Mother Nature does not work like that I am afraid, for she is a fickle and capricious trickster playing games of chance with DNA and fertility.

But if the Tibetans lucked out in the lottery of the high life what can their good fortune tell us about the Vancouver Whitecaps this season?

Perhaps that sometimes the best way to achieve a desired result is to not over think things?

Yeah, let’s go with that.

Ironically there’s an alternate universe somewhere where the Professional Referee Organization (Hilariously shortened to PRO) doesn’t have to release a weekly edict announcing that a game deciding penalty kick was incorrectly awarded against the Whitecaps and, in that universe, Marc Dos Santos has seen his team earn two fairly impressive away points against Western Conference rivals.

But in our current universe the Whitecaps have zero points from three games with substantial issues to be addressed in all three areas of the field.

The defence can’t defend, the midfield can’t attack and the attack can’t score goals.

Given this existential threat to the very nature of what a football team should be there must be a part of the Dos Santos psyche that is clamouring for the security of two holding midfielders to sit in front of the back four or, at the very least, the reassurance of having a target man up front.

That elusive “out” ball that will give his defenders another option as they go through their “Bambi on Ice” routine of trying to play out from the back.

But the Dos Santos psyche needs to shut the f%#* up because if he has to be in this then he has to be in this for the long haul.

He wasn’t signed to simply “get results”, he was signed to change the DNA of the Whitecaps, to transform them from a lump of pragmatic dross into something that is worth watching.

The Tibetans will tell you that such a transformation takes time and a degree of fortune that MDS not yet enjoyed but, what you cannot do, is suddenly switch evolutionary horses in midstream in the vain hope of landing on a winner.

So patience is still the watchword for those of us who follow the team week in and week out.

But some kind of visible success in less than three thousand years would be the optimal outcome.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vancouver Whitecaps: A good effort! Well done!

From yesterday but now with updated “musings”.

What’s a fella to do?

You want your team to build from the back with the kind of short passing style that’s all the rage in Europe right now but all you have at your disposal are MLS level defenders?

Sure, you can work with them in training session after training session on honing their skills and their movement but if, when game day rolls along, goals keep being conceded because of a moment’s hesitation or because in an attempt to take up a more forward thinking position the man you are supposedly covering gets acres of freedom, then that’s a lesson that will live longer in the mind and the muscle memory than any number of scrimmage drills.

Can Dos Santos coach the MLS out of his more “functional” players? Well, if he can it will be at the cost of  points dropped and games lost and, for all the talk of “we are basically an expansion team”, the Whitecaps actually aren’t. And there will be a core of the fan base who just aren’t interested in long term projects and simply want the Whitecaps to be in and around the playoffs in the way they have been in the last few years.

And boy oh boy do the Whitecaps keep giving away bad goals.

Even the “Why didn’t VAR overturn it?” penalty kicks are caused by defenders being out of position and the amount of freedom the Houston forwards were afforded in the 3-2 defeat on Saturday afternoon has to be a systemic failure rather than a whole catalogue of individual errors.

(But isn’t a whole catalogue of individual errors the very definition of a systemic failure? Maybe it is).

Either way Vancouver improved greatly in the second half, passed the ball with crispness, harried their opponents and probably deserved more than their third straight defeat of the season.

They still weren’t incisive enough however, with Andy Rose offering no attacking threat at all and neither full back getting forward in any kind of meaningful way. Whichever structure Dos Santos has tried he still hasn’t figured out a way to provide support to his forwards and that’s almost as worrying as the defensive fragility.

It was certainly refreshing to see Marc Dos Santos make significant changes at half time but, to be fair, no coach in the world could look at that first half performance and think “Hmm, maybe I’ll give it another fifteen minutes?”

In an equitable world Lass Bangoura will have earned a start ahead of Yordy Reyna in the next game. Reyna looked out of sorts for every minute he was on the field; lethargic, and unsure of himself.

Maybe he just isn’t the right player for a team that needs its forwards to press both effectively and often?

Bangoura offered energy and directness when running with the ball from the moment he came on and while he lacks Reyna’s guile he offered far more options for those around him and, for the first time in the game, the Houston defenders had to do more than simply outnumber their counterparts.

And the same could probably be said for Fredy Montero, with the Colombian barely involved beyond winning and scoring the penalty kick that drew the Whitecaps level for the first time.

He’s certainly not getting any meaningful chances from open play right now.

But while zero points from the first three games is the very definition of “Not ideal”, there are still enough glimpses of what might make this team worth watching.

Ultimately they may be undone by the coach wanting them to be more than they can ever really be, but that’s better than a coach who wants them to be the lowest sum of their collective parts.

Three home games in the next four won’t quite decide the fate of the season, but they may well decide its tenor.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Crepau-5, Godoy-5, Henry-6*, Cornelius-3, Sutter-4, PC-4, Erice-5, Rose-4, Hwang- 5.5, Reyna-3, Montero-4 (Bangoura-5.5)

Vancouver Whitecaps: Still Pointless

From yesterday but now with added “Things that make you go H’mm?”

Imagine going to sleep at night with your loved one only to find that, come the morning, their left arm had been replaced with a different, if similar, left arm.

You would still love them right? Of course you would. You are not a monster.

Then, the following night, you wake up to find their right leg has been replaced by a different, if similar, right leg.

Still love them? Sure you do.

On the third night as you go to sleep….

Wait a minute! How the hell are you still sleeping? The love of your life is systematically having their limbs removed and replaced on a nightly basis and you’re still dropping off like a baby?

Call the police. Change the locks on your doors. At least have the decency to stay awake for ten minutes to watch over them after your head hits the pillow.

I’m starting to think you are a sociopath. Unless you are the one replacing the body parts? But why?

Anyway, long intro short. How many changes does it take before the one you love is no longer the one you love? The torso? The heart? The head?

This season kind of feels like a less disturbing version of that thought experiment for fans of the Vancouver Whitecaps, with the first two games as much a challenge of  thinking of this as the same team as it has been identifying new players and new tactics and systems.

But at least the 1-0 loss to Real Salt Lake on Saturday afternoon did just about enough to convince us that this was both still the same old Whitecaps and yet also something quite new.

Yordy Reyna continues to search for the consistency that would make him a genuine difference maker in the league, Jake Nerwinski can still get caught out of position with disastrous consequences and Fredy Montero still struggles to get into a game unless he has quality service.

Was the Nerwinski tackle a penalty kick? No. (And kudos to all the people who wanted VAR introduced to eliminate controversy from the game. Achievement unlocked.) But Nerwinski was caught out of position for the second week running and no matter how much Dos Santos defends him there can’t be many such mistakes left to make before Scott Sutter gets a start. 

On the “That’s new!” front, Hwang In-Beom demonstrates enough quality to provide hope as he develops in to the groove of MLS, Erik Godoy looks like a proper central defender and Max Crépeau has genuine presence in goal.

But a loss is still a loss and only the most optimistic of observers could watch that game and think that Doneil Henry will ever settle into the Marc Dos Santos style of passing out from the back or that the continuing inability to create chances from open play is a feature rather than a bug of the current system.

One of the eternal mysteries of the Vancouver Whitecaps is how impossible they find it to get a midfield player into the opposition penalty area on a regular basis. In-Beom and Rose should be ideally suited for this purpose but, once again, the absence of  anybody but Fredy Montero in the penalty area when the Whitecaps got forward was startling.

But the lack of offensive output wasn’t just down to In-Beom and Rose as the front three were worryingly static in sticking to their lanes. Everybody is still finding their way within the system to be sure but the ease with which the first two opponents have coped with Vancouver in open play is reason for concern.

Yet still they are better to watch than they were last season.

Failing bravely is a far more endearing quality than succeeding through fear, but such misty eyed romanticism can only last for so long and if, by the time they leave BC Place after their return visit, the Whitecaps are still struggling to find their way it may well be a long season indeed.

And it will be interesting to see how wedded Dos Santos is to his 4-3-3 setup because the arrival of Ardaiz in the second half gave the team a focus up front it previously lacked. That feels like the antithesis of how the new coach wants his team to play the game but results could dictate how long purity holds out over pragmatism.

For now though we can just shrug away the vagaries of  MLS and MLS officiating and dream of the sun dappled uplands the Dos Santos reign still holds promise of.

We will all get to those uplands some day.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Crépeau-6*, Nerwinski-3.5, PC-4.5, Henry-4, Godoy-5.5, Erice-5, In-Beom-5.5, Rose-5, Reyna-5, Venuto-4.5, Montero-4 (Sutter–5, Ardaiz-5.5, Lass-5) 

 

Vancouver Whitecaps: Pressing on

A home game against a poor Conference rival. An early lead through a set piece goal. Failure to take the initiative and build on that early advantage and allow the opposition to grow in confidence. Concede an equalizer thanks to a defensive loss of concentration. Resort to hitting long balls to an isolated forward. Fall behind but then another set piece goal and a late attacking flurry creates the illusion that the game could have gone either way.

It’s hard to see how the Whitecaps can continue with Carl Robinson at the helm given the Groundhog Day nature of every game and….

Wait? What? When did that happen?

I’m joking of course. I exclusively found out about the Dos Santos hire a few weeks ago but, like all great art, that opening paragraph contains both truth and untruth. Hints of whispers of shadows that may or may not exist.

So what actually happened in the 3-2 loss to Minnesota?

Well, at times the Whitecaps played some very nice one touch football, kept the ball on the ground and moved for each other.

And, at times, they forgot all that and resorted to hoping Fredy Montero could out jump two large central defenders.

At times they pressed as a unit and forced Minnesota into dangerous turnovers.

And, at times, Hwang In-Beom was pressing alone and searching forlornly for a team mate who was thinking of doing the same.

Overall the Whitecaps were exactly what we knew they were; a work in progress.

Except…

The sense of optimism around the Dos Santos hire and the barrage of promos around his coaching style and ability kind of, sort of, created the idea that his Vancouver side would hit the ground running from day one so, in the grand scheme of things, a wake up call such as this may be best for all concerned.

And there were definitely some positives.

In-Beom looks the real deal. All quick passes and movement and dangerous around the opposition area.

New captain Jon Erice too looks a class player and there were already signs that he and In-Beom would form a decent understanding as the games go on.

Lass Bangoura showed that he had both pace and trickery and Erik Godoy looked a solid starter in central defence.

But what about the negatives?

Felipe looked out of place in this formation. Taking three touches when one was the better option, looking back when there were runners ahead of him.

And we can safely describe the choice to build from the back as a “work in progress” with Doneil Henry in particular seeming to do more thinking with the ball at his feet than is good for any of our blood pressures and Jake Nerwinski showed that he remains more valuable as an attacking full back than a defensive one.

Derek Cornelius gets a pass given he was played out of position at left back but the attacking set up of the midfield means the defence will have to be far more organized than they were on Saturday afternoon.

But the most concerning aspect was the inability to create chances from open play (not least because this was also an issue in the pre-season) with even In-Beom seemingly reluctant to get into the danger zone to meet the end of a cross or pick up on a scrap of a loose ball.

But patience will be required for sure and there’s enough things to be optimistic about to make watching this team this season a delight compared to what has gone before but, and this needs saying over and over again, it’s insane that the organization allowed themselves and the team to be in this position.

A tough decision taken a couple of years ago would have saved all this angst.

But avoiding tough decisions and hoping it will all go away and that nobody will notice seems to be par for the course.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Crepeau- 5.5, Nerwinski-4.5, Godoy-5.5, Henry-5, Cornelius- 3.3, Erice-5.5, Felipe-3, In-Beom 6*, Reyna-5, Bangoura-5, Montero-4 

 

 

Vancouver Whitecaps: You hum it, they’ll play it

A recent “news” story on the local “news” channel ran with the concept that, during the recent cold spell, humming-birds could only survive thanks to the hanging feeders a few kindly folk put out for them.

“Without these feeders” intoned the reporter solemnly “the birds would die”.

“That’s nice of those people” I thought to myself. But then I thought “Hang on a minute! If humming-birds can only survive thanks to feeders provided by humans then how did they survive before?”

Being a universally acknowledged major reporter this question prompted me to a fever of intense research (asking Twitter) and the result of my intense research (reading Twitter) is that of course they could survive before the feeders because they would migrate to warmer climes.

So have humming-birds become lazy?

Only some of them it seems.

Many do indeed still take the time and effort to travel south but a few indolent ne’er-do-wells simply choose to hang around the backyards of gullible humans to live off the sweet, sweet nectar of free handouts.

We may never really know what the birds who do make the effort to travel think of these stay behinds but safe to say they regard them in the same way we would regard a group of drunken teenagers hanging around a fast food joint at two in the morning while shouting foul abuse at any unfortunate passer-by.

With a mixture of fear, contempt and an almost Proustian rush of regret and envy which somehow tells us more about ourselves and the society we live in than we really care to articulate.

So can we all please stop enabling the worst aspects of the humming-bird population and allow this beautiful creature to return to the dignity of self-sufficiency?

A few deaths is a small price to pay for a better future.

 (Memo to self: Pitch this to the Whitecaps as a new slogan for next season).

Marc Dos Santos will clearly be hoping his team is humming when the season starts in two short weeks. But does the experience of Maurizio Sarri at Chelsea offer a stark reminder of how tough things will be? (Dos Santos has stated publicly that he is a huge admirer of “Sarri-ball” and will be using it as a template for his Vancouver team).

Sarri arrived with a pre-determined style of play and has since struggled to get his players to adapt. That’s not hard to understand when much of the season has seen the best defensive player in the world played in a more forward position and one of the best players in the world with the ball at his feet and running at defenders being asked to play with his back to goal.

Form over function has mostly led to dysfunction at Stamford Bridge.

Yet Dos Santos has one huge advantage over Sarri in that he has essentially been allowed to build his team from scratch. Discard the ones who don’t suit and recruit the ones who do.

But this is still Major League Soccer and it is still limited in terms of quality of play and player.

Sarri-ball relies on a number six who can pass the ball with unerring accuracy (Whither Pedro Morales?) and only time will tell if Jon Erice is capable of that kind of consistent quality.

And it also relies on a goalkeeper and back four who can play out from the back.

And that means really play out from the back and not just consist of two central defenders who pass it to themselves who then pass it to Russell Teibert who passes it back to them and one of them then hoofs the ball up field.

It means tight passing in confined spaces to lure the opposition forward and thus create space behind them.

When it works it is a thing of beauty. When it doesn’t it is not.

The brief glimpses we have seen of the pre-season indicates the back line are thinking one beat too many with the ball at their feet for the whole thing to work and the coach has astonishingly little time to coach that pause out of them.

The good news is that the attacking pieces seem to fit just right. Speedy wide players, a proven goal scorer and genuine attacking midfielders.

So if the back six can do their job and get the ball to the forward five when they are in space the whole season will be a hoot.

Come to think of it, it will also be a hoot if they can’t get the ball to them because it will be chaos back there.

Sounds like fun.

 

Vancouver Whitecaps: Definitely, Maybe

The current crop of Vancouver Whitecaps acquisitions and targets can be loosely lumped into the following categories.

Definitely might be good. Was good once but hasn’t been for a couple of seasons but maybe just needs a fresh start. Somebody once thought he was good but he never lived up to that potential.

There’s nothing wrong with trawling the databases and highlights for signings for a club that prides itself on not being among the bigger spenders in the league but, and this gets me an honorary degree in stating the bleeding obvious, bringing in so many players would be a challenge at the best of times.

But bringing in so many players with so much doubt swirling around their suitability is a huge ask.

Oh, and Marc Dos Santos also wants to completely revamp the style of play of the team so even the established players (“established” for the Whitecaps currently means they perhaps played a few games last season) will need to learn new ways of interacting with each other on the field (and off it too if the end of season media day was anything to go by).

So it’s all doom and gloom right? The Whitecaps will struggle to find their feet and scrape along near the bottom third of the Western Conference for the whole of the season?

Yes that’s correct. That’s exactly what will happen.

Wait? What? You want a more uplifting scenario on this greyish Sunday morning?

Okay then.

It’s not inconceivable that Dos Santos will knock it out of the park with all of his signings and everything turns out to be fine.

It’s also not inconceivable that he’s a good enough coach to meld the team together no matter what the weaknesses are and that the “established” players will be refreshed by his style of playing after toiling under the yoke of the previous incumbent.

It`s also not inconceivable that MLS will continue to be a forgiving enough league to allow a slow, find your feet, kind of start to not completely derail the season.

It`s also not inconceivable (and this is the Soccer Shorts hot prediction for the season ahead!) that opponents will be so discombobulated by facing a Whitecaps team they know little about and barely even recognize that Vancouver will hit the ground running, get off to a great start and that momentum will be enough to surf them to a spot somewhere near the bottom end of the playoff spectrum.

That would count as a huge win for both Dos Santos and the club.

And it would certainly be a vindication for the ruthless off-season purge of the playing proletariat that went on (there are those who would argue that lustration rather than purge was the way to go but we are where we are from a regime change point of view).

To summarize then.

Things could be worse!

 

Soccer Shorts: New and Improved!

As the Major League Soccer season rubs the sleep from its eyes and blinks tentatively into the bright new dawn of 2019 the Product and Design team at Soccer Shorts have had no such rest and are now set to unveil a whole swathe of exciting innovations for the 2019 campaign.

“Such as what?” I hear you ask. Well, I will tell you.

Exclusive insider rumours and gossip!!!- Tired of getting all your Whitecaps information from a series of random dudes on Twitter? Fret no more! The Soccer Shorts Espionage and Infiltration team has spent the offseason embedding themselves in every level of the Whitecaps organization.

Want to know what Greg Anderson has for breakfast? Want to know what Marc Dos Santos really thinks of Doneil Henry? Those and many more details will be revealed throughout the season.

Stats! Stats! Stats!- The modern game is all about the numbers and the Soccer Shorts Numbers and Algorithmic department has been honing a revolutionary new way of analysing the game.

Impressed that some sites give you the numbers in real time? Stop being impressed immediately!

The Soccer Shorts Real Time Plus Five (SSRTPF) system will now give you the stats five minutes before they happen.

There`s now no need to concentrate on the game at all! Just follow along on our website and we will let you know when to glance up at the action. More phone time for you!

New and improved ratings system!- The Soccer Shorts player ratings are already recognized as the gold standard throughout the industry but the Soccer Shorts Athletic Evaluation team have improved on perfection!

This season there will be no need to question the ratings at all because they will be scientifically correct. Criticize the Soccer Shorts player ratings and you are outing yourself as an idiot!

New Premium Service!- Don’t worry. If you`re too poor to afford the Premium Service you will still see much of the great content you already get on this site.

But for those of you who are willing to do some actual work you will gain access to possibly the most exciting sports coverage in the world!

Simply send your credit card details to our secure (ish) site and we will then reveal just what these exciting innovations are.

What have you got to lose?

You pick the team! That`s right! The Whitecaps have sensationally agreed to allow Soccer Shorts and its readers to select one player per game by means of a Twitter vote!

Starting with the goalkeeper we will work our way through every position on the field. Want to throw Marc Dos Santos a curveball by playing Yordy Reyna in central defence? Now you can!

More details will be released nearer the time but Dos Santos has already described this innovation as “interesting”.

These are just a few examples of how Soccer Shorts will be the only site you need for your Vancouver Whitecaps coverage in 2019.

Delete the links to any other sites immediately! Now! Do it now!

Thank you.

Stay tuned!