What a strange old season it has been for the Vancouver Whitecaps so far.
A heady mix of goal fests, injuries, suspensions and trades with the promise of even more to come, but if we were to stop for a moment and reflect on all that has happened thus far how would we define it?
Or, more specifically and purely to get out of this section of the piece, consider this question.
“If you had to use one word to sum up the season so far what would that word be?”
There’s lots of contenders I guess, “Chaotic”, “Exciting”, “Disappointing”, “Confusing” and there are certainly no right answers (although saying something like “Elephant” would definitely count as a wrong answer).
Anyway the word I have chosen is “Focus”.
“Focus” because for the first third of the year it felt as though the Whitecaps were under the specific scrutiny of the MLS Disciplinary Committee as cards and retro suspensions were handed out with abandoned glee (or gleeful abandon).
“Focus” because you really do have to mentally squint to try and see just what this team actually is as all that aforementioned disruption has meant almost no consistency in team selection or tactics.
Are the Whitecaps an attacking team or just a team that is not very good at defending? Are they tactically flexible or just tactically undisciplined?
But mostly “Focus” because that’s the attribute which has been notably absent this season.
That’s evident on an individual level as a series of “unforced errors” from a number of players has cost the team vital points and it’s been evident on a team level given how they seem to drift in and out of games with a capriciousness as unpredictable mayfly on methamphetamine.
That lack of focus was never more evident than in the final seconds of the Voyageurs Cup when at least half the team appeared to mentally switch off before the final whistle had been blown, but that’s the canary in the coal mine rather than the gas leak itself as we frequently see intensity levels fluctuate throughout the ninety minutes.
So what’s the cause and what’s the cure?
There has to be some responsibility placed with the players on the field. There’s enough experience to not allow peaks and troughs of performance to become the norm but (perhaps David Ousted aside) they seem to lack an organizing presence; a player who can keep everybody on point no matter what the circumstance.
Yet on field showings are often the result of off the field culture and while none of us on the outside can ever truly know what the locker room vibe is really like there are times when it feels as though Carl Robinson is still a little too close to his playing days.
Like a policeman turned judge he’s so used to leaning toward one side of an argument that the other side tends to fade into the shadows.
Keeping players happy is an honourable goal (which clearly has specific benefits) but keeping players happy shouldn’t be attained at the expense of team results.
A player has had a dreadful first half? Take him off and don’t give him another fifteen minutes to redeem himself.
Striker not scoring? Give somebody else a chance in the role.
Star defender making mistakes? Bench him the same way you would bench a second string player.
And yet maybe there are emerging signs that the tide of Robinson’s brain waves is turning? The “message” sent to Kekuta Manneh by leaving him out of the eighteen for the game in LA felt a very un-Robinson like public dressing down for a player and the mooted moves of experienced Canadian internationals into the team may well indicate a desire to tackle that on field inconsistency with the presence of somebody who has “been there and done that”.
Maybe as Robinson drifts further from his playing days he will start to think more and more with his coach’s head than with his player’s heart and the good news is that mental lapses are probably easier and quicker to remedy in a player than physical limitations will ever be.
So the message for the second half of the season?