“If there’s anything that you want
If there’s anything that you need
There’s no need to be evasive
Money talks and it’s persuasive
Elvis Costello is right of course.
If you do want good possession stats in soccer then money really is a persuasive talker because good players pass the ball better than bad players and good players command a higher salary than bad players do.
We shouldn’t get over obsessed with possession stats however because although they do tell a story about how a game has played out they don’t always tell the true back story.
Some teams (Whitecaps included) are happy to concede control of the ball knowing full well that the opposition is often at its most vulnerable while in an attacking formation and a swift and sudden breakaway can be their undoing.
The problem for the Whitecaps is that their possession stats in the last two games have been so bad they restore the intuition to any counter intuitive arguments to be made about counter attacks.
Against both San Jose and Tigres the Whitecaps were south of thirty percent when it came to being in control of the ball and even the provisos of being a man and a level of class down can’t hide the fact that those numbers can be brutally damaging to a team.
So what’s the cause?
Function mostly follows formation in this case because the two deep-lying midfielders offer little in terms of receiving the ball from the back four and even when they do they offer equally little in terms of distribution.
None of Laba, Jacobson or Teibert are consistently capable of quality passes and the result is that either one of those three or one of the back four hits a hopeful long ball to the designated lone striker of the day.
In a perfect world said striker would either hold up the ball or flick it on to a marauding team mate but now that opponents have figured out that particular plan any such play is almost always shut down at birth.
That leaves Erik Hurtado charging valiantly across the forward line, Brek Shea wondering why yet another coach isn’t playing him in his best position or Fredy Montero perplexed at the prospect of constantly craning his neck upwards in an attempt to find the ball.
But it doesn’t have to be this way and there is at least hope that the style of play will become easier on the eye as the season develops.
Getting Christian Bolaños back into the first eleven is crucial because even in his brief cameo in Mexico he demonstrated the ability to actually stop and think about what he wanted to do with the ball while it was at his feet.
Combine that with the quality of Alphonso Davies and some combination of Brek Shea, Nicolas Mezquida and (when fit) Jordy Reyna and it’s not inconceivable that Montero may one day get the kind of service he wants.
That’s dependant on Carl Robinson showing a degree of tactical flexibility so let’s not get too over excited but, for home games at least, the team is crying out to be released from the shackles of those two defensive midfielders (And then maybe I can write something about the Whitecaps without having to use the dreaded “two defensive midfielders” phrase?).
This coming Saturday the Whitecaps face a Giovincoless Toronto and while Robinson is never afraid to give his players an excuse for underperforming both he and they need to put thoughts of physical and mental weariness out of their minds.
Firstly, it’s only the sixth game of the season and secondly there’s a two-week break to come following this game, giving everybody a chance to fully recover.
People mostly felt good about the team after the defeat to Tigres but much of that good will was due to tempered expectations and another uninspiring performance at BC Place would undo much of the good work from Tuesday evening.
Has Robinson got the will to unleash his team at least a little bit?
Let’s hope so.