Following the recent 2-1 win over the Houston Dynamo the Vancouver Whitecaps full-back Jake Nerwinski was awarded a team low 5.5 in the Soccer Shorts Player Ratings (SSPR).
But could this number be wrong?
No it can’t be wrong because the SSPR are regarded as the gold standard of objective and analytically precise data analysis.
But what if that 5.5 was a price worth paying for the good of the team?
Let me explain.
Since that game the image at the head of this piece has been doing the social media rounds clearly showing that (Montero aside) Nerwinski was the Whitecaps player who was highest up the field when in possession.
And while we need to be careful about making sweeping assumptions from one game (no we don’t! late’s make them!) this was probably the first time Carl Robinson has allowed a full-back to play the position in the truly “modern” sense of the term.
That is, offering at least as much going forward as they do in defence.
This change was made possible because both Christian Bolaños and Cristian Techera played far narrower than usual thus creating space for Nerwinski out wide.
And that narrowness had other benefits too.
It allowed Jordy Reyna to roam wherever he pleased (often taking up position on the wide left where Jordan Harvey was playing far more cautiously than Nerwinski) and it also meant that Bolaños was able to drop deep and be the distributor from the back instead of the more “agricultural” Waston or Parker.
It also enabled the Whitecaps to get extra bodies in the box when going forward, even if that did seem to lead to Techera constantly fighting futile aerial battles with central defenders.
But to really work the system needs a full-back on each side with the ability and willingness to get both forward and back on an almost constant conveyor belt and the current left-sided options just aren’t able to do that.
Neither Jordan Harvey nor Marcel de Jong possess the “legs”, “engine” or whatever other euphemism you wish to insert for the word “youth”.
So if Carl Robinson truly wants to switch to a system that employs the full-backs as almost the main attacking thrust (and MLS Cups have been won by just this kind of late season tactical change) he seemingly has two options.
The natural fit for the role is Brett Levis, who so impressed last season, but is only just getting back into match action with WFC2.
Levis on the left would be a kind of mirror image of Nerwisnki on the right (with perhaps a little more quality thrown into the mix).
The other option is Brek Shea.
Shea has played in pretty much every part of the left side of the field and so has experience of both sides of the defending and attacking coin.
He also adds height at set-pieces which Robinson might find an alluring prospect.
Chances are that none of this is going to happen and that the coach will revert to the experience of Harvey and maybe even Sheannon Williams when the crunch time of the season arrives.
But it’s good to dream every once in a while.
And even if it doesn’t happen let’s at least give credit to Robinson for once again dipping his toe into the murky waters of tactical innovation.