The Vancouver Whitecaps players are back at preseason training which means no more Christmas miracles, no more dystopian futures and much more opportunity for me to phone all this in with the kind of “Here are five things…” kind of posts that you, dear reader, will plough through until the end in the vain hope of excavating maybe a nugget of information or insight or just something, anything, to make the whole sorry exercise worth while.
Like I said.
But worry not because this won’t be one of those “Here are five things…” kind of posts at all. Oh no! This is very different. This is a “Here are five people….” kind of post.
Here are five people who will (or could) most influence the Whitecaps 2018 season.
Yordy Reyna- Last season Reyna arrived from a half season long injury to look like the wild card who could turn the team from “possible” to “probable” in the MLS Cup stakes.
It didn’t quite work out that way in the end and his season (like everybody’s) ended with a whimper.
This season Reyna could prove to be even more of a wild card.
His off-season travails have been well documented and remain unresolved and how he reacts to those is yet to be seen.
But right now Reyna is looking like the only genuine creative spark the Whitecaps have so, from a purely footballing perspective, let’s hope he can find focus on the field and that the prospect of being a member of the Peru team that travels to the World Cup in the summer either concentrates or clears his mind.
Without Reyna’s spark of ingenuity the Whitecaps could be a very laborious team to watch indeed.
Kei Kamara- Carl Robinson has been keen to emphasise that Kamara is the first genuine number nine he has had at his disposal and it’s true the big man should suit the team’s style far better than his predecessors.
The tactical naifs among us will wonder why that system was being played when there wasn’t a player suited to it but ours not to reason why the water has passed under a bridge that has already burned and if Kamara does get the service he needs (and with Anthony Blondell as backup) we may finally see those crosses and long balls from the back pay greater dividend.
Alphonso Davies- Sooner or later Davies is going to have to start earning column inches because of how he plays rather than because of his untapped potential.
And that “sooner” is getting awfully close to “now” if he’s going to fulfill that promise.
We’ve seen the odd flash of guile amid the pace, power and defensive diligence but those flashes need to become a feature of his play or Davies will turn out to be just one more MLS players who can be classed as “useful” rather than a game changer.
If Davies starts the season well then Robinson will surely give him the game time to further hone his craft, but a slow start for the youngster leading to a few weeks on the bench and suddenly the nagging itch of doubt will start to feel like something that even Davies himself can’t help but scratch.
A defining year for him? It probably is.
Defender X- The coach has already hinted he will be looking at playing three central defenders this year and that means one other player has to slot alongside Kendall Waston and Tim Parker.
Robinson has name checked Marcel de Jong as the leading contender but Aaron Maund and Doneil Henry must feel they are in with a shout given a fair wind and a clean bill of health.
But whoever gets the gig will need to supplement the pairing of Waston and Parker without detracting from their defensive solidity from last season and it would also be great if they could pass the ball with a reasonable degree of competence.
That certainly makes de Jong the favourite but let’s bear in mind…
Carl Robinson- Robinson has shown in the past that he’s not afraid to try different formations and systems but he’s also shown that he’s not hugely successful at making them actually work and that, when push comes to shove, he will revert to the style he feels most comfortable with; containment and reactive football.
Whether he can break out of that rut this year is open to debate (although I don’t really think it’s open to debate but we have to start the season with some hope right?) but to hear him talk about new signing Efrain Juarez with the all too familiar refrain of being a”good presence in the locker room” brings on the kind of ennui that really should be saved for the dog days of summer when the traditional late season slump has really taken hold.
But, putting all the gloominess aside, the coach has the squad to play the way he wants to play and the MLS experience under his belt to optimise the way he uses that squad week in and week out.
Which is all good.
No excuses from here on in then (well there will be excuses, but there really shouldn’t be.)