Now with additional WTF? thoughts from the day after.
For the first half in San Jose the Vancouver Whitecaps went toe to toe with the Earthquakes in a battle to see which team would come out on top if neither of them were set up with any kind of tactical coherence.
The Whitecaps lost that particular skirmish and trailed 2-0 at the break and, let’s be honest, their season looked as good as over.
But ten minutes into the second half Carl Robinson made a double substitution taking de Jong and Felipe off and bringing Ghazal and Mezquida on.
Mezquida added energy to the front line and Ghazal added substance to the middle and suddenly Vancouver looked like they were playing the worst team in MLS (which they were).
On form (and quality too) the best front four for the Whitecaps are Kamara, Reyna, Davies and Techera but it may be that isn’t the best fit for the team as a whole.
The Whitecaps lack of a genuine number ten means that Reyna gets slotted into that role. When he’s on form the Peruvian is the oil that keeps the attacking cogs spinning but he’s not a “creative” number ten in the traditional sense. His strength is his movement and his nuisance factor which means he’s better suited to a wider, freer, role.
What we saw in San Jose was Mezquida pressing the opposition back line in a way that just wasn’t happening in the first half and that created turnovers (which are Vancouver’s lifeblood) and allowed Reyna so much more freedom.
Perhaps a platoon of Mezquida, Hurtado and even Anthony Blondell (if he’s still alive) could play as the first line of defence behind Kamara and allow both Reyna and Davies the space to do whatever they wanted to do?
It might even help the defensive woes.
Three quick goals and a fairly truncated last-ditch defensive effort earned the three points that keep the post-season playoff hopes alive.
It’s been a feature of Carl Robinson’s tenure with the Whitecaps that his side fairly frequently come out at the start of the second half flatter than a pancake in a steamroller factory so it’s a nice twist to find them beginning games that way and improving after the break.
It’s not sustainable of course. Setting up the team up in the wrong way only to rectify it sometime in the second half can only finish in sorrow in the end.
In any normal season one could argue this would be a turning point of a game; the fulcrum around which the campaign switched to full steam ahead.
But 2018 has been a year without a fractured narrative at best and it wouldn’t be a complete shock to find that San Jose come to BC Place next Saturday and hammer the Whitecaps 6-0.
But one way to stop that happening would be for Robinson to select a first eleven that works rather than the one he wants to work.
And that has to start with Felipe.
The Brazilian isn’t suited to playing a deep-lying defensive role; he can’t tackle or track back and that depth limits his ability to play any genuinely dangerous passes.
When we take a look back on this season one of its defining features will be the sheer number of central midfielders the club had on their books.
It’s really hard to figure out why certain players were added when they clearly weren’t needed but avid followers of the team will know that the base of every Robinson team is the central midfield pairing.
No team should actually need two genuinely defensive midfielders in the way the Whitecaps do but this is where we are and the best two right now are Teibert and Ghazal and any attempt to start any other player on a regular basis smacks of decisions made based on salary, personality or weakness.
And whatever the limits of Mezquida’s game may be the team play better when they have a forward who will genuinely harass the opposition defence and, perhaps more importantly, free up Reyna to do whatever the hell he wants to do.
The Peruvian was the catalyst for almost all the good things the Whitecaps produced going forward in San Jose in the second half and setting up the team to give both him and Davies as much freedom as possible might just be enough to counteract the defensive mess that clearly isn’t going to be cleaned up before the end of this year.
The Whitecaps are still fully behind the eight ball when it comes to making the playoffs but at least they only have to rebound off two cushions to make the shot now and if (this is a very big if) they can play their remaining home games as though they actually want to beat teams and get the crowd behind them they have at least a chance of making the shot.
But how much better might this season have been if a few players weren’t signed or, once signed, given so much rope they choked the Whitecaps out of so many points?
The last two games have seen Vancouver play terrible football in the first half only to claw their way back in the second. You decide what that says about the way this team is coached but they are currently achieving the somewhat remarkable feat of being both terrible to watch and fascinating to watch.
Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.
Marinovic-5.5, Nerwinski-6, de Jong-3.5, Waston-5, Maund-5, Felipe-3, Teibert-5, Davies-5, Reyna-6.5*, Techera-5, Kamara-5 (Mezquida-6, Ghazal-6)