From yesterday but now with some MLS quality additions.
We’re grading on a curve here, but the Vancouver Whitecaps 0-0 tie in Minnesota was one of the more accomplished performances of the season and a vast improvement on anything else they have done since May.
Marc dos Santos mixed things up by trying the Christmas Tree formation and, miracle of miracles, it actually worked.
This formation is very much not the one that Dos Santos has said he wants to play long term, but needs must when the devil drives and if it somehow instills a sense of belief into the team for the remainder of the year and leaves the off season more about adding to the squad than rebuilding shattered confidence then it will do.
All season the Whitecaps midfield has existed in a state of purgatory; neither able to offer attacking assistance to the forwards nor defensive cover for the defenders.
And anybody who saw the names of Felipe, In-Beom and Teibert announced as starters will have been left in little doubt that a transition to a footballing nirvana was not likely any time soon.
All three played with a level of simplicity and effectiveness we haven’t seen all season. That’s probably down to the fact that, in this game, they had options when they were on the ball and weren’t forced to play either a one in a hundred chance pass forward or a simple pass back that just leads the team nowhere.
It’s amazing how much easier the game can be when players do the basics right.
Oh to have been a fly on the wall in the Whitecaps dressing room over recent weeks because it’s clear that something happened to completely alter the DNA of the team. Dos Santos is quick to claim the Gold Cup for the loss of focus but the issue seems to have run deeper than that. The next big test will be when they concede a goal. Do they revert to the shambolic indifference of recent weeks or are they back to being made of something stronger?
The Whitecaps even offered the possibility they might score a goal with Fredy Montero looking livelier than he has in months, and Yordy Reyna always being willing to run at the opposition defence with the ball at his feet.
Theo Bair still looks out of place in the starting eleven however, but maybe time and confidence are all he needs?
The three main areas in which Vancouver need to upgrade their squad are a forward who can produce more than Montero, a midfielder who likes to get into the box and score goals and a right back who can attack in a manner similar to Ali Adnan. Those three changes wouldn’t make them unbeatable, but they would make them a decent MLS side.
None of this means all is well in the world of Whitecaps of course.
This club still has more issues than Vogue, but everybody needed at least a hint that the on field problems weren’t irredeemable beyond repair and the hope now has to be that Dos Santos can use the next two road games to establish a playing system that works and thereby convince his players to fully buy into it.
Oh to have been a spider on the wall of the Whitecaps locker room in recent weeks. Not least because there’s a nice juicy fly in there, but also to see how the coaching staff dealt with the way the players switched off from what they were being told. Dos Santos gives the impression that his coaching style is based on talking and listening to players rather than hammering them in to how he wants them to play. Is this the first time in his career that a group of players have needed to be hammered and not heard? Whatever the truth of that it’s clearly a learning curve he needs to get through.
The season is over in terms of achieving anything of note, but at least we might be able to see the hint of the outline of the shadow of a blueprint of what we can possibly, perhaps, maybe expect next season.
That’s not much, but it’s all we’ve got and it’s more than we had before this game.
Time for the Soccer Shorts Player Ratings.
Crepeau-6, Nerwinski-5, Adnan-6, Henry-5, Cornelius-6, In-Beom-6, Felipe-6*, Teibert-5.5, Bair-4.5, Reyna-5.5, Montero-5.5 (Godoy-6)