Just over a month ago I wondered whether Vanni Sartini was the right choice to continue as Whitecaps coach once this season was over.
The typically searing analysis concluded that the club might as well continue with Sartini. He didn’t appear to be a great coach in terms of improving on what he had but, with better players, he’d get them playing to par when it came to the season as a whole.
That conclusion was based on the Canadian Cup win and the assumption that the Whitecaps would end the season flirting with being just in or out of the playoffs. Not great by any means but enough to justify giving the coach another off season to make things better.
But we know what happens when we assume things right? U make a mess.
In the last few weeks the Whitecaps haven’t flirted with the playoffs, they have ghosted them in the harshest way possible.
It has been, in every way, an unmitigated disaster that speaks as much to the dreaded intangibles as it does to the things we can measure.
From Cavallini’s heavily foreshadowed moment of madness to tepid performances in important games to a series of selection decisions that don’t really make sense, whatever could have gone wrong has gone wrong and, perhaps worse, things that didn’t need to go wrong have gone wrong too.
Let’s look at some of Sartini’s selection decisions that we once thought of as quirky but now regard as just inexplicable.
Why has Alessandro Schöpf been a constant starter when he is so obviously not up to match speed nor in tune with how the Whitecaps intend to play?
Answer: No idea. Perhaps Sartini is just hoping that he’ll gain match fitness and suddenly “click”. But it’s madness to take that risk for so long at this stage of the season.
Why is Julian Gressel constantly moved from the wing back position and why isn’t he effective when he is played in the wing back position?
Answer: No idea. Perhaps Sartini thinks he can bring the midfield creativity that others can’t, but taking one of the best wing backs in MLS away from the the wing back role he was signed to fill is (obviously) hugely counter productive.
Whither Cristian Gutierrez? No idea. But the club’s best left back has become persona non grata in the latter half of the season. Maybe there’s a very good reason for that, but it does feel like another link in a chain of Sartini giving some players free reign when it comes to being selected and others being held on a very tight leash. See Vite and Baldisimo for reference to creative players who have been given (at best) one game to prove their worth before being frozen out for an extended period of time. All of this also hints at a deeper problem in how Sartini manages his players off the pitch.
What has happened to Cristian Dajome? No idea. Dajome was one of the Whitecaps standout players in recent seasons but it seems the constant switching of his role has left him bereft of any confidence at all. Dajome has become eternally frozen between wanting to do too much with the ball when he has it and not wanting the ball when he doesn’t have it.
We could go on.
The messing around with the back three personnel until the tail end of the season giving them no time to gel, the switching of goal keepers on a game by game basis, the inability of the team to play the way the coach wants them to, the astoundingly poor attacking threat that hasn’t been solved (or addressed?), the belief that only winning games at the death is somehow to be celebrated and is a sustainable plan.
We could still go on but we wont.
The Whitecaps are now faced with a choice when it comes to the coach. Back him in the belief that he can get things right next year or take a cold hard look at the season and conclude that this group of players should be aiming for more at this stage of the season than playing for pride and hoping to ruin the playoff hopes of their rivals.
We need so much more than Pyrrhic victories.