Vancouver Whitecaps Season Review: The Forwards

Well, I’m back.

After dissecting the defence and monitoring the midfield it’s time to focus on the forwards.

How did those responsible for the Whitecaps attacking “threat” fare in 2022?

Deiber Caicedo- A season cut short by injury makes is hard to judge Caicedo since he left the season before the team got good. But, if Sartini continues with the same system of two men behind the lone forward, he should be (at the very least) prove to be a good option from the bench. Season Rating-3. Stay or Go? Stay.

Cristian Dajome- This was Dajome’s worst season as a Whitecap by a country mile. He certainly wasn’t helped by being played in a variety of positions but there were times where his confidence appeared to be completely shot. Best suited as a wide forward it’s hard to see how he will ever get regular games while Sartini remains. Season Rating-1. Stay or Go? Go.

Brian White- White was nothing like the goal threat he was last season and there was many a time when his touch brought an attacking break to a preemptive end. But his positional sense and work rate made up for a lot of his deficiencies and the Whitecaps looked the most dangerous when he played with Gauld and Vite behind him. A better version of Brian White would be ideal for next season. Season Rating-4.5. Stay or Go? Stay.

Lucas Cavallini- This was Cavallini’s best season as a Whitecap by some distance yet it was still pockmarked with controversy and petulance. His red card against Nashville should probably have been the end of his time here but he returned to score a goal and indulge in more petulance. A individual with no interest in the whole. Season Rating-4.5 Stay or Go? Go.

Ryan Gauld- It’s possible (probable even) that if Gauld had been fit for the whole season the Whitecaps would have made the playoffs. he makes the right runs, plays the right passes and must be a joy to play with. Season Rating-7.5. Stay or Go? Stay.

Tossaint Ricketts– Extending Rickett’s contract for 2023 felt like a case of hope over reality. But the Canadian forward proved to be the most effective attacking option from the bench. A much needed feel good story. Stay or Go? Go (But stay at the club in some capacity).

And so it ends.

Will the lessons of 2022 be learned in 2023? How am I supposed to know the answer to that???!!!

But there is hope. There is always hope.

After all, tomorrow is another day.

Vancouver Whitecaps Season Review: The Midfield

Last time out we took stock of the Whitecaps defenders in 2022. So what on earth do we do now???

Why, we shelter from the rain and carefully take the all-seeing and infallible “Book of Judgment” down from the shelf to see what the mighty tome says about the midfield.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.

Sebastian Berhalter- Berhalter at least offered the possibility of being able to play both the defensive and attacking sides of the midfield role. There is still some growing to do in terms of each of those traits but it’s not inconceivable that he could become a decent player for the Whitecaps. Season rating-5. Stay or Go? Stay.

Leonard Owusu- For every five games he plays Owusu seems to be very good in one, fine in two, poor in one and never seen a game of football in his life in the other. If he could find consistency (good consistency obviously) he would be so much more valuable to the team. That won’t happen though and he’s probably not worth the risk anymore. Season rating-4. Stay or Go? Go.

Alessandro Schopff- Schopff was heralded as a difference maker in the midfield when he arrived. He was then played behind the striker instead of the midfield until it finally dawned on Vanni Sartini that he really wasn’t ready to play games at all. Hopefully he will be ready next season. Season rating-2. Stay or Go? Stay.

Andres Cubas- An actual difference maker. Defends the centre of the pitch by moving to where the ball will be rather than chasing after it and prevents opposition passes by blocking off the angles. These skillsets are revolutionary to see in a Vancouver midfielder and he makes life easier for every other Whitecap. Season rating-7. Stay or Go? Stay.

Ryan Raposo- Raposo was played as a left wing back for much of the season. A role that he performed well without really providing a ton of attacking threat. It’s unlikely he will be played there again unless it’s in an emergency, so only time will tell if this was a wasted season for Raposo’s development or a valuable one that taught him more about the game. Season rating-5.5. Stay or Go? Stay.

Russell Teibert- There’s not much more to be said about Teibert. He shouldn’t be starting for a team that wants to make the playoffs and, as captain, he doesn’t seem to be much of a leader on the field and is a poor speaker off it. Season rating-3. Stay or Go. Go (but won’t).

Michael Baldisimo- Never looked capable of being the player that Sartini wanted and has now been released. Hopefully he can find a team that wants his particular skillset and will get to play the games he desperately needs. Season-rating-2. Stay or Go? Gone.

Pedro Vite- My theory is that if Vite had played in the games that Schopff started then the Whitecaps would have made the playoffs. Sure he’s mercurial but he grew in confidence once he was given a run in the team and offered a much needed alternative to Gauld when it came to attacking threat. Season rating-6. Stay or Go? Stay.

Vancouver Whitecaps Season Review: The Defence

In 2022 the Whitecaps defence featured more cameo appearances than an MTV ’80s night which, frankly, makes reviewing their efforts more work than I would like.

But we all have burdens that we must carry so let’s just get this thing over with.

Thomas Hasal- Hasal was hit by injuries at the start of the season but the heir apparent to the self-exiled Crepeau returned to reclaim the starting spot. He wasn’t great and he was terrible. But he was inconsistent. Not ideal in a goalkeeper. Season rating-4.5. Stay or Go? It depends on how the coaching staff view his potential. But probably stay.

Cody Cropper– Cropper helped the team win the Canadian Championship and offered a level of experience that the defence probably needed at the time. His weaknesses were revealed as the season progressed but he’s a solid backup ‘keeper. Season rating-4.5. Stay or Go? If Hasal stays then keeping Cropper makes sense.

Marcus Godhino– Is Godhino the most underrated of all the Whitecaps? He rarely has a bad game whether starting or coming on as a substitute and is comfortable playing in whatever role Sartini chooses for him at any given moment. Surprisingly skillful too. Season rating- 5. Stay or Go? Stay.

Cristian Gutiérrez– Gutiérrez fell out of favour halfway through the season and was never seen again. Which is a shame because it later transpired that what the team really needed was a left sided wing-back who could get forward and deliver decent service to the attack. Season rating-3. Stay or Go? Stay, but not much sense in that if the coach doesn’t want him to.

Ranko Veselinović- Veselinović was the main stay of a frustratingly changeable backline. He made mistakes and he had some very good games. Mostly the latter once Cubas arrived and those around him became more settled. There’s far more upside to Veselinović than there is down. Season rating-5.5. Stay or Go? Stay.

Tristan Blackmon– Blackmon is easily the most relaxed Whitecaps on the field no matter what the situation and his winning penalty in the Canadian Championship fitted that profile. He’s prone to the occasional lazy pass, but he’s comfortable on the ball and willing to make the forward runs that Sartini likes his defenders to make. Season rating-5.5,.Stay or Go? Stay.

Luis Martins– This was very much a “What if?” season for Martins. The Whitecaps signed an experienced MLS left-sided defender then proceeded to play an inexperience right-sided forward in that role. Once Martins got minutes the benefit was obvious. Season rating-4.5. Stay or Go? Stay if he is going to play games.

Julian Gressel- Gressel was a great pick up for the team. The right-sided wing back that suited their system perfectly. Of course he didn’t always play in that role and Gressel flitted between “That’s what he can do!” and “What is it he does again?” performances during the run in. Still a very good signing however. Season rating-5. Stay or Go? Stay.

Javain Brown– Brown is capable of very good defensive performances and games where he seems to not understand the mission at all. He lost his place to Nerwinski by season’s end, but there’s enough there to make it a reasonable assumption that Brown will be a useful player in the coming years. Season rating-3. Stay or Go? Stay.

Florian Jungwirth– This was obviously one season too many for the German and the ploy to use him as a defensive midfielder only exacerbated this notion. Season Rating-1. Stay or Go? Go.

Jake Nerwinski- Nerwinski tends to get lumped in with the less popular players when the Twitterati take to the virtual streets. But, in reality, he’s a decent defender who probably shouldn’t be starting in an MLS team that wants to comfortably make the playoffs, But he earned his starting spot by the end of this season. Season rating-4.5. Stay or Go? Stay as the solid backup option he should be.

Where the playoffs were lost

As another chapter closes on the “Story of the Vancouver Whitecaps” (Good luck editing that manuscript!) let’s reminisce over all the myriad ways that fate and fallibility combined to prevent the team from progressing to the post-season (Memo to self: “Fate and Fallibility” should be the title of the novel the Jane Austen Society are trying to prevent me from publishing).

So where did it all go wrong?

The off-season- Axel Schuster’s conclusion that the good run at the end of 2021 was indicative of the promise of something better rather than the death throes of a wounded animal cost the club dearly. With no major improvements to the squad they were immediately on the back foot (literally and metaphorically) trying to capture the lightning in a bottle of the previous season’s run in rather than building on something new. Throw in the unexpected departure of Max Crepeau and it was uphill all the way.

The start to the season- But, as Prefab Sprout so rightly said, “If it’s uphill all the way, you should be used to it by now” but the Whitecaps clearly aren’t used to it and, instead of treating the early games as necessary evils in which to grind out results, Vanni Sartini treated them as necessary goods. Adopting a startlingly relaxed attitude to games that, even though they were mostly against Eastern Conference opponents, still offered the somewhat valuable reward of real world points. It was a game of catch up after that.

Cuts, contusions, covid and concussions- And that was just Ryan Gauld! There’s no doubt that Vancouver suffered from a seemingly endless array of ailments in the opening months and the weakening of an already weak squad did little to help their cause.

Coaching errors- The inverted wing-backs, the inability to play a functioning midfield until the arrive of Cubas, running Schopf out for game after game for no apparent reason, an unwillingness to give creative players the leeway that run of the mill players were given, changing the back three personnel for game after game. All contributed to the team never really finding their “personality” until the final run in.

The Canadian Championship- Winning it will probably keep Sartini in his job, but the focus on the cup undoubtedly cost them points in the league. A price worth paying in this case but with Champions League football and Leagues Cup games next season they will need to learn how to juggle their personnel far more efficiently if they are to take a run at the fabled “Quintuple” (MLS Cup, Supporter’s Shield, Canadian Championship, Champion’s League and Leagues Cup). Chances are that they will fall short of this mark.

The good news about all this doom and gloom is that the majority of the harm was self-inflicted (“It’s good news! You weren’t the victim of a sniper attack because it turns out that you somehow managed to shoot yourself in the back of the head”) and, if the Whitecaps learn from their mistakes (LOL) there’s the making of a team that can be more worried about where in the playoff positions they finish rather than if they get there at all.

In the coming weeks we’ll assess each players individual contribution to the campaign.

But, for now, the moving finger has writ and moved on from the Vancouver Whitecaps 2022 season.

Whitecaps came and then they went

This is the way the season ends, this is the way the season ends…

It’s probably fitting that the Whitecaps ended their 2022 campaign with a lacklustre effort in a must win game.

After all, they were lucky to be given the chance of making the post-season given how poor they had been for so many games this year but, even so, there was something enervating about seeing the team play with so little vigour or imagination.

Consistently floating crosses into a a central defensive pair who like floated crosses was always going to be a losing strategy and the inability to get either Gauld or Vite on the ball in dangerous areas coupled with the inability to keep the ball for more than two passes at a time (that might even be a generous assessment) they allowed a tanking Minnesota team to find their feet and play the game out in comfort.

There will be time enough in the coming weeks to look at why this Vancouver team failed to ascend to the heights that were within their reach, but this game did at least offer a snapshot of what has gone wrong.

Lack of courage on the ball and in the team selection and an inability to adapt to the in game circumstances as they arose.

The Canadian Championship win means this wasn’t a disastrous season.

But the Whitecaps remain in their role of bit part players in the story of the MLS season, glad to be of use but almost, at times, the fools.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Hasal-4.5, Nerwinski-3.5, Martins-3.5, Veselinovic-3.5, Blackmon-3.5, Gressel-3, Cubas-5.5*, Teibert-1, Vite-4.5, Gauld-5.5, White-3 (cavallini-3, Berhalter-3)

Vancouver Whitecaps still alive and kicking

From last night but now with a couple of additional notes.

And so the Vancouver Whitecaps remain alive for the season.

More alive than they were before the 2-0 victory over a surprisingly dislikable Austin FC but less alive than they would really want to be.

But, then again, who among is actually as alive as we really want to be?

This was another in what can now be called a series of strong and dependable Vancouver performances and whether that run is down to the slightly tweaked version of the three at the back system that Sartini has started to play or whether it’s down to the radical tactic of playing players in their right positions is a question for another day.

But it’s clear that Luis Martins in the left sided role has improved the attacking quality of the team and Pedro Vite has grown with each game and, in this game, was both a creative force going forward and reliable out ball for a defence that often struggles to find the right pass.

In retrospect the decisions to play anyone but a wing-back in the wing back role feels like an experiment that was more for Sartini’s intellectual curiosity than it was about making the team better. Raposo and Dajome now seem like the square pegs in round holes they undoubtedly were. As Gramsci said “History teaches, but has no pupils”. If Sartini is still in charge next year he needs to learn from his mistakes and value simplicity when it comes to selection.

It seems that playing out of defence to a player who wants to look to create chances is better for the team than playing the ball out to a player who wants to give it straight back to the defence.

But maybe none of this would matter at all if Ryan Gauld is on this kind of form?

The Scot scored the first, created the second and was both a constant threat going forward and a constant menace to any Austin player in charge of the ball.

Gauld might not be a natural leader in the sense of his vocal presence on the field but the highest paid player on the team setting a good example to his teammates certainly does no harm.

Was Gauld making a point in the way he praised Brian White after the game? It certainly felt that he was making a very clear point about who he preferred to play with. Even going so far as to credit White with tiring the opposition defenders out to allow Cavallini to get his goal.

On an unrelated note, Lucas Cavallini returned to the action, played well, scored a goal and was involved in a series of unnecessary scuffles.

One more game left (in the regular season) which is a trip to a slumping Minnesota and, no doubt, an afternoon of scoreboard watching and mental arithmetic.

Time fore the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Hasal-6, Nerwinski-5.5, Veselinovic, 6, Blackmon-6, Gressel-4, Martins-6, Teibert-5, Cubas-6, Vite-6.5, Gauld-7.5*, White-5 (Cavallini-5)

The Vancouver Whitecaps stay alive!

From last night but now with an additional sounding on Sartini.

It seems it only took Vanni Sartini thirty-one games to find the right formula for his Vancouver Whitecaps team.

And so they followed up a convincing 3-0 win over the Galaxy with an equally convincing win over the Seattle Sounders (although the score line didn’t really reflect how much better Vancouver were than a surprisingly disjointed Seattle side).

So what is the secret formula?

At first glance it seems to be down to moving away from a back three to a more traditional back four but, in reality, it’s more about playing players in their right positions.

Luis Martins has made a huge difference just because he’s a left footed defender playing on the left (his experience helps too of course) and Pedro Vite being allowed to get forward has resulted in two goals in two games. Both the result of crosses that Brian White failed to get to but having an extra player in the box enabled the Ecuadorian to score.

Who knew that getting players into dangerous positions could result in good things?

The departure of Andres Cubas in the first half seemed to be an ominous sign but Leo Owusu has now produced two games in a row where he’s been able to dominate (well, partly dominate) the midfield.

If Cubas is fit for the next game then a partnership with Owusu should be the preferred choice.

Shout out too to the aforementioned White who works tirelessly for the team and who may not clock up stats that show up in the analytics databases but whose effort allows the likes of Gauld and Vite room to create.

Those of us of a cynical disposition may bemoan that it has taken Sartini this long to free his team in this way, that if he had allowed Vite the leeway he’s allowed some other players and if he’d been less concerned with finding clever answers to selection problems rathe than the simple ones he’d have arrived at the right answer much sooner in the season.

But where does this leave Sartini now?

I wrote here about why they might as well keep him and then, in an amazing feat of cognitive whiplash, here about why they shouldn’t.

I still think there’s significant issues about how he’s coached the team this season and I’d argue that his post game huddle exhortations that “this is what happens when everybody gives 100% in training” point to more underlying issues than just the wrong tactics but, as somebody once said, “You should never mistake the rhythm of your Twitter feed for the pulse of the nation” and, likewise, we should never assume that those of us who follow the games closely share the opinions of those who just turn up to enjoy a game of football.

Anecdotal evidence ahoy but Sartini still seems popular with these poor misguided souls who seem to think that “enjoying things” is somehow the point of life.

Personally, I would still be looking for a replacement but, assuming there’s no more genuinely disastrous performances in the final two games, he’ll probably get the chance to give it another go next year.

But we are where we are.

There’s two games left and the Whitecaps are probably not going to make the playoffs but at least that hope is still alive and we now have two weeks until the next game.

Two weeks of staring at league tables and schedules trying to figure out just what might happen.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Hasal-5.5, Nerwinski-5.5, Martins-6. Veselinovic-6.5*, Blackmon-6.5, Teibert-5. Cubas-5.5, Gressel-6, Gauld-6.5, Vite-6, White-5 (Owusu-6).

The Impossible World of the Vancouver Whitecaps

The first half of the Whitecaps 3-0 win over the LA Galaxy was like an M.C. Escher painting come to life.

Players from both sides moved toward the goal with purpose only to find themselves inexplicably back in the centre circle and neither they (nor those watching) could escape from the seemingly eternal sense of nothing happening for ever and ever.

But, in the second half, Vancouver produced one of those performances that is both a pleasure to watch and a tortuous display of what could have been.

Playing players in the right positions helped.

Luis Martins demonstrated the value of having a left footed player in the left back role and Ryan Raposo showed that he’s still a better attacking player than he is a defensive make weight.

Ryan Gauld was allowed space to use the ball and, more often than not, had options to pass to and Andres Cubas shut down the Galaxy whenever it seemed they were making a break forward.

All in all it was a fine example of what this group of players could have been capable of if they had been given the chance to develop some kind of consistency of purpose and clarity of tactical thinking.

They still won’t make the playoffs and the chances are that the coach would rather roll the dice on making changes for the game against the Sounders on Saturday than sticking with what worked so well on Wednesday.

The Whitecaps climbed a fair number of stairs tonight, but let’s not be surprised if they find themselves back at the bottom next time out.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Hasal-5.5, Nerwinski-5, Martins-5.5, Veselinovic-5.5, Blackmon-5.5, Cubas-7*, Owusu-6, Raposo-5.5, Gauld-6.5, Vite-5.5, White-5

Is Sartini the wrong one?

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.

Whitecaps write off three points

From yesterday but now with additional chapter and verse.

Stupidity and Lack of Creativity” is the working title of my yet to be published (or written) autobiography but, coincidentally, that is also a pretty good summary of the Whitecaps 3-0 loss to Nashville on Saturday evening.

The stupidity came in the not entirely unexpected form of Lucas Cavallini who decided that, with his team already trailing by three goals, a swift elbow and stamp to the head of an opponent was the order of the day.

The red card was a formality and the subsequent punishment from MLS should be severe.

We’ve probably all enabled Cavallini this season by allowing his goals to distract from his penchant for picking up a yellow card in just about every appearance he makes and we’ve decided to treat this foible with wry amusement.

But if I were running the Whitecaps (huge disclaimer here that I’m definitely not running the Whitecaps!) Cavallini wouldn’t play for the club again this season and he’d be shipped out as soon as possible.

Some things can’t be tolerated, especially from a senior player.

A commenter notes. “That’s totally bullshit about Cavilini. When you bring a premier (designated) player to make a change in 30 mins it’s obvious it’s a lot of pressure that you are putting on your own change maker.”

And there are others who also seem to feel that Cavallini was hard done by because he was just showing his desire to win. But there’s desire to win and there’s self-destructive stupidity and this was clearly a case of the latter.

But you know who else can’t always control their emotions? Vanni Sartini. Last week it was all about MLS selecting the other six teams for the playoffs because the Whitecaps were so good. This week the playoffs aren’t important and it’s all about restoring some honour for the rest of the season.

As a supporter it becomes the better option to switch off from such such highs and lows when coming from the coach and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if the players too have started treating every impassioned oration as just so much white noise.

Ryan Gauld certainly seemed to confirm such a theory in his post game comments when he alluded to hearing the same half time speech for much of the season and there were also some comments from the Scot that, to a conspiratorial mind, could be taken as criticism of the coaching staff in general.

It’s certainly odd that everybody on the team knows there’s an issue with how the team start games and yet nobody has got even close to solving the issue.

The lack of creativity came from just about everybody.

Schopf was once again anonymous, Gressel and Raposo never get forward with any belief and Berhalter’s head went out of the game as soon as he gave away the pass that led to Nashville’s first goal.

One assumes that the Whitecaps work on how to break down a defence in training sessions and one also assumes that the theory on how to do that isn’t “pass the ball really slowly ten yards from the edge of the penalty area and then loft a hopeful cross into the goalkeeper’s arms” isn’t what they are supposed to be doing. Yet that is the comfort zone they almost always revert to.

Then everybody’s heads went out of the game when Nashville scored the second goal and the rest of the night was a salutatory reminder of just how bad the Whitecaps are at opening up a defence from open play.

Gauld and Cubas will always work hard and produce competency, but it turns out that not playing Teibert and Nerwinski isn’t the solution to all of the problems in the world of the Whitecaps.

The playoffs aren’t definitely out of reach yet, but Vancouver probably need four points from the next two road games to get themselves back in the race.

Not impossible (it’s MLS after all) but not at all likely.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Hasal-3, Gressel-2, Raposo-3, Brown-4, Veselinovic-4, Blackmon-3.5, Berhalter-2, Cubas-4.5, Schopf-2, Gauld-5*, White-2 (Cavallini-0, Dajome-2)