Vancouver Whitecaps: Finally it is over

It’s probably more of a blessing than a curse that the Vancouver Whitecaps didn’t follow up last week’s thrilling 4-3 win in LA with a similar performance at BC Place in  their final game of the MLS season.

After all, that could have left too many people thinking “Hmm? Maybe there isn’t too much wrong this team.”

But nobody could sit through the 1-0 defeat to Real Salt Lake and think such Pollyannaish thoughts because the game, and the Whitecaps, were dreadful.

On the plus side Marc Dos Santos did get a glimpse of the kind of team he should be building on the budget he will be given.

Salt Lake passed well and pressed well. And while neither of those traits scream startling tactical innovation they were enough to win this game comfortably.

It’s somewhat baffling as to why Dos Santos hasn’t got his team to press in any meaningful way this season. If your team aren’t effective with the ball then at least make them effective without it.

But it’s even more baffling why a succession of MLS era Whitecaps’ coaches have been either uninterested or unable to get their players to move effectively on the field.

Almost every time a Salt Lake player had the ball he was offered a simple pass because a team mate had moved into space.

Almost every time a Whitecap player had the ball he was offered either a long pass into the channels or the prospect of turning around and passing the ball backwards because nobody had thought more than one move ahead.

This isn’t rocket science people! This is one of the basics of the game.

No point in fretting over it now though as the club go into another off season of rebuilding once again hoping that changing the bricks will make the house more secure than finally fixing the foundations that have been rotting away for years.

But there will at least be intrigue in watching the comings and goings of players in the coming months and let’s hope that Dos Santos has learned the lesson that a massive overhaul of players makes getting things right a lot harder than he first supposed.

The Whitecaps simply can’t afford go into the first few months of next season still trying to find the best starting eleven or their best way of playing.

The vast majority of fans have no more patience left to give.

time for the Soccer shorts player ratings.

Crepeau-5, Godoy-4.5, Adnan-4.5, henry-4.5, Cornelius-4.5, Rose-4.5, Teibert-5, In-Beom-5, Chrinos-5.5*, Bair-4, Ricketts- 3.5, (Montero-4, Reyna-4)

Vancouver Whitecaps out punch the Galaxy

In many ways the LA Galaxy are the Platonic deal of what an MLS team shouldn’t be.

No recognizable tactical plan. No sense of how to defend in anything approaching an organized manner. But shed loads of money thrown at big name forwards who are able to do just enough to force the team into the playoffs and so give them a puncher’s chance of winning the whole caboodle.

But wait.

Because in many ways it’s the Vancouver Whitecaps who are really the Platonic ideal of what an MLS shouldn’t be.

A tactical plan that doesn’t take into account the strengths of the players available.  No sense of how to set up a midfield in anything approaching an organized manner. And no money thrown around to sign big name forwards who are able to do just enough to force the team into the playoffs and so give them a puncher’s chance of winning the whole caboodle.

And the two competing philosophies met in a surprisingly entertaining game in LA on Sunday evening with, somewhat improbably, the Whitecaps beating the Galaxy 4-3 in a contest of who could score the most in a ludicrously open game.

That’s probably being a little harsh on Vancouver in this particular instance because they did at least look as though they had a game plan, which was to negate Ibrahimovic and to always look to hit the Galaxy on the break as quickly as possible.

And it worked (just).

Possibly because for the first time in a long time the Whitecaps were playing a team with a midfield as poor as their own, with both Rose and Teibert finding themselves in the kinds of open spaces they haven’t enjoyed all season.

Jasser Khmiri finally made his debut in the centre of defence and had a decent game (although one of the weirder tropes of this season is that most defenders can often be said to have “had a decent game”, while the team concede goals with astonishing regularity. Individual competence doesn’t equate to collective cohesion I suppose).

And Erik Godoy offered another example of why he should return next season as he filled in at right back and already has one more assist in 2019 than Nerwinski and Sutter combined.

Goals for Chirinos and Ricketts surely won’t tip the balance when the decision comes to stick or twist on them in the off season, but anything that makes any of us feel a little bit better about this team is very welcome indeed.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Crepeau-5, Godoy-5.5, Henry-5, Khmiri-5.5, Levis-4.5, Rose-5.5, Teibert-5.5, In-Beom-6*, Bair-5, Chirinos-5, Ricketts- 4.5 (PC-5, Montero-5).

 

Vancouver Whitecaps still a not so solid crew

Of all the dispiriting games of a dispiriting season the 1-1 tie with the Columbus Crew on Saturday afternoon at BC Place was perhaps the most dispiriting of all.

And not even a, right at the very death, Fredy Montero equalizer could prevent anybody’s spirit feeling well and truly dissed.

There was always the faint hope that being relieved of the pressure of needing to get points would allow this team to relax and finally find some coherence and fluidity, but such hopes have proven to be in vain.

Whether that’s down to players switching off for the season or just not being good enough whatever the circumstance is up for debate.

But the main cause remains the issue that the Whitecaps are so badly constructed that, no matter how much effort and how little tension they felt, the players couldn’t put together a consistently good performance anyway.

And so the only positive moments the Whitecaps produce (with “moments” being the operative word) come when an individual or two do something out of the blue.

And on Saturday, as it was the Saturday before, it was Ali Adnan creating a late goal for Fredy Montero. Which is great. But there is still no structure for the players to fall back on when things don’t go well. No default setting to see them through the tougher times.

Against Columbus Russell Teibert nearly created a goal for himself by pressing the opposition defence.

But he was the only one doing any consistent pressing all game. Is that the plan? Just a one man press? Because if so it won’t work.

And, if it isn’t the plan, is Teibert going rogue or are the rest of the team just not following instructions?

These are all rhetorical questions because it’s impossible to tell from watching Vancouver play just what the plan is. Or if they even have one.

Oh well, t’s nearly all over and soon we can all spend the off season fretting over which signings will work instantly and which ones will have had a tough year previously and will need a full season in MLS to get used to the rigours of the league.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

MacMath-4, Sutter-4.5, Adnan-4.5*, Henry-4.5, Cornelius-4.5, Rose-3, Teibert-4, In-Beom-4.5, Bair-3, Reyna-4, Ricketts-3 (Chrinos-4, Montero-5)

 

 

Vancouver Whitecaps solve the Houston problem

Vancouver went all Thomas Hardy on us on Saturday by creating a backdrop of grey skies and bouncing rain to externalize the internal emotional torment of having to watch the worst team in the Western Conference play the second worst.

In the end though the game wasn’t without its charm or points of interest and the Whitecaps got a hard earned, and perhaps somewhat fortunate, 2-1 victory over Houston.

In the week Marc Dos Santos had spoken about how his thinking about player recruitment has changed over the course of the season.

Fading out from the belief in signing players to fit his chosen system to instead fading in to signing the best players available and then finding a system to suit them.

In retrospect (and probably in prospect too) that was ambitiously naive.

I’m not sure even the highest spending MLS teams can be quite so selective about finding players to fit a particular system and the nature of the beast is simply to make do and mend with whatever rags and tags of mismatched cloth are thrown the way of the coach.

Against Houston Dos Santos opted for the rag and tag of 4-3-3  and it looked a decent system on paper.

Ricketts as the target man with Reyna and Chirinos free to make hay in the wide roles.

Except that’s not how it panned out, with neither Chirinos nor Reyna ever really being involved in the game to any meaningful extent during open play.

And that’s the issue Dos Santos will face next year and the one he will need to resolve.

He may like the 4-3-3, but all it did was exclude his best attacking player from the heart of the action. Reyna has been a constant goal threat when playing centrally this year so taking him away from the role felt like an error.

Not that such errors matter all that much when Vancouver have a midfield that plays like three strangers with, once again, only In-Beom offering even the hint of attacking threat.

And I suppose we have to talk about Zac MacMath?

The American was signed to be the starting goalkeeper and almost immediately lost the role to Max Crepeau and seemingly he lost either his concentration and confidence (or both) along with it.

And yesterday was textbook MacMath (and none of us like to see the words “Math” and “Textbook” so close to each other right?) He played well for most of the game but still gifted Houston their goal by saving a shot that seemed to be going wide and pushing the ball back toward the centre of the goal for an easy tap in.

Fortunately Fredy Montero is still the same player he always was when he gets close to the six yard box and MacMath’s blushes were spared.

It would be nice to see the Whitecaps close out the next three games with a series of decent results, but what would be even nicer would be for the newly created role of  “Person in charge of finding good players” to be filled in ample time for good players to be found.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

MacMath-4, Sutter-5, Adnan-6*, Hnery-5, Cornelius-5, Rose-4.5, Teibert-5, In-Beom-6, Chrinos-4.5, Reyna-5, Ricketts-4.5 

 

A Brief History of the Vancouver Whitecaps: From 2019 to the present day

 

The Expansion Season

At the time it felt strange that an expansion team would begin their season with only four games of the campaign remaining, but everything seemed a little bit strange back then.

We’ve all got used to it now.

That expansion season began with the Vancouver Whitecaps appointing Marc Dos Santos as head coach and, with his squad somehow already in place, most of the early attention was on events off the field.

During the opening game for instance, some members of BC Place security forced placards supporting the Iron Front into the hands of unwilling fans and, shortly afterwards, the Front Office announced that Bob Lennarduzzi would be moving from his role as Club Liason to the more senior role of Club President.

On the field things were going splendidly as Dos Santos and his coaching staff fielded a team full of attacking intent and one that frequently spent much of the game camped inside the opposition half.

Teibert and Felipe were a joy to watch in midfield as their freakish ability to always find the quick forward pass kept opponents far from the ball and the Whitecaps soon led the league in attempted shots.

The race to the end of the season was a thrilling one (as it always is these days) and it sensationally finished with every team in the Conference level on points and goal difference (as it always does these days).

No wonder wealthier teams sought out the services of Dos Santos and so, after a highly successful year, he was lured to LAFC to be Bob Bradley’s assistant coach.

At the time that move felt like the kind of bitter blow that could derail the club completely. But how wrong the naysayers were.

The Carl Robinson Years.

The decision to appoint Robinson as head coach was controversial to say the least. After all, this was a man with no history within the game whatsoever.

What were the club thinking?

Well, it turned out that the club were (as always) getting things absolutely right.

In his first year in charge Robinson brought in the likes of Kei Kamara, Efrain Juarez and Canadian phenomenon Alphonso Davies and quickly proceeded to produce some remarkable and innovative football.

“Robboball” as it came to be known throughout the world consisted of his team camping within the opposition final third for lengthy periods of time before hoofing a long ball backwards to an isolated central defender who was frequently surrounded by four or five opposition forwards.

It seemed madness at the time but somehow it worked and Robinson led the Whitecaps to joint top of the Western Conference (alongside every other team).

This was a feat he was able to reproduce in all of his subsequent seasons as he demonstrated an uncanny knack to bring in and let go of players at just the right moment.

But in many ways he was a strange man and his almost pathological fear of human contact made him an odd and lonely figure on the sideline; recoiling from any opposition player if they even looked as though they were approaching his technical area.

And, in one now much viewed and retweeted incident, he quickly ran away in horror when Wayne Rooney offered him his hand to shake when appearing as a substitute for DC United.

But his quirks aside Carl Robinson presided over a remarkably successful period which included two legendary playoff performances against Cascadian rivals Seattle and Portland in which his team ruthlessly pressed their opponents back from the first whistle to the last.

So when the club announced that Robinson would be stepping down to become assistant coach to Martin Rennie he had already written his name large in the pantheon of Vancouver sports history.

Martin Rennie’s first year

The Scotsman arrived from a stint in Korea where he was coaching Seoul E-Land and he certainly had big boots to fill, but this first year has been one of huge promise and excitement.

His eye for talent was clear when he snapped up Brazilian striker Camilo (exactly the kind of pure finisher the Whitecaps had missed since their very first year) and his style of play was, if anything, even more exciting than Robinson’s.

A style of play that persuaded captain Barry Robson to fly to his now beloved Vancouver voluntarily in the hope of being signed by Rennie.

And Rennie proved to be a match for his predecessor by also leading the Whitecaps to a joint top finish in the Conference (alongside every other team).

How he develops from here will be fascinating to see, but how reassuring to know that the club has an ownership group who know how to pick exciting young coaches and who always seem to act just before any potential issue befalls the club.

Who knows what MLS will turn into in the coming years or even if the League can survive? But thankfully the Vancouver Whitecaps seem to have safe and steady hands at the tiller for years to come.

And how reassuring is that? After all, none of us are getting any older.

Go Whitecaps!

Vancouver Whitecaps still in a bad place

Earlier in the week Marc Dos Santos had complained that his side suffered more than certain other teams when it came to decisions by VAR.

So it was inevitable that during the 3-1 loss to New York City FC VAR would do what it does best.

Two human beings looked at an incident and decided it was a probably a penalty. Then two other human beings looked at in slow motion and from various different angles and decided it probably wasn’t. Then one of the first human beings looked at in the same way and decided it probably wasn’t either.

The exponentiation of human error is the greatest gift that VAR has given us.

Not that the Whitecaps lost because of that one incident of course.

They committed a series of individual errors and were severely punished for each one by a well drilled and well set up team and this was also episode thirty in the “Can you spot the Whitecaps midfield?” sitcom.

Finding that midfield has to be the main priority for the new Sporting Director.

And excitement at that particular appointment reached fever pitch this week as the club followed up their announcement of two weeks ago that they were beginning the search with the further announcement that they had now hired Nolan Partners, a sports executive search firm, to conduct the search.

Once Nolan Partners announce who they will be appointing to conduct the search the process can really begin in earnest.

On the pitch it will be interesting(ish) to see how both Dos Santos and the team handle the brutal reality of their season being over with four games remaining.

And at least a couple of players should probably have played their last game for the club.

Montero and Erice won’t be back next season (surely) so leave them on the bench and give others the chance to at least get a better feel for MLS and BC Place.

It might even be a good idea for Dos Santos to select who he wants to be his captain for next year since neither Montero or Erice will be back (surely) and hand the armband over to Doneil Henry as a start to instilling a different mentality in the team.

But really we’re just throwing ideas at the wall to see if they stick right now.

Because the squad will, once again, be vastly different next year and both the coach and his new Sporting Director need to ensure that player recruitment is based around a particular playing style and not just bringing in random players because they are available.

That sounds obvious, but the Whitecaps have a nasty habit of ignoring the obvious and going their own sweet way when it comes to running a football club.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Crepeau-4, Nerwinski-5, Henry-6*, Rose-5, Adnan-5, Erice-3, In-Beom-5, Teibert-4, Montero-4, Reyna-6, Ricketts-5 (Sutter-5, Chirinos-4)

 

 

Vancouver Whitecaps play well and still lose

In his 1967 essay “The Death of the Author” Roland Barthes argued that subjective interpretations of any work of literature were equally valid. Nothing is right and nothing is wrong.

The reader is as the reader does. Each of us can interpret a text in whatever way we choose. There is no definitive interpretation.

And so we are with every game of football. We form our own opinions on who could have won and who could have lost. Who played well and who didn’t play well.

And so to the Vancouver Whitecaps.

They lost 2-1 to the Montreal Impact on Wednesday evening but, in this readers opinion, on another day and in a world without VAR they would probably have won comfortably.

They were the better team.

But 2019 is 2019 and so they lost and there will no doubt be the usual pile on toward Marc Dos Santos and his tactics and his signings.

But where were these brave paragons of truth and justice when Carl Robinson was in charge?

Where were the tough questions in post-game interviews?

Where were the TSN commentators questioning tactical decisions of the coach and criticizing the work ethic and finishing skills of the players?

Five years of dross and there was barely a critical opinion voiced of “Robbo” and his tactical cowardice, but now almost every broadcaster and podcaster and wannabe analyst can barely contain themselves in their desire to lay into a coach who has been in charge for less than a year.

Maybe Dos Santos will turn out to be dreadful.

It’s possible.

But spare me the moral outrage if you never even bothered to challenge the mediocrity and ineptitude of the former regime.

Your opinions are worthless at best and dishonest at worst.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Crepeau-6, Nerwinski-6, Adnan-6, Henry-6, Cornelius-6, Teibert-6, Erice-6*, In-Beom-6, Chirinos-6, Reyna-6, Ricketts-6