Vancouver Whitecaps: We Need A Little Time

Chancing upon the Twitter exchange above the other day couldn’t help but send a frisson of anxiety pulsing through my synapses. A feeling akin to seeing a significant other surreptitiously flirting with Chad from Marketing at the annual office Pot Luck.

But, always wanting to be the adult in the room, I didn’t waste my time on pointless angst and idle imaginings. I simply called the Whitecaps directly to clarify the situation. And, for the benefit of posterity, I have transcribed the details of the call below.

ME: Hi.

VW: Hi.

Me: Just wanted to check how the flight went and that you’re settling in in Utah.

VW: Thanks so much! Yes all good so far.

ME: Good to know. I see you’ve started to make friends with the locals.

VW: What?

ME: I saw the tweets between you and a Salt Lake fan and I think it’s good that you’ve wasted absolutely no time in making new friends.

VW: …….

ME: Still there?

VW: Is that what this call is about?

ME: What do you mean?

VW: Are you calling to check up on us?

ME: Of course not!

VW: Because we really can’t do this right now.

ME: Do what?

VW: This.

ME: …..

VW: You know how hard it was for us in Florida last year right? Isolated and away from everybody.

ME: Of course I do. And I supported you through that.

VW: Sure you did.

ME: What does that mean?

VW: It means that sarcastic tweets and passive aggressive blog posts don’t always come across as supportive.

ME: Passive aggressive?

VW: Yes. Passive aggressive.

ME: Well, I don’t know about passive aggressive, but I wish your passing was more aggressive. You might score more goals.

VW: There we go! You always have to bring it back to the passing don’t you? Every time!

ME: It’s important! Anyway, it’s not just the passing. It’s the getting people into the box as well. I mention that a lot too.

VW: We noticed.

ME: I’m trying to help.

VW: But it doesn’t help. How do you think it makes us feel?

ME: Well, I’m not sure but..

VW: And we know that you watch Premier League and Champions League games when we’re not around.

ME: Everybody does that!

VW: Exactly. You’re just like all the rest. Sometimes it feels as though you don’t support us for who we are, but for who you want us to be. And we just can’t be that team. We’ll never be that team.

ME: Well, I didn’t mean to upset you and….

VW Look, we’re tired. We’ve got a lot going on. And I think it will be good for us to spend some time away from you. Just so that we can re-focus and get ourselves together again.

ME: But you’re coming back right?

VW: Of course we’re coming back! Why do you have to be so suspicious all the time?

ME: Well I’ve heard stories about teams going to other cities and never coming back. So I’m worried.

VW: We’re coming back. We just need space to ourselves to figure some things out.

ME: Okay if that’s how you feel. Should I call you again?

VW: We’d prefer it if you didn’t.

ME: I’ll write though.

VW: You don’t have to.

ME: No, I really don’t mind. I’ll write after every game and let you know what I thought of it. That way you’ll know all the things you’ve been doing wrong and that will help you to……hello? Hello?

At that stage the line went dead. Probably symptomatic of the poor infrastructure that America is blighted with after decades of under investment.

Safe to say though that I helped to ease the situation and put everybody’s minds at ease.

Wishing and Hoping

I’m old enough to remember when the release of the Whitecaps schedule meant scrolling through the list of games and considering the questions surrounding them.

In what specific way had MLS made travelling to Portland and Seattle difficult this season? Is there the chance of a weekend in Denver? A midweek trip to Sandy, Utah?

This year a visit to Austin would probably be high on many a wish list, but I’m also old enough to remember when the Whitecaps played their games in Canada so am content to make my wish lists more prosaic than doing things like travelling to new places or going to actual games.

My three wishes for the season then you ask? Fair enough.

Erik Godoy stays fit- Godoy is one of those players you don’t really notice until he gets a clever yellow card in the eighty-fifth minute. But he’s also one of those players who makes those around him better.

Whether he gets paired with Veselinovic (a young player with what feels like significant potential) or Cornelius (a young player who did all that was asked of him and more last year) the presence of Godoy will give the Whitecaps a level of confidence at the back they were lacking far too often in 2020.

Caio Alexandre turns out be a genuine Number 8- While others pine for a Number 10, I while away the hours pondering how much better the Whitecaps would be with a “proper” number 8.

A player who arrives at the edge of the area to fire home a scuffed clearance. Who pounces on a goalkeepers parry to fire the ball unceremoniously into the roof of the net.

It could be argued that most midfielders in the modern game are a default mix of the number 8 and number 6 anyway, but the whole identity of the Whitecaps in recent years seems to have been built around the lack of attacking players in the box so, for now, a traditional number 8 will do just fine.

Lucas Cavallini comes good- What we learned last season is that Cavallini is a forward not a goal scorer. He wants to score goals but he doesn’t need to score them.

His overall contribution is based around work rate rather than his finishing, but this season he should (hopefully) get the kind of service he needs from both flanks and (hopefully) he won’t be playing in a team that considers counterattack the only form of attack.

His stats suggest he’s a one goal in three games player as his default setting, but Vancouver probably need an uptick on that if he’s to justify his existence.

The Times They Are The Same

One thing we can all agree on in this Time of Covid is that the days begin to blend together after a while creating a blur of endless, yet somehow fleeting, time.

But maybe this despair is a somewhat modern side effect of the pandemic? Perhaps the modern obsession with Time has made us uniquely susceptible to this particular malaise?

Did the Victorian child clamber up a yet another chimney one day and think to himself, “Cor Blimey Guv’nor! I can’t believe it’s a Tuesday today and make no mistake”?

Did the Hunter Gatherer stare listlessly at a handful of berries and sigh deeply at the thought of yet another evening around the fire arguing with the same four people about whether the Ice Age was real?

Did Mrs. Neanderthal explain her failings to Mr. Neanderthal by lamenting, “The thing is Ogg, I’ve lost track of the days and thought it was Thursday and not Friday. That’s why I forgot to pick up a Tetradactyl egg for brunch tomorrow”?

It’s hard to be definitive about any of these examples, but such highly educated suppositions provide incredibly valuable insights into the lives of our ancestors.

Thankfully, as supporters of the Vancouver Whitecaps, we were already well prepared for the heady mix of despair and deja vu that permeates through society at the moment.

A home game where the Whitecaps face a a weakened opposition and fail to launch a serious attack until the seventy-fifth minute? Been there, done that.

A listless road performance explained away by a graphic showing air corridors to and from the Pacific North West? Pencil that one in for June or July.

A five goal hammering excused by an early red card? Bound to happen.

That exciting new signing scoring in the first two games before falling to the turf and clutching his knee sixty minutes into the third and thus embarking on a season of fitful yet futile recovery attempts? Feels oddly familiar.

Despite miraculously finding themselves still in the playoff hunt with three games remaining, the Whitecaps fall to two successive home defeats and a last day tie with Portland that is described as “Something to build on for next year”? As comforting and as reassuring as a Downton Abbey Christmas special.

Somebody writing about the Whitecaps who can’t think of a way to end the post? (Memo to self: Insert something here before publishing).

Inside Number Ten

When I eventually die and go to hell I’ve no doubt that one the first levels of torture I’ll be forced to endure will be an endless loop of those god awful clips that DAZN airs between games and at half-time.

While the flames lick at my heels, my eyelids will be forced open while Gary Neville talks to a monotone and monosyllabic Paul Scholes, or two badly groomed men shout at each other over a Zoom call about whether corner flags should be square or rectangular for the rest of eternity.

The current iteration of the genre features James Rodriguez trying to encapsulate the talent of Dennis Bergkamp in the allotted thirty-eight seconds but, astonishingly, James does get to say something interesting.

The Colombian announces the demise of the “number ten” as not fit for purpose in the modern game.

I suppose it’s possible that he’s doing this solely to troll those in the Whitecaps fanbase who seem to believe that the answer to all the ills of the team is said number ten but, more likely, he’s just reflecting a fairly obvious truth that has been acknowledged for more than a few years.

The traditional number ten is no more, he has ceased to be, he is bereft of life, he rests in peace and is an ex-footballer.

The romance lingers on however. The yearning for a mercurial presence just behind the striker, pulling the strings and pushing the ball between defenders is a tantalizing prospect for those deprived of even a semblance of footballing imagination in recent years.

After all, there are only so many times a human being can watch a ball bounce haplessly away from another human being’s foot before the spectacle begins to induce a certain ennui.

But what the Whitecaps need isn’t a saviour in the form of a languid playmaker. They need a consistent system that isn’t reliant on the ability, or health, of an individual. A system that runs at speed both backwards and forwards. A system that acknowledges current reality.

When he arrived in Vancouver, about eight lifetimes ago, that was the plan for Marc Dos Santos. But circumstance and what seems like a lack of self-belief reduced the team to facsimiles of that idea. Always hamstrung by caution and the inability to stick to any kind of method for more than a few games in succession.

Maybe that won’t change this year? Maybe the Whitecaps are destined to be prisoners of their own misfortune? Always one hamstring away from disaster. Always one defeat away from reinvention.

But don’t let the sugar rush of signing a number ten be the hill they choose to die on.

Don’t base the season on a thing as anachronistic as a rotary dial on a smart phone, a TV Guide in world of streaming.

“Traditional” and “artisanal” should be words we associate with street markets and cheese. Not the major signing of a professional sports team..

Holiday (Lock) Inn

I’m dreaming of a Whitecaps season
Not like the ones we’ve had before
Where the plastic grass is
Used for forward passes
Because the team is trying to score

I’m dreaming of a Whitecaps season
With every blog post that I write
Where every signing
Doesn’t leave me pining
For players that I once thought were shite

I’m dreaming of a Whitecaps season
Where all that matters is the game
No Front Office ruses
With poor excuses
That leave a lingering sense of shame

I’m dreaming of a Whitecaps season
Where a midfielder scores a goal
Where there’s some improvement
In the pass and movement
And every player knows his role

I’m dreaming of a Whitecaps season
Not like the one we had this year
Where BC Place is
Filled with hopeful faces
Who have some good football to cheer

I’m dreaming of a Whitecaps season
That makes me glad to be alive
No more early pressing
Then acquiescing
To just sit back once we get to minute five

I’m dreaming of a Whitecaps season
That doesn’t feel like a curse
No more troubles
And no more bubbles
And the best that we can say is “It could be worse”.

I’m dreaming of a Whitecaps season
Not like the one that has just gone
I’ve had more than plenty
Of Twenty-twenty
So bring on Twenty twenty-one

It Takes A Village

I live in a village now.

Strange that it would take a global event to limit our lives to the local. To lower our horizons to two or three blocks.

But in days like this the coffee shop knows my order, the bar knows my beer, the store knows I don’t need a bag and ID is no longer required when collecting a parcel from the post office.

They know me and I know them.

But not really.

All we really know are the three dimensional avatars that drift in and out of each others lives from time to time.

But that’s enough to create a connection. A shared experience. A common thread.

So maybe the Whitecaps were on to something with their “It Takes a Village” marketing campaign? Maybe they were right to try and turn the the team into an emblem for belonging?

But then the world changed and a connection got severed.

How could it not?

We were all so busy burying our heads in our own lives that we didn’t have the energy (physical/emotional) to spare for a team that barely even played in Vancouver.

That wasn’t their fault. But the necessary distance this year and the constant change of personnel over the last two has made it hard to to turn the majority of the team into those three dimensional avatars we need them to be.

Ali Adnan has been around long enough for us to know that he will argue with anybody while a game is ongoing and we know that Russell Teibert will listen to the coach’s instructions with all the sombre seriousness of a toddler trying to button up a raincoat.

But Bikel, Veselinovic and Owusu?

We barely know them outside of pixels on a screen and disheartening heat maps.

All the indications from the club are that there will be less turnover of the squad in preparation for next season and, while that may be a disputable decision from a footballing perspective, it’s almost essential in terms of a sense of kinship.

In an ideal world we love the players in our team, in a good world we root for them and in an acceptable world we hate them for the pain they cause.

It’s a cruel world in which we don’t even know who they are.

Vancouver Whitecaps season ends with a winner

There’s an alternate timeline out there when, upon arriving in Vancouver, Marc Dos Santos decided to keep Kei Kamara for the 2019 season.

The veteran forward scored a dozen goals and, while that wasn’t enough to get the team into the playoffs, it was enough to keep the season alive until near the end and create the perception of progress.

In 2020 Lucas Cavallini arrives in a team that is already fashioned to play with a target man and, although a pandemic reeks havoc across the globe, Cavallini’s goals are enough to push Vancouver into the post-season.

Everyone is agreed that Dos Santos has the Whitecaps moving in the right direction.

But that isn’t the timeline we are living in and another failure of a campaign means that the reasons to keep Dos Santos are explanations for his failures rather than explications of his successes.

Too high a player turnover in to the first season, the disruptive effects of the pandemic in the second.

Perhaps the latter stages of this year have shown that he can put together a decent team given the right players? But there’s been nothing yet to indicate he can make the eleven better than the sum of their parts.

Chances are that he will be allowed to take a run at 2021, but nobody wants to see another season where Vancouver is coached by someone who thinks achieving the bare minimum is a worthy goal to be aimed for. Where excuses are as abundant as baseless transfer rumours.

But, future speculation aside, the Whitecaps played their final game of the season against an LA Galaxy team who are even more dysfunctional than they are and ran out comfortable 3-0 winners.

It takes character to be so committed to winning such a meaningless game, but it takes more character to be committed to winning meaningful games and that particular trait has eluded this team for the longest time.

But none of us can begrudge this squad and staff the relief of returning home after what has been the strangest of seasons.

And there will surely be time enough for a full post mortem and more idle speculation in the coming weeks.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Bush-6, Nerwinski-5.5, Gutierrez, 6, Godoy-6, Veselinovic, 5.5, Teibert-6.5, Bikel-6, Dajome-5.5, Adnan-6 Montero-6.5*, Cavallini-5.5

Vancouver Whitecaps tread softly into the dying of the light

The Vancouver Whitecaps 2020 season was always going to be more interesting for the questions it raised in retrospect than it was to watch in real time.

Questions such as, what conclusion can we draw about any player or coach given the circumstances?

In more “normal” times would Marc Dos Santos have been able to shape this squad into one that resembled an effective unit or not?

The season was put out of its misery (barring more Covid related nonsense) by a 1-0 loss to the Portland Timbers on Sunday evening. A loss that encapsulated the year as whole.

The Whitecaps played the game as though trying to win it was a little bit too ambitious. Best to keep it tight and hope the lucky break fell their way rather than to their opponent.

But it didn’t.

And that’s the price you pay when you live your life by the coin toss.

If the limit of your dreams is to squeak into the playoffs then don’t be surprised if your dreams get trodden on.

If you don’t try to beat a terrible LA Galaxy team, then don’t be surprised if they steal a last minute winner.

If you rest almost the whole team for a game against Seattle then don’t be surprised if that defeat turns out to be as important as the defeat you suffered with all the rested players back.

There are mitigating circumstances flying around like murder hornets in a vacuum tube of course.

But, in the end, the Whitecaps never really controlled the things they could control and that was their undoing.

There will be time enough to go over what all of this means in the coming weeks and months but, right now, no one would blame the coaches and the players if they forewent the final meaningless game against the LA Galaxy and got out of Dodge before Tuesday.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Bush-5.5-, Nerwinski-5.5, Adnan-5.5, Veselinovic-4.5, Godoy-6.5*, Bikel-5.5, Owusu-5.5, Teibert-4.5, Dajome-3.4, Montero-2, Cavallini-3

Vancouver Whitecaps play it safer than Safe Jack McSafe the safety inspector

Marc dos Santos a had a cunning plan.

It didn’t work.

But it almost worked, depending on your perspective.

Either a second string Vancouver Whitecaps team kept the Seattle Sounders at bay for fifty=five minutes, or the Whitecaps missed the opportunity to take advantage of a rusty Sounders team and allowed them to play themselves in to the game and on to victory.

And perhaps medical sporting science is now so exact that the difference between players playing for forty-five minutes and thirty-five minutes is a finely calibrated decision based on lung capacity, blood work and the extensive use of an MRI machine.

Or, perhaps Dos Santos decided to ride his luck for an extra ten minutes before making the change, only to discover that his luck had decided to throw him unceremoniously into a ditch.

Couple this game with the late defeat to the LA Galaxy and it’s hard not to leap to the (perhaps unfair) conclusion that the reluctance to make substitutions when they are clearly needed has cost the Whitecaps at least one, perhaps two, crucial points in the run in to the end of the season.

We won’t really know the answer to that until the end of the campaign and even then it will still be defendant on the manner in which MLS adjudges how the points tallies will be evaluated.

But in a year such as this it seems likely (and oddly fitting) that Vancouver could miss out on the joys of the post-season because the coach displayed an abundance of caution.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Bush-5, Bikel-4.5, Gutierrez-5, Rose-4.5, Cornelius-5*, Veselinovic-4.5, Baldisimo-5, Teibert-4, Raposo-3, Bair-3, Ricketts-4

Vancouver Whitecaps Pick Up a Win

If Jake Nerwinski doesn’t have a recurring nightmare in which an adorable yellow penguin floats delightfully over his head only for him to slowly turn and see it being voraciously devoured by an angry minotaur dressed as an MLS left sided attacker then his subconscious isn’t doing half the work it should be doing.

But, even if his sleep is peaceful, opposing teams have certainly found a cheat code to score against the Vancouver Whitecaps. Whip in a cross from the right to a player on the left, who will inevitably be standing unguarded because every Whitecaps defender will have been drawn into the centre.

It happened again against San Jose on Saturday evening but, this time, it didn’t matter quite so much because Vancouver went from a timid and tepid first half to a lively and another word beginning with “L” second half.

One of the main reasons for that turnaround was the performance of Cristian Dajome, who is slowly becoming one of the most important players on the team.

There are still times when it feels as though he has never seen a football before in his life, but there are also times (becoming more frequent of late) when he is both the main outlet and the main creator and he is developing a burgeoning partnership with Fredy Montero and, to a lesser extent, Lucas Cavallini.

And, speaking of burgeoning partnerships, Bikel and Owusu in the middle and Godoy and Veselinovic at the back are slowly, sometimes very slowly, settling into what could, at times, be called cohesion.

There’s still a long way to go and the chances of the Whitecaps making the playoffs are probably fifty-fifty at the very best (and the chances of progressing in any meaningful way after that are much, much worse) but these tantalizing glimpses of a team playing with a plan are more than we had a few weeks ago.

And that’s not nothing.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Bush-6, Nerwinski-5.5, Adnan-5, Godoy-6, Veselinovic-6, Bikel-6, Owusu-6, Dajome-6*, Ricketts-5.5, Cavallini-5, Montero-5.5