Vancouver Whitecaps reined in by Seattle

Now with additional meanderings.

It’s unclear if Vanni Sartini really likes Patrick Metcalfe or if he hates him so much he just wants to see him suffer.

Either way there doesn’t seem to be a positional problem the coach doesn’t think Metcalfe can’t solve.

And this week the Canadian was asked to channel his inner Chiellini and play in the centre of defence.

It didn’t work.

There’s nothing specifically wrong with asking a young player to ply his trade in different areas of the field. It may, ultimately, be beneficial to their development. But Metcalfe has yet to prove that he can thrive in MLS in his preferred position, let alone alternatives.

Not just because of Metcalfe however. The midfield offered little cover in the first twenty minutes and Thomas Hasal must have felt like a Candian watching the Ottoman horde approaching (Trojan watching the Greeks pour out of a horse?) as Seattle cut through the Whitecaps time and time and time again.

It seems there are some who think Hasal’s performance last night was the sole cause of the defeat. That he definitively proved he was not capable of being an MLS goalkeeper. Is this some ingrained hockey way of thinking I wonder when it comes to goalies? Either way he only culpable for the final of the four goals and was, lest we forget, operating behind the worst defence the Whitecaps have fielded this season.

With the score at 2-0 Vancouver regained (gained?) some composure and went in at the break only 2-1 down thanks to the obligatory Brian White goal.

But the second half was a carbon copy (mirror image?) of the first with the Sounders dominating until they took a two goal lead and the Whitecaps finding good opportunities arising as their hosts sat back.

They are at least capable of creating these opportunities. And while Gauld and White are picking up the plaudits, Deiber Caicedo is gradually proving himself to be a very useful MLS player.

He still needs to work on his final pass/shot but there’s a lot of upside for a twenty-year old who has adapted so well to the league.

A fourth Seattle goal at the death capped a bad night for both the Whitecaps and Hasal in particular, but this game was always going to be one in which anything the Whitecaps took from it was a bonus.

The question is whether Sartini’s insistence on playing the same system regardless of who is available is the wisest.

He could have gone with four at the back and put a holding midfielder in front of the backline without completely destroying the cohesion but, to be fair, he has chosen to live or die by this method and so be it.

The final tally of points will determine if he was right.

Yet there is something refreshing about a Vancouver coach not basing their every selection on nullifying the strengths of the opposition and thus admitting their belief in their own weaknesses. “This is who we are and we live or die by that” is a brave, but admirable philosophy. And certainly one that has produced a team that is far more enjoyable to watch than any over the last few seasons.

On the positive side Vancouver still manage to look dangerous whenever they do get forward, but often lack that microsecond of composure that can make all the difference when a chance presents itself.

The next game against Kansas is a huge one.

Lose that and there will be the sense that the season has slipped away just when they seemed to have it in their grasp.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Hasal-3, Gaspar-3, Dajome-5, Nerwinski-4, Jungwirth-4, Metcalfe-3, Teibert-4.5, Owuwsu-4.5, Caicedo-5.5, Gauld-5.5*, White-4.5

Vancouver Whitecaps finally know the way to beat San Jose

Marc Dos Santos spent his time as Whitecaps coach trying (and failing) to turn his team into one that successfully pressed the opposition.

Vanni Sartini seems to have solved that problem in just a few weeks.

It may be that (somewhat understandably) with all the time spent on travel and living away from home the players eventually began to switch of from whatever Dos Santos was selling them, or it may be that Sartini has established a foundation in how he wants the team to play and subsequent tweaks are easier to make because of that.

Vancouver weren’t great in the 3-0 win over the Earthquakes, but they were far better than they have traditionally been in such “must win” situations.

There was no sitting back and allowing the opposition to dictate the play, no tentativeness when going forward and no players standing static and watching a team mate desperately search for an option while in possession.

Ryan Gauld certainly helps in the latter of those traits.

His movement off the ball not only pulls the opposition out of their comfort zone but, like a powerful magnet in a field of iron filings, he drags the rest of the team into the required shapes and patterns.

But Gauld alone wouldn’t be enough.

Leonard Owusu produced his second consecutive performance at home where he dominated the midfield. Cristian Dajome was a constant threat from the left wing back position and Brian White was the Platonic ideal of a limited striker who gives his all and gets rewarded with goals just because he’s doing his job.

And are we at the stage where we can say that Jake Nerwinski is a decent central defender?

The data set is probably not complete on that one yet, but even playing on the left of the three Nerwinski looked like a solid option.

Again, that may be down to Sartini sticking to a system rather than changing it depending on who the opponent was. So much easier for players to come into a team, even in an unfamiliar role, if those around them understand their roles too.

But the biggest take away from Saturday evening is that there were periods during the game where the Whitecaps looked to be enjoying playing football. They’d stopped thinking about what they should be doing with the ball and were just doing it.

Amazing how a fresh coaching perspective can change things.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Crepeau-6, Gaspar-6, Dajome-6.5*, Rose-6, Jungwirth-6.5, Nerwisnki-6, Teibert-6, Owusu-6.5, Gauld-6.5, Caicedo-6, White-6.5

Vancouver Whitecaps: Once Upon a Time in Houston

Watching the Whitecaps 0-0 tie with Houston on Wednesday evening was a bit like watching a Quentin Tarantino movie.

The premise sounded exciting.

Baldisimo and Nerwinski together in central defence at last!

Metcalfe returns for more thrills and spills at left wing-back!

Dajome and Cavallini reunited in attack!

But, in the end, all we got was an homage to an homage. The semiotics of significance but no substance. Moving pictures that don’t move us.

But a point is still a point and more than one Whitecaps coach has kept himself in the role with road wins and ties that should have been defeats were it not for good luck and better goalkeeping.

There’s always the default excuses of travel and squad rotation to take into account too, but the concerns from this game revolved around players who are supposed to be key to the team.

Owusu and Bikel were both anonymous at best. The former was very good in the previous game and the latter has been very good in more than one game this season.

But midfield inconsistency is kryptonite to team success and it’s easy to see why a coach would take a regular 5.5/10 from Russell Teibert in every game than risk a 2 or 3 from the alternative.

Lucas Cavallini lumbered around the field without contributing anything of note before being withdrawn at half time for an injury.

Dajome’s work rate can’t be questioned, but sooner or later the constant switching of his role is going to impact his performance (see Baldisimo and Metcalfe for further reading).

And how dumb does the decision to send Derek Cornelius out on loan look now?

On the positive side Gauld and Caicedo offered life and movement when they appeared for the second half and Jungwirth demonstrated that it’s possible to pass a ball out from the back while simultaneously knowing where a teammate is.

And the playoffs remain a possibility.

No doubt that Sartini was juggling his resources and got away with it.

But that’s all it was. It wasn’t a tactical triumph. It was a series of bad decisions that somehow ended up as not being a disaster.

But “getting away with it” isn’t the foundation for long term success. No matter what some people in the Whitecaps organization have had a tendency to think.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Crepeau-6.5*, Brown-5, Metcalfe-5, Rose-4.5, Nerwinski-5, Baldisimo-4.5, Bikel-3, Owusu-3, Raposo–4.5, Dajome-4.4, Cavallini-3 (Gauld-4.5, Caicedo-4.5, Jungwirth-5.5)

Vancouver Whitecaps: Done is better than perfect

As Vanni Sartini completed his personal lap of honour around BC Place following the 1-0 win over FC Dallas, smiling with delight and climbing over barriers to fist bump fans, it was tempting to wonder if any MLS era Whitecaps coach had quite enjoyed the job so much.

Maybe the transient nature of the role has convinced Sartini to embrace the moment? Live in the now.

He’s certainly embracing the opportunity to make tactical decisions that others wouldn’t.

Faced with having only one genuine central defender available for selection Sartini stuck with naming three. Andy Rose is always an adventure in that role, but Jake Nerwinski playing there was a new twist.

And all credit to Nerwinski.

There were times earlier in the season when he looked to have fallen below the level required for even a backup MLS player, but in recent weeks he’s been asked to play in a variety of positions and acquitted himself admirably in each one.

Props too to Leonard Owusu who produced the kind of dominating midfield performance that his pre-season promised he was capable of.

And who knew Brian White would turn out to be such a useful signing? Probably a lot of people but whatever. The American continues to do enough to justify his starting role and it was only a surprise to see Lucas Cavallini substituted ahead of him because the Whitecaps have a history of of treating their major signings with velvet lined kid gloves.

It wasn’t all good news though.

Vancouver faded around the sixty minute mark and Sartini’s changes did nothing to move the momentum of the game.

If anything they made it worse. And Patrick Metcalfe will surely be hoping that he’s not asked to play as a left wing back again for quite some time.

He never looked comfortable from minute one and it was his unnecessary challenge that led to the last minute penalty that Max Crepeau saved with some ease.

Three points were essential in keeping the playoff hopes alive and, realistically, that’s what the aim for the remainder of the season is.

Not getting into the playoffs, but keeping the hope of getting into the playoffs alive for long enough to make the return of supporters to BC Place an engaging affair.

Oh and also making the games fun to watch.

In that regard Sartini is proving to be right one.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Crepeau-6, Gaspar-5, Dajome-5.5, Rose-5, Veselinovic-6, Nerwinski-5.5, Teibert-6, Owusu-6.5*, Gauld-6, Cavallini-5, White-5.5 (Brown-4.5, Caicedo-4.5)

Vancouver Whitecaps accept chaos

For sixty minutes the Whitecaps played in a very Whitecaps way against the Colorado Rapids on Sunday evening.

They didn’t really think about attacking, they couldn’t keep the ball because they didn’t want the ball. Any attempt to play it short from the back was defined by lethargy and lack of movement. Any attempt to play it long from the back merely resulted in the ball settling happily at the foot of a Rapids player and there were no attempts to play it through the middle from the back because the midfield existed more as concept in the imagination than a physical entity that existed in the real world.

Somehow though Vancouver were still tied at 1-1 after one solid hour of play and so Vanni Sartini decided to accept that the universe is just a bundle of chaos existing in a vast and empty void and made his substitutions accordingly.

White and Cavallini playing up front at the same time? Why not? Removing the midfield entirely? Let’s give it a go! Playing Dajome in a variety of positions based solely on the premise that there was no premise? Done!

Bizarrely it worked.

Or rather, it both did and didn’t work.

It worked in the sense that the Whitecaps began to create openings and could even have stolen a win.

It didn’t work in the sense that the Rapids had chance after chance and, on another night, could have run away with the game.

But maybe if you play the universe at its own game it will occasionally reward you?

Maybe if you stare into the abyss and see the abyss staring back at you and you somehow don’t blink or flinch or shudder then the abyss will give a shrug of respect and decide that, just this once, it will let you walk away unscathed?

That’s not a long term plan for sporting success but, on the night, it was kind of fun to see a Vancouver coach and team not give a hoot about shape or formation and just let the stars align as they chose to do.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Crepeau-5, Brown-3, Dajome-5*, Veselinovic-4, Rose-4, Jungwirth-4, Bikel-2, Teibert-3.5, Gauld-5, Caicedo-4.5, White-4 (Cavallinie-4, Baldisimo-4)

Vancouver Whitecaps at the crossroads.

Impressive and important though the ten game unbeaten streak had been the Whitecaps spent much of that time dodging bullets like a prisoner of war zig-zagging across an open field while guards strafe the air with gunfire.

Failing to show any urgency in the first half, waiting for the opposition to score before coming to life, relying on substitutes to tilt the momentum.

Each one of those failings will, sooner or later, hit a major artery.

And so it was in the the 1-0 defeat to the Portland Timbers on Friday evening.

Not that things were helped by Vanni Sartini’s team selection in which Patrick Metcalfe and Russell Teibert were asked to play as (checks notes) wing backs.

It’s unfair to blame either player for the lack of success of that particular plan, but any system in which Teibert is the better of the attacking options isn’t really fit for purpose.

Sartini rang the changes during the second half and Javain Brown provided more threat in his first five minutes than Metcalfe and Teibert had throughout the whole game, Deiber Caicedo offered some much needed energy and pace and almost netted twice and we also got to see the “Cavallini hat-trick” of consistently failing to hold on to possession, exasperated arms thrown into the air at the imaginary failing of a team mate and an unnecessary scuffle with an opponent.

It has to be a matter of time before Cavallini’s salary is offloaded to make way for a player who better fits the plan for how this team is being built.

This loss doesn’t destroy Vancouver’s playoff hopes, but it should shift the emphasis toward using the remaining games to assess which players deserve to be here next season and which don’t.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Crepeau-4.5, Metcalfe-3, Teibert-4, Godoy-4, Veselinovic-4, Jungwirth-4.5, Bikel-4, Baldisimo-5*-Gauld-5, Dajome-3, White-3 (Brown-5, Caicedo-5, Cavallini-1)

Whitecaps back in their safe BC Home

For most of the game against Austin FC on Saturday afternoon it seemed that the follow up to Vanni Sartini’s opening triumph would be his Neither Fish nor Flesh. A performance that exposed the flaws of the first outing rather than building on the positives.

Instead it turned into his Give ‘Em Enough Rope. Not great, probably not good, but with enough flashes of promise to indicate the project wasn’t dead yet.

The first half was awful.

The Whitecaps were out pressed, outplayed and out of ideas. Partly because the team selection was wrong. Losing the threat of Javain Brown on the right cried out for extra pace elsewhere on the field, but Sartini opted to move Bikel to replace Brown and Baldismo to replace Bikel in the middle.

If he had flipped his team sheet over to cover players whose name began with the letter C he would have seen that Caicedo was best positioned to provide said pace.

The late Austin goal in that half was inevitable and must have left the coach wishing he had acted earlier in replacing Bruno Gaspar at left back.

It’s unclear what was wrong with Gaspar. An early tackle that made him want none of what was to come? Playing on the left instead of the right? A dislike of MLS as a cultural entity?

Whatever the reason it’s rare to see a player not want the ball that much.

The second half saw the introduction of Caciedo and his pace did indeed make a difference (As I correctly predicted just three short paragraphs ago).

But what was more interesting was Santini’s willingness to adjust the way his team was set up. Baldisimo to a quasi central defence role! Dajome to left wing back! Three at the back and wing backs!

Perhaps the interim tag gives him more leeway to try things? Perhaps working in the academy has instilled the habit of making in game changes when needed? Or perhaps he’s willing to admit he’s got something wrong every now and again?

Having Ryan Gauld starting games doesn’t hurt of course and we’ve now seen enough of the Scot to figure out just what kind of player he is.

He’s certainly not the stereotypical MLS “Number 10”, all languid mercurial skill and pulling the strings of the players around him.

But he is a very good deep lying forward who works hard throughout the game, makes the right runs when he’s not on the ball and makes the right decisions when he’s on it.

And those traits are making all the difference to this team.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Hasal-5.5, Gaspar-1, Bikel-4, Godoy-4.5, Jungwirth-5, Teibert-4.5, Owusu-4.5, Baldismo-4.5, Dajome-5.5, Gauld-5.5, White-5 (Caicedo-5.5*, Metcalfe-5, Veselinovic-5.5)

Vancouver Whitecaps learn to fly

Whether the Vancouver Whitecaps playing in exactly the way Marc Dos Santos had always wanted them to in the very first game following his departure is ironic or telling is a question for another day.

But that’s what they did.

They pressed from the front throughout (or, at least, until a series of substitutions dulled the impetus) and they put Real Salt Lake on the back foot from the first whistle.

Salt Lake may be a team in free fall right now, but the Whitecaps have been the emergency parachute for many a free falling team over the years, but this time it was different.

Perhaps that was down to the shock of the Dos Santos exit providing a wake up call to the whole team? Perhaps it was simply having Ryan Gauld starting an MLS game for the first time? Perhaps it was a reaction from the players to their dire performance on Thursday evening? Perhaps it was the tactical tweaks that Vanni Sartini introduced?

It’s probably a combination of all of the above and more, but the decision to move Dajome alongside Gauld, just behind the striker, certainly made pressing the Salt Lake back line easier.

And the Whitecaps stayed on the front foot even when they went one, two and three goals up. There was no sense of “holding what we have” and hoping for the best. A refreshing change.

It was also refreshing that this wasn’t simply “The Ryan Gauld Show”.

The Scot was good and his ability to arrive unmarked in the penalty area at just the right time feels like a summer shower on a hot desert day after years of watching balls into the box being met by shrugged indifference by midfielder after midfielder.

But he wasn’t the stand out player.

Bikel (in particular) and Owusu ran the midfield. And Russell Teibert did what Russell Teibert should do. Harried the opposition when they were in possession without being asked to be the main outlet for distributing the ball.

Cristian Dajome rediscovered his ability to hit the kind of first time cross that will always lead to defensive uncertainty and Brian White did the Brian White thing of being there when that happens.

The defence was solid with Florian Jungwirth bringing experience of having played in the position for a number of years (rather than just “experience”) and Bruno Gaspar played like a right back in the left back role while never really looking like a mistake was imminent.

But the biggest shout out has to go to Javain Brown.

He was awful against Pacific FC on Thursday (not the only one to claim that accolade of course) but on Sunday he just kept going and going. Offering the kind of attacking play a full back needs to do in such a narrow system.

He created the corner that led to the first goal and, even while looking exhausted, he went on a lung busting run to hit the perfect cross for Gauld to head home the third.

Brown may not be the finished article, but watching him develop should be hugely enjoyable.

This was though only one game and it may turn out to be an anomaly.

But it does put paid to the theory that this group of players are completely incapable of playing in such a way and that Dos Santos was making the best of the hand he was given.

And while it would be astonishing if Sartini was given the role permanently he did at least provide the template for whoever is next in line.

It’s not clear that he would want it permanently anyway given the emotional wringer he went through before and during the game.

As RSL’s own interim coach Pablo Mastroeni shouted at the fourth official as decisions began to go against his team “No worries! It’s only our fu*^i!g livelihoods on the line here!”

It takes a certain kind of person to deal with that kind of burden day after day.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Crepeau-6.5, Brown-7*, Gaspar-6, Jungwirth-6, Veselinovic-6, Teibert-6, Owusu-6.5, Bikel-7, Dajome-6.5, Gauld-7, White-6

So farewell then Marc Dos Santos

There are probably more than a few decisions Marc Dos Santos regrets during his time as the coach of the Vancouver Whitecaps. But I wonder if the one he regrets the most is the one he made before a ball was even kicked in anger?

For he inherited a squad that needed to be refreshed and decided instead to rebuild it.

With that decision he essentially turned himself into the coach of an expansion team and placed himself firmly on the back foot from day one.

From that point on Dos Santos always seemed to be slightly out of sync with his own vision and what he needed to do to bring that vision into focus.

The Whitecaps finished dead last in the Western Conference that year and the inevitable re-rebuild was disrupted and disjointed by a global pandemic (remember that?) and the inability for the Whitecaps to play in Canada for almost the whole of the year.

This season began with the team stationed in Salt Lake as their home, before they finally arrived back in Canada earlier this month and Dos Santos was given one game at BC Place and one road game in the Canadian Cup to prove his worth to an ownership that were clearly losing patience some time before the final decision was made.

Just reading that brief timeline can leave nobody in any doubt that Dos Santos had a rough ride in terms of circumstance. But, ultimately, he failed to rise above that circumstance and prove himself the man for the job.

The time spent in Utah must have been tough for all kinds of reasons, but that was a time where the squad was together for an extended period, yet still they looked uncoached and inert on the field.

Not being located in Vancouver doesn’t explain why they consistently failed to turn up for the first forty-five minutes of so many games and why they consistently displayed a startling inability to perform the rudimentary basics of the game.

Dos Santos clearly had a plan for how he wanted his team to play. He clearly knew what was wrong with the way his team was playing. He just didn’t have the ability to make those changes happen in any meaningful way.

Whitecaps history will remember him as a coach who always took the cautious option in his tactical approach, who always wanted to avoid the worst case scenario than reach for the best, who never really knew how to change the flow of a game with either tactical tweaks or a timely substitutions and who seemed to select players based on personal preference rather than how they were performing on the field.

But that history will also remember him as an immensely likeable presence who loved the game and and was clearly hurt by the failure to achieve his goals.

It’s a genuine shame he didn’t turn out to be right man for the job.

Vancouver Whitecaps in Cupset!

If you spend the build up to a cup game against a “lesser” opponent emphasizing how important that game is and if you also select what (you think) is close to your best starting eleven for that game then you had better leave that game with a good result.

Marc Dos Santos completed the first two tasks of the above triumvirate, but failed at the final hurdle as his team lost 4-3 to Pacific FC in the Canadian Championship.

And that score line flattered a Whitecaps team who, in retrospect, lost the tie in the first fifteen minutes as they allowed their opponents to constantly harry them out of possession and set up the narrative for the evening.

There’s something quite endearing about this Vancouver team somehow believing they don’t have to work to beat a CPL side, but that’s how it looked for the majority of the game

It didn’t help that Vancouver were horrendous at the back, overrun in midfield and devoid of any attacking guile short of Ryan Gauld.

The whole performance carried a stench of hubris.

The seeming belief that the current MLS unbeaten run (mostly ties, but there we go) had somehow established them as an elite force in North American soccer that simply needed to turn up to sweep aside their poor island neighbours.

It was embarrassing to watch on the field but, from a coaching point of view, it was a complete disaster.

Dos Santos could have given the likes of Hasal, Jungwirth, Gaspar and Ricketts the chance to play for their places without sacrificing any real quality (and maybe added some hunger).

Instead there were just a couple of changes aimed at throwing a nod to the Canadian contingent while struggling on with the belief that Rose and Nerwinski are fit for purpose on a regular basis.

But it’s unfair to single out individuals.

This was a collective failure of tactics, basic footballing skills and any sense of what can happen when a team thinks it is so much better than it actually is.

A damning indictment of every failing we’ve all witnessed for so long and which Dos Santos seems incapable of either seeing or solving.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Crepeau-3, Nerwinski-1, Brown-2 Rose-1, Veselinovic-1, Bikel-3, Metcalfe-2.5, Gauld-6*, Dajome-2, White-1, Raposo-2 (Caicedo-3, Owusu-2)