Whitecaps on the up!

Okay, I’m just going to throw this out there. Run it up the flag to see who salutes. Launch the ship to see if it floats.

But might the Vancouver Whitecaps turn out to be fun to watch this season?

Not fun in the sense of purely joyous football of course. But at least fun in the sense of a group of decent players trying win games by treating the ball as their friend rather than a thing to be treated with disdain.

The last two (MLS) home games have seen the Whitecaps score six goals without conceding a shot on target and, while it’s probably true they aren’t taking their chances with enough efficiency, they are still the fourth highest scorers in the Western Conference.

On Saturday evening they comfortably outplayed a poor Timbers team with Ali Ahmed once again showing that his ability to run with the ball offers a new dimension to the team, Julian Gressel was a constant threat with his deliveries and Ryan Gauld got his groove back (especially in the second half).

Elsewhere Sebastian Berhalter was a more than ample replacement for the injured Cubas and Mathias Laborda showed what a good defender he will turn out to be (although probably not a good crosser of the ball).

Simon Becher found out that that he’s not ready to lead the line on his own just yet but Brian White got the reward for constantly being in the right place thanks to Gressel firing the ball at him in sheer frustration that his team hadn’t yet scored.

Onwards and upwards then.

There’s now a meaningless second leg in Los Angeles followed by a trip to Austin, before a week of rest gives the team time to take a breath and then we’ll see if they can maintain momentum for the rest of the season.

What are these strange feelings I’m feeling?

Could it be optimism?

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Takaoka-5, Laborda-6, Blackmon-6, Veselinovic-6, Martins-5.5, Cubas-5, Ahmed-6.5, Gressel-6.5*, Gauld-6, Vite-5.5, Becher-4 (Berhalter-6, White-5)

A Trap Game for the Whitecaps

Let’s get one thing straight.

I frequently disagree with Vanni Sartini’s starting eleven and turn out to be wrong.

So I won’t hold myself up as an expert witness when it comes to such matters.

But his decision to start Teibert and Dajome against LAFC felt like a recipe for mediocrity and so it turned out to be.

It was probably justifiable to rest Ahmed and Becher after the heroics at the weekend, but Berhalter and Vite were much better options than a forward who continually struggles to pass or control the ball and a midfielder who can offer nothing going forward.

Although seeing Teibert maintain his passing stats while constantly putting a teammate in trouble did stir a strangely sweet sense of nostalgia.

Not that the Whitecaps were terrible.

Until LAFC scored it felt as though both team were mostly content to keep the game scoreless and take their chances in the second leg. But, once they did score, the game (and the tie) felt over.

A Cubas error and nice piece of skill probably flattered the visitors with a 3-0 final score, but it was another object (abject?) lesson in how far Vancouver need to go to even think of including themselves in the top echelon of the standings.

They also need Ryan Gauld to recover from whatever ails him right now, because they’re missing all round game to drag them up when they are down.

“Not angry, but disappointed” probably sums up this game as a whole but from now on Sartini needs to get his selections right.

And that means fielding players based on how well they are playing and not based on what he wants to be the best eleven.

The trapdoor is still there for him and this game edged him back a step closer to the edge.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Takaoka-5, Brown-6*, Raposo-2, Veselinovic-5, Blackmon-5, Cubas-5.5, Teibert-4, Gressel-4.5, Gauld-4.5, Dajome-2, White-4.5.

Five Alive for the Whitecaps

Point: This five goal victory was against the worst team in MLS who were down to ten men midway through the first half.

Counterpoint: Montreal were only down to ten men because the Whitecaps were already causing them problems and Vancouver have struggled against poor teams more times than one may care to remember in the past.

But this victory was forged in the metal of WFC2.

Simon Becher continued his remarkable (and unsustainable) scoring run. Although the way he linked up with the rest of the team was perhaps even more important than the goals.

And Ali Ahmed produced one of the best attacking midfield performances from a Whitecaps player for many a moon.

Ahmed showed the value of having a midfielder who is willing to run at the opposition with the ball at his feet and the value of having a midfielder who is willing to support the attack when the ball isn’t at his feet.

If nothing else Becher and Ahmed have issued a wake up call to their more senior colleagues.

Nobody played badly of course, but Javain Brown showed more quality on the final ball than thus far this season and Julian Gressel was almost as much of a threat as Ahmed.

The optimist would say that this result had been coming and that Vancouver can now settle into the season and move up the standings.

The pessimist would say that Sartini will see this as a license to continue to mix and match who he plays and where he plays them and so the chance of the team gaining momentum will constantly be stalled.

But credit to the coach for this one.

The Whitecaps didn’t just win. They won by playing open and expansive football.

Long may that continue.

It’s time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Takaoko-5, Brown-6.5, Martins-5.5, Veselinovic, 5, Blackmon-5, Cubas-5.5, Ahmed-7*, Gressel-6.5, Vite-6, White-6, Becher-6.5 (Laborda-5, Teibert-4.5, Berhalter4.5)

Vancouver Whitecaps: Insert Generic Overhaul Pun Here

From last night but now with additional meanderings.

Who knows why Director of Recruitment Nikos Overheul really left the Vancouver Whitecaps this week?

Well, quite a few people know obviously, but not the fans of the club who were left to wonder, once again, if there was anybody really steering the good ship Whitecap.

Maybe Overheul has been offered a better job? Maybe he’s tired of seeing the players he’s signed being played in unfamiliar positions? Maybe he grew weary of recruiting for one system of play and discovering that the coach had moved on to another? Maybe he’s just going to Goa to find inner peace?

Laborda at right back is text book Sartini. Take a player and try to make him fit into a role he isn’t used to. See the myriad wing backs from last season for further reference.

Whatever the reason he will no doubt have been watching his former team struggle to a 1-1 tie in Minnesota on Saturday evening.

To be fair to the Whitecaps they were missing two players to international duty. But, to be fair to Minnesota, they were missing eight players to international duty and featured more debutantes than a BBC adaptation of a Jane Austen novel.

Given the above a 1-1 tie is a pretty poor result. But the nature of it (a ninety-eighth minute equalizer when only six minutes of stoppage time were called for) will probably be enough to stave off the wolves that have been surrounding Vanni Sartini of late.

Whether that turns out be a blessing or a curse in the long run is a matter for debate but all the old failings were still there for this Vancouver team.

Decent possession at times, but a lack of both confidence and guile as soon as the ball got near to the opposition penalty area. An over reliance on set-pieces when it came to threatening the opposition goa and the inability to defend crosses.

Schopff seems to be going under the radar both in terms of his overall play and the avoidance of criticism. The midfield is better this season but rarely does he catch the eye or arrive in the box at the right time as he was predicted to do when signed.

Pedro Vite made a difference when he came on because, unlike Dajome, he has a vague notion of the right pass to play at the right time and Simon Becher once again showed more quality (and kicked the ball into the net!) than many more of his more highly paid colleagues.

It was Vite’s promotion to regular first team starts that gave the Whitecaps a glimmer of the playoffs last year. Why he’s not preferred over Dajome (who isn’t a number ten and who kills attacks with his inability to find the final pass) is a mystery.

It’s impossible for Becher to keep up this scoring rate of course but he has undeniably earned more minutes and already looks a better option than the erstwhile Cordova.

The optimist may think that two road ties in LA and Minnesota is a pretty good foundation for the Whitecaps to build on during the upcoming home stand.

The regular Whitecaps watcher knows that the world doesn’t work like that.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Takaoka-5, Laborda-4.5, Raposo-4, Veselinovic-5, Blackmon-5, Berhalter-4.5, Schopff-3.5, Gressel-5, Gauld-4, Dajome-3, White-5 (Vite-5.5*, Becher-5.5, Ahmed-4)

A Pyrrhic tie for the Vancouver Whitecaps

From last night but now with additional contemplations.

A 1-1 tie on the road to the LA Galaxy isn’t the worst result in the world, but the Vancouver Whitecaps still resemble a work in flux more than they do a work in progress.

And that perception isn’t helped by the coach.

In this game Sartini started Cordova up front with White and Dajome as the de facto number tens. (Spoiler alert! White and Dajome and not number tens). And he elected to play the best number ten in the team as a midfielder.

Trying to turn Ryan Gauld into the new Russell Teibert seems a strange path to take but there we go.

Last season Sartini was probably saved by a cup competition, and there’s enough of those this year to give him some leeway. But Axel Schuster surely can’t be watching these performances and thinking that the coach is getting the best out of this squad?

Eventually even the footballing gods had seen enough of such nonsense and an injury to Cordova and the exhaustion of Dajome forced the coach to revert to a semblance of common sense.

The Cordova signing already looks snake bitten. But signing a front man who can’t press to a team that wants to press from the front will enhance that perception.

The Whitecaps weren’t great after those changes but they were better than they were before.

Now if they could just spend some time practicing how to kick the ball to a player in the same colour shirt when they reach the edge of the opposition penalty area they might start to win a game or two.

The lack of compusure on the final pass last night was almost hilariously bad and has to be a sympton of the lack of cohesion the team seems incapable of resolving.

Overall though this game didn’t feel like the renaissance this team needs. Nor did it even feel like the beginning of the end of the dark ages.

Not quite the Plague of Justinian perhaps, but certainly not the Code of Justinian.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Takaoka-5, Brown-5, Raposo-5.5, Veselinovic-5.5, Blackmon-6*, Cubas-6, Gressel-4.5, Gauld-5.5, Dajome-4, White-4, Cordova-3 (Vite-3.5)

Whitecaps kick a ball about for a bit

Somebody saying be quiet

There are some games of soccer of which it is best to say as little as possible.

And the Whitecaps 3-2 loss (7-3 win) against Real Espana was just such a game.

But….in brief.

The pitch was terrible.

Vite looked lively-ish

Yao looked worrisome.

Hasal looked both good and bad.

White looked much better than Cordova (and so did Becher really).

The Whitecaps still can’t defend against balls crossed into their box in the air.

Now let’s all move on from this shall we?

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Hasal-6*, Laborda-5, Raposo-4.5, Blackmon-5, Yao-3.5, Berhalter-5, Ahmed-4, Ngando-4.5, Vite-5.5, Dajome-5, Cordova-4.5 (Brown-5, White-5)

Whitecaps Fail To Complete The Game

What a frustrating afternoon of football that was.

The 1-1 tie with FC Dallas featured the visitors disrupting the rhythm of the game at every opportunity, a referee who often seemed to be buffering, so delayed and random were his decisions and because the Whitecaps failed to build on the momentum of the midweek 5-0 win.

One would have hoped they would come out from the first whistle pushing Dallas back toward their own goal but, instead, they allowed Dallas to make the early running, conceded in the first five minutes and spent the rest of the game never quite overcoming the hurdles needed to take all three points.

They came close at times, but it was mostly half chances rather than carving open their opponent in a way that the improved passing in the middle of the park should be leading to.

Partly that’s down to the final delivery.

Brown and Raposo word hard in getting up and down the field but the former lacks the quality of cross too often and the latter’s need to cut inside to get the delivery in allows the opposition defence time to settle.

That wouldn’t be as big an issue if there were better runners from midfield but, unlike in mid-week, that never really happened.

There’s also something incongruous about Sartini simultaneously claiming that his team played well while explaining why he changed the tactical set up twice in the second-half.

Starting the half with Cordova and White was a mistake (White is not a number ten) and then switching to three at the back to match up with Dallas was indicative of the kind of tactical tinkering that makes it harder for the players to settle into the game and feels more about the coach wanted to “do something” rather than being called for by the state of the game.

There are still promising signs however.

As mentioned earlier, the passing definitely is better. The depth of the squad should help given the numerous competitions the team are in and the spine of the team looks solid.

It’s now just about a finding a little more decisiveness and quality with the final ball, playing for the full ninety minutes and the coach trusting in his own process.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Takaoka-6, Brown-6, Raposo-5.5, Veselinovic-5.5, Blackmon-5, Cubas-6.5*, Gressel-5, Schopff-4.5, Dajome-4.5, Gauld-5.5, White-5.5 (Cordova-4.5)

Vancouver Whitecaps are the real deal

Well that was better.

Let’s not pretend that Real Espana are the greatest team in the world, but the Whitecaps have lost to worse teams than that in the past.

The first half was fine but, in the second, as the Hondurans wilted the Whitecaps finally found the ability to punish a team when they were there to be punished.

It’s hard to imagine that even the Whitecaps can blow a 5-0 lead in the second leg.

Random thoughts on a few players.

Give Gauld players running in front of him and he will find them with a pass.

Raposo did more than enough to win back the left back role for Saturday’s game.

Blackmon may not be the most reliable defender at all times but he’s by far the best man to bring the ball out of the back and offer Vancouver the opportunity to disrupt the shape of an opponent.

Cordova did not look like a DP forward in this game. All lumbering runs and bad first touches.

This was Dajome’s best game for about a season and a half and probably the first game in that length of time that he’s genuinely looked like he wanted the ball. Let’s hope that continues.

New midfielder J.C. Ngando wasn’t given much time to show his worth but he has a likeable swagger of arrogance about him when he’s on the ball.

One swallow does not make a summer and one win does not make a season.

But the Whitecaps have shown they can create and finish chances. Now they need to do that on a regular basis.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Takaoka-5.5, Laborda-5.5, Raposo-6.5, Veselinovic-5.5, Blackmon-6, Cubas-6, Gressel-6, Gauld-6.5, Dajome-6.5*, Vite-5, Cordova-3

Deja vu all over again for the Whitecaps

From last night but with additional sighs of desperation.

Last season the Vancouver Whitecaps were awful in the first hall of every game and it cost them a bucket load of points.

It was a problem that needed to be solved.

The good news is that they’ve solved it.

The bad news is that they’ve solved it by being awful in the second half instead.

As with last week against RSL the Whitecaps were good for the first forty-five minutes and then allowed the game to drift away from them in the second. And the key word here is “drift”. It wasn’t taken from them by San Jose, they simply allowed it to wander away because they are incapable of even the most basic of in game management.

It’s tough to guess at what Sartini is saying to his players during the half time break, but the most likely answer is that he is telling them to stop passing the ball so crisply and to cut out those pesky attacks on the opponents goals.

In his post game media session Sartini said that he wanted his team to play in the same way as the first half. He needs to figure out why they aren’t listening to him.

At least this week he reacted to the in game situation by making changes. The problem is that the changes almost immediately made things worse.

And thus far in his brief Whitecaps career Sergio Cordova looks like the exact kind of forward the team don’t need. A big man up front who will persuade the rest of the team to lump the ball forward and bypass the better players in the middle of the pitch.

That’s probably harsh on a striker who has played less than forty-five minutes. But it does speak to the inability of the team to manage a game.

A penny too for the thoughts of Ryan Gauld. He looked thoroughly fed up with the situation in his post game comments last week and he cut a forlorn figure during that mess of a second half tonight.

Gauld also looked to have picked up an injury but if the Whitevaps best player stopped buying what the coach is selling that’s a real problem.

And Sartini?

Maybe he’s just a bad Champions League exit away from being shown the door?

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Takaoka-5.5, Brown-5, Martins-3.5, Veselinovic-5, Laborda-5, Martins-3, Cubas-5, Gressel-5, Schopff-5.5* Vite-4, Gauld-4, White-3.5 (Cordova-2)

Whitecaps in just another Winter’s Fail

From last night but with additional exasperations.

The first half was great.

The Whitecaps led Real Salt Lake through a Javain Brown header, passed and moved with purpose and kept the visitors at arms length throughout.

The midfield looked solid (the midfield!) and the team as a whole were playing with purpose and pace.

By the second half though Schopf drifted it of the game and Gressel looked worryingly leggy.

So I guess the tactical decision they faced at half time was to either continue playing well or to play not so well.

Sadly they chose the latter option and the inevitable Salt Lake equalizer and equally inevitable winner followed in swift succession leaving the Whitecaps to huff and puff their way to a late rally that never once looked like it would lead to a goal.

In his post game comments Sartini put this change of fortunes down to the vagaries of MLS. But RSL adapted at half time and Vancouver failed to deal with that switch.

This failure of a second-half wouldn’t be quite so worrying if it wasn’t indicative of one of their major failings from last season too.

Last year whenever they were faced with the opportunity to kill a game off they consistently backed away from the challenge, preferring instead to drop deeper and deeper and allow all the momentum to slip through their fingers.

And this performance against Salt Lake was particularly shameful.

In front of a very good home crowd, who had braved multiple weather warnings to get to the game, the players decided that making an effort for half the game was quite enough thank you very much.

There were times last night when the Whitecaps had three coaches up and shouting instructions at the players. But it seemed there was nobody who could calmly assess what was going wrong and figure out how to fix that.

If those on the pitch don’t have the mental fortitude to play as they should for ninety minutes and if the coaching staff don’t have the courage or insight to know that changes are needed until it’s far too late then we all face yet another season of this team bobbing around the edge of the play-offs, celebrating pyrrhic victories and always finding a reason to forgive themselves for all their shortcomings.

A nice easy ride for the players, a not so easy ride for the rest of us.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Takaoka-6, Brown-6, Martins-4, Veselinovic-4.5, Blackmon-4.5, Cubas-6*, Schopf-4.5, Gressel-4, Dajome-3, Gauld-4.5, White-4.5