Vancouver Whitecaps: Still Pointless

From yesterday but now with added “Things that make you go H’mm?”

Imagine going to sleep at night with your loved one only to find that, come the morning, their left arm had been replaced with a different, if similar, left arm.

You would still love them right? Of course you would. You are not a monster.

Then, the following night, you wake up to find their right leg has been replaced by a different, if similar, right leg.

Still love them? Sure you do.

On the third night as you go to sleep….

Wait a minute! How the hell are you still sleeping? The love of your life is systematically having their limbs removed and replaced on a nightly basis and you’re still dropping off like a baby?

Call the police. Change the locks on your doors. At least have the decency to stay awake for ten minutes to watch over them after your head hits the pillow.

I’m starting to think you are a sociopath. Unless you are the one replacing the body parts? But why?

Anyway, long intro short. How many changes does it take before the one you love is no longer the one you love? The torso? The heart? The head?

This season kind of feels like a less disturbing version of that thought experiment for fans of the Vancouver Whitecaps, with the first two games as much a challenge of  thinking of this as the same team as it has been identifying new players and new tactics and systems.

But at least the 1-0 loss to Real Salt Lake on Saturday afternoon did just about enough to convince us that this was both still the same old Whitecaps and yet also something quite new.

Yordy Reyna continues to search for the consistency that would make him a genuine difference maker in the league, Jake Nerwinski can still get caught out of position with disastrous consequences and Fredy Montero still struggles to get into a game unless he has quality service.

Was the Nerwinski tackle a penalty kick? No. (And kudos to all the people who wanted VAR introduced to eliminate controversy from the game. Achievement unlocked.) But Nerwinski was caught out of position for the second week running and no matter how much Dos Santos defends him there can’t be many such mistakes left to make before Scott Sutter gets a start. 

On the “That’s new!” front, Hwang In-Beom demonstrates enough quality to provide hope as he develops in to the groove of MLS, Erik Godoy looks like a proper central defender and Max Crépeau has genuine presence in goal.

But a loss is still a loss and only the most optimistic of observers could watch that game and think that Doneil Henry will ever settle into the Marc Dos Santos style of passing out from the back or that the continuing inability to create chances from open play is a feature rather than a bug of the current system.

One of the eternal mysteries of the Vancouver Whitecaps is how impossible they find it to get a midfield player into the opposition penalty area on a regular basis. In-Beom and Rose should be ideally suited for this purpose but, once again, the absence of  anybody but Fredy Montero in the penalty area when the Whitecaps got forward was startling.

But the lack of offensive output wasn’t just down to In-Beom and Rose as the front three were worryingly static in sticking to their lanes. Everybody is still finding their way within the system to be sure but the ease with which the first two opponents have coped with Vancouver in open play is reason for concern.

Yet still they are better to watch than they were last season.

Failing bravely is a far more endearing quality than succeeding through fear, but such misty eyed romanticism can only last for so long and if, by the time they leave BC Place after their return visit, the Whitecaps are still struggling to find their way it may well be a long season indeed.

And it will be interesting to see how wedded Dos Santos is to his 4-3-3 setup because the arrival of Ardaiz in the second half gave the team a focus up front it previously lacked. That feels like the antithesis of how the new coach wants his team to play the game but results could dictate how long purity holds out over pragmatism.

For now though we can just shrug away the vagaries of  MLS and MLS officiating and dream of the sun dappled uplands the Dos Santos reign still holds promise of.

We will all get to those uplands some day.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Crépeau-6*, Nerwinski-3.5, PC-4.5, Henry-4, Godoy-5.5, Erice-5, In-Beom-5.5, Rose-5, Reyna-5, Venuto-4.5, Montero-4 (Sutter–5, Ardaiz-5.5, Lass-5) 

 

Vancouver Whitecaps: Pressing on

A home game against a poor Conference rival. An early lead through a set piece goal. Failure to take the initiative and build on that early advantage and allow the opposition to grow in confidence. Concede an equalizer thanks to a defensive loss of concentration. Resort to hitting long balls to an isolated forward. Fall behind but then another set piece goal and a late attacking flurry creates the illusion that the game could have gone either way.

It’s hard to see how the Whitecaps can continue with Carl Robinson at the helm given the Groundhog Day nature of every game and….

Wait? What? When did that happen?

I’m joking of course. I exclusively found out about the Dos Santos hire a few weeks ago but, like all great art, that opening paragraph contains both truth and untruth. Hints of whispers of shadows that may or may not exist.

So what actually happened in the 3-2 loss to Minnesota?

Well, at times the Whitecaps played some very nice one touch football, kept the ball on the ground and moved for each other.

And, at times, they forgot all that and resorted to hoping Fredy Montero could out jump two large central defenders.

At times they pressed as a unit and forced Minnesota into dangerous turnovers.

And, at times, Hwang In-Beom was pressing alone and searching forlornly for a team mate who was thinking of doing the same.

Overall the Whitecaps were exactly what we knew they were; a work in progress.

Except…

The sense of optimism around the Dos Santos hire and the barrage of promos around his coaching style and ability kind of, sort of, created the idea that his Vancouver side would hit the ground running from day one so, in the grand scheme of things, a wake up call such as this may be best for all concerned.

And there were definitely some positives.

In-Beom looks the real deal. All quick passes and movement and dangerous around the opposition area.

New captain Jon Erice too looks a class player and there were already signs that he and In-Beom would form a decent understanding as the games go on.

Lass Bangoura showed that he had both pace and trickery and Erik Godoy looked a solid starter in central defence.

But what about the negatives?

Felipe looked out of place in this formation. Taking three touches when one was the better option, looking back when there were runners ahead of him.

And we can safely describe the choice to build from the back as a “work in progress” with Doneil Henry in particular seeming to do more thinking with the ball at his feet than is good for any of our blood pressures and Jake Nerwinski showed that he remains more valuable as an attacking full back than a defensive one.

Derek Cornelius gets a pass given he was played out of position at left back but the attacking set up of the midfield means the defence will have to be far more organized than they were on Saturday afternoon.

But the most concerning aspect was the inability to create chances from open play (not least because this was also an issue in the pre-season) with even In-Beom seemingly reluctant to get into the danger zone to meet the end of a cross or pick up on a scrap of a loose ball.

But patience will be required for sure and there’s enough things to be optimistic about to make watching this team this season a delight compared to what has gone before but, and this needs saying over and over again, it’s insane that the organization allowed themselves and the team to be in this position.

A tough decision taken a couple of years ago would have saved all this angst.

But avoiding tough decisions and hoping it will all go away and that nobody will notice seems to be par for the course.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Crepeau- 5.5, Nerwinski-4.5, Godoy-5.5, Henry-5, Cornelius- 3.3, Erice-5.5, Felipe-3, In-Beom 6*, Reyna-5, Bangoura-5, Montero-4 

 

 

Vancouver Whitecaps: You hum it, they’ll play it

A recent “news” story on the local “news” channel ran with the concept that, during the recent cold spell, humming-birds could only survive thanks to the hanging feeders a few kindly folk put out for them.

“Without these feeders” intoned the reporter solemnly “the birds would die”.

“That’s nice of those people” I thought to myself. But then I thought “Hang on a minute! If humming-birds can only survive thanks to feeders provided by humans then how did they survive before?”

Being a universally acknowledged major reporter this question prompted me to a fever of intense research (asking Twitter) and the result of my intense research (reading Twitter) is that of course they could survive before the feeders because they would migrate to warmer climes.

So have humming-birds become lazy?

Only some of them it seems.

Many do indeed still take the time and effort to travel south but a few indolent ne’er-do-wells simply choose to hang around the backyards of gullible humans to live off the sweet, sweet nectar of free handouts.

We may never really know what the birds who do make the effort to travel think of these stay behinds but safe to say they regard them in the same way we would regard a group of drunken teenagers hanging around a fast food joint at two in the morning while shouting foul abuse at any unfortunate passer-by.

With a mixture of fear, contempt and an almost Proustian rush of regret and envy which somehow tells us more about ourselves and the society we live in than we really care to articulate.

So can we all please stop enabling the worst aspects of the humming-bird population and allow this beautiful creature to return to the dignity of self-sufficiency?

A few deaths is a small price to pay for a better future.

 (Memo to self: Pitch this to the Whitecaps as a new slogan for next season).

Marc Dos Santos will clearly be hoping his team is humming when the season starts in two short weeks. But does the experience of Maurizio Sarri at Chelsea offer a stark reminder of how tough things will be? (Dos Santos has stated publicly that he is a huge admirer of “Sarri-ball” and will be using it as a template for his Vancouver team).

Sarri arrived with a pre-determined style of play and has since struggled to get his players to adapt. That’s not hard to understand when much of the season has seen the best defensive player in the world played in a more forward position and one of the best players in the world with the ball at his feet and running at defenders being asked to play with his back to goal.

Form over function has mostly led to dysfunction at Stamford Bridge.

Yet Dos Santos has one huge advantage over Sarri in that he has essentially been allowed to build his team from scratch. Discard the ones who don’t suit and recruit the ones who do.

But this is still Major League Soccer and it is still limited in terms of quality of play and player.

Sarri-ball relies on a number six who can pass the ball with unerring accuracy (Whither Pedro Morales?) and only time will tell if Jon Erice is capable of that kind of consistent quality.

And it also relies on a goalkeeper and back four who can play out from the back.

And that means really play out from the back and not just consist of two central defenders who pass it to themselves who then pass it to Russell Teibert who passes it back to them and one of them then hoofs the ball up field.

It means tight passing in confined spaces to lure the opposition forward and thus create space behind them.

When it works it is a thing of beauty. When it doesn’t it is not.

The brief glimpses we have seen of the pre-season indicates the back line are thinking one beat too many with the ball at their feet for the whole thing to work and the coach has astonishingly little time to coach that pause out of them.

The good news is that the attacking pieces seem to fit just right. Speedy wide players, a proven goal scorer and genuine attacking midfielders.

So if the back six can do their job and get the ball to the forward five when they are in space the whole season will be a hoot.

Come to think of it, it will also be a hoot if they can’t get the ball to them because it will be chaos back there.

Sounds like fun.

 

Vancouver Whitecaps: Definitely, Maybe

The current crop of Vancouver Whitecaps acquisitions and targets can be loosely lumped into the following categories.

Definitely might be good. Was good once but hasn’t been for a couple of seasons but maybe just needs a fresh start. Somebody once thought he was good but he never lived up to that potential.

There’s nothing wrong with trawling the databases and highlights for signings for a club that prides itself on not being among the bigger spenders in the league but, and this gets me an honorary degree in stating the bleeding obvious, bringing in so many players would be a challenge at the best of times.

But bringing in so many players with so much doubt swirling around their suitability is a huge ask.

Oh, and Marc Dos Santos also wants to completely revamp the style of play of the team so even the established players (“established” for the Whitecaps currently means they perhaps played a few games last season) will need to learn new ways of interacting with each other on the field (and off it too if the end of season media day was anything to go by).

So it’s all doom and gloom right? The Whitecaps will struggle to find their feet and scrape along near the bottom third of the Western Conference for the whole of the season?

Yes that’s correct. That’s exactly what will happen.

Wait? What? You want a more uplifting scenario on this greyish Sunday morning?

Okay then.

It’s not inconceivable that Dos Santos will knock it out of the park with all of his signings and everything turns out to be fine.

It’s also not inconceivable that he’s a good enough coach to meld the team together no matter what the weaknesses are and that the “established” players will be refreshed by his style of playing after toiling under the yoke of the previous incumbent.

It`s also not inconceivable that MLS will continue to be a forgiving enough league to allow a slow, find your feet, kind of start to not completely derail the season.

It`s also not inconceivable (and this is the Soccer Shorts hot prediction for the season ahead!) that opponents will be so discombobulated by facing a Whitecaps team they know little about and barely even recognize that Vancouver will hit the ground running, get off to a great start and that momentum will be enough to surf them to a spot somewhere near the bottom end of the playoff spectrum.

That would count as a huge win for both Dos Santos and the club.

And it would certainly be a vindication for the ruthless off-season purge of the playing proletariat that went on (there are those who would argue that lustration rather than purge was the way to go but we are where we are from a regime change point of view).

To summarize then.

Things could be worse!

 

Soccer Shorts: New and Improved!

As the Major League Soccer season rubs the sleep from its eyes and blinks tentatively into the bright new dawn of 2019 the Product and Design team at Soccer Shorts have had no such rest and are now set to unveil a whole swathe of exciting innovations for the 2019 campaign.

“Such as what?” I hear you ask. Well, I will tell you.

Exclusive insider rumours and gossip!!!- Tired of getting all your Whitecaps information from a series of random dudes on Twitter? Fret no more! The Soccer Shorts Espionage and Infiltration team has spent the offseason embedding themselves in every level of the Whitecaps organization.

Want to know what Greg Anderson has for breakfast? Want to know what Marc Dos Santos really thinks of Doneil Henry? Those and many more details will be revealed throughout the season.

Stats! Stats! Stats!- The modern game is all about the numbers and the Soccer Shorts Numbers and Algorithmic department has been honing a revolutionary new way of analysing the game.

Impressed that some sites give you the numbers in real time? Stop being impressed immediately!

The Soccer Shorts Real Time Plus Five (SSRTPF) system will now give you the stats five minutes before they happen.

There`s now no need to concentrate on the game at all! Just follow along on our website and we will let you know when to glance up at the action. More phone time for you!

New and improved ratings system!- The Soccer Shorts player ratings are already recognized as the gold standard throughout the industry but the Soccer Shorts Athletic Evaluation team have improved on perfection!

This season there will be no need to question the ratings at all because they will be scientifically correct. Criticize the Soccer Shorts player ratings and you are outing yourself as an idiot!

New Premium Service!- Don’t worry. If you`re too poor to afford the Premium Service you will still see much of the great content you already get on this site.

But for those of you who are willing to do some actual work you will gain access to possibly the most exciting sports coverage in the world!

Simply send your credit card details to our secure (ish) site and we will then reveal just what these exciting innovations are.

What have you got to lose?

You pick the team! That`s right! The Whitecaps have sensationally agreed to allow Soccer Shorts and its readers to select one player per game by means of a Twitter vote!

Starting with the goalkeeper we will work our way through every position on the field. Want to throw Marc Dos Santos a curveball by playing Yordy Reyna in central defence? Now you can!

More details will be released nearer the time but Dos Santos has already described this innovation as “interesting”.

These are just a few examples of how Soccer Shorts will be the only site you need for your Vancouver Whitecaps coverage in 2019.

Delete the links to any other sites immediately! Now! Do it now!

Thank you.

Stay tuned!

 

Vancouver Whitecaps: We Know We Are, We’re Sure We Are

An expensive and poorly assembled squad of players that needs whittling down and re imagining to suit the needs of a new coach, an ultra rich owner who wants things run according to a strict financial diktat and a general sense that the club has been drifting aimlessly toward the rocks with nobody positioned on deck to spot the impending crash.

The Netflix documentary series “Sunderland ‘Til I Die” should probably carry some kind of trigger warning for supporters of the Vancouver Whitecaps or, at the very least, details of a phone number to call “if you have been affected by the issues raised in this program”.

Not that the circumstances are exactly the same of course.

The Whitecaps aren’t faced with the prospect of crippling relegation after relegation and they’re not quite living in the same cutthroat, dog eat dog, financially insane system as Sunderland inhabit but the series does give a chilling insight into how difficult it is to turn a club around once it has set sail on the wrong course.

And that’s why (no matter how welcome it might sound) the pledge by Marc Dos Santos that he will build “a model or identity for Vancouver” amounts to little or nothing.

Actually, let’s rewind that for a moment because I don’t think we’ve really taken into account how weird it is that the Whitecaps don’t already have a “model” or “identity”.

After seven years in MLS Dos Santos doesn’t think the model needs to change, he thinks there actually needs to be one established.

It’s hard to know how that can happen.

Either it’s failed to get on the agenda for countless Front Office meetings because nobody even considered it a requirement or it has made it to the agenda and subsequently been voted down.

“Those in favour of instituting a consistent working practice?” (No hands raised).

“Those against?” (Carried unanimously).

So Dos Santos needs to accept that he is facing a near impossible task if he wants to change the root and branch of the club because the root and branch of the club is planted firmly in the “whichever way the wind blows” philosophy of management.

Appoint somebody, let them take the praise and the blame and then move on to whoever is next and give them the freedom to do whatever they want in an endless cycle of diminishing returns and badly spent cash and goodwill.

Good football and good results will paper over the cracks for a while (and the signs are at least positive that Dos Santos has an intelligently thought through idea of how to achieve both of those) but “Sunderland ‘Til I Die” is a litany of good people being shackled by a bad environment and, while Vancouver aren’t quite at the irredeemable stage just yet, next season does feel like the last chance to get things right before there’s just no turning back at all.

Vancouver Whitecaps: Rating the players (Part Four)

We’re finally there!

The last look back at a season that made most of us want to turn away. But at least after Parts One, Two and Three we can turn to the most successful aspect of the whole campaign.

The forward line.

Kei Kamara- Here’s a theory. If Vancouver had only signed Kamara and nobody else during the off season they would have made the playoffs.

Imagine it. No Juarez, Felipe or Mutch to distract Carl Robinson from his one and only love of bunkering in and using a target man? That might well have worked.

But even in the mess of a tactical minefield he was unleashed in to Kamara played well, and yet perhaps his most important contribution was his mentoring of Alphonso Davies.

Because convincing the Bayern bound kid to simply enjoy his football certainly didn’t feel like something anybody else within the locker room was capable of doing.

For a player who arrived with a reputation of being something of a trouble maker Kamara turned out to be the sanest person in the room.

Season rating-6.5

Yordy Reyna- The Peruvian began the year under all kinds of clouds and it wasn’t until the season was in full swing that Reyna followed suit.

But once he did get going he proved himself to be a crucial, unpredictable element to the Whitecaps attack.

He’s a diamond  in the rough for sure, but put a couple of really good players around him and Reyna could be a genuine force in MLS.

Season Rating-6

Brek Shea- If Kendall Waston personifies the early stages of Carl Robinson’s reign and Efrain Juarez personifies its end then Brek Shea personifies the club as a whole.

Coming in on a trade simply because they wanted to get rid of somebody else and earning an extension simply because somebody forgot about a clause in his contract Shea is the DP that nobody wanted.

Not even the occasional flash of quality can mitigate the disaster his signing has been and it will be fascinating to see where he ends up next (and how much he is paid).

Season rating-3

Cristian Techera- Techera is the very definition of flattering to deceive given that he’s capable of putting up stats that make you think “Hmm, he actually had a good season”.

But it’s clear he only plays well when he really wants to play and drifts out of games far too easily.

His ability to put in a good delivery from a set piece was always his saving grace but he won’t be back.

Season Rating- 4

Anthony Blondell- Blondell began the season with some promise but then immediately fell off a metaphorical cliff.

Hard to know if that’s down to his own failings, the failings of the coaching staff or some other extraneous factor but it’s not impossible to imagine him having a decent season next year if he stays (it’s not easy, but it’s not impossible).

Season rating-3

Erik Hurtado- We know what we get with Hurtado. Lots of effort, plenty of speed and a lack of any real quality.

It’s possible that Dos Santos will like his hustle for his pressing game but it might be time for Hurtado to move on.

Season Rating- 4.5

Nicolas Mezquida- We know what we get with Mezquida. Lots of effort, moments of quality and a lack of any real speed.

It’s possible that Dos Santos will like his hustle for his pressing game but it might be time for Mezquida to move on.

Season rating- 4.5

Alphonso Davies- Saving the best until last at least.

This season Davies went from being a young player with potential to being an actual player.

He lit up a number of games with his pace and his skill and provided almost all the moments of genuine joy for the fans watching the team.

He still had days when he tried to do too much or selected the wrong pass but playing with (and against) better players in Germany should move his game up to another level at least.

He will be missed for sure but he leaves with everybody in and around the club wishing him nothing but the best (and that won’t be true of all the departures in the off season).

Season rating- 7