Vancouver Whitecaps: Toward a Brighter Future!

Given that the Vancouver Whitecaps making up a six point and fourteen goal differential over the next two games is a mere formality before the playoffs begin Soccer Shorts can exclusively reveal that the club already has plans to make the 2019 season even better than 2018.

“Not possible!” You scream at your computer screen? Well, take a look at just some of the exciting new initiatives already being prepared for next year.

The Alphonso Davies Man of the Match Award- The Whitecaps recognize that it being impossible for their best player to ever win the Man of the Match award was a slight glitch in the system.

But next season that will no longer be an issue!

For 2019 the Whitecaps have negotiated an exclusive deal with the Provincial Government to designate BC Place an under age drinking area.

That’s right! From 2019 even the kids can enjoy the best sporting atmosphere in Vancouver.

And don’t forget to look out for the new pre-game activities on the Terry Fox Plaza as children of all ages try to compete with a hologram of Alphonso Davies as he downs a stein of German lager in one.

Don’t forget to use the hashtag #mykidbeatPhonzie to get your video on the big screen!

Post-Game Counselling Sessions- The Whitecaps organization also recognize that some games this season have raised issues that could affect their supporters on an emotional and psychological level.

That’s why they’ve appointed Naomi Wither-Flanders as the clubs new certified counsellor.

“I just feel it’s important to allow people to speak about what has happened to them” Naomi said in  a recent conference call “Sometimes it’s easy to gloss over how people are impacted by having to watch Brek Shea make a tackle or Erik Hurtado control the ball or Efrain Juarez simply playing football. Over time these issues can create a kind of numbness that spills over to their personal lives and hopefully through a mixture of both group and conversion therapy* I can help the fans to reach a level of acceptance”

*Conversion Therapy only available to season ticket holders.

Animatronic Robbo- Worried about the absence of Carl Robinson next season? Worry no more!

The Whitecaps have announced that an animatronic Robbo will be positioned on the edge of the home technical area for the duration of 2019.

Laugh as Animatronic Robbo throws his arms up in disbelief when a decision goes against the Whitecaps. Smile as Animatronic Robbo pats an opposition player on the back when he takes a throw in. Sigh as Animatronic Robbo tries to make a substitution in the sixty-fifth minute of every game.

Animatronic Robbo will also be available to rent for both business and personal functions.

Crowdsourcing Contracts- The Whitecaps have never had an issue in understanding MLS contracts. None.

But how can they make perfection even better?

By involving you!

“It’s really exciting” said Naomi Wither-Flanders the new Head of Soccer Operations “and it’s a real opportunity for us, the professionals, to use the amateurs to help us with our jobs”

That’s right! In 2019 the Whitecaps will allow all season ticket holders to go through every player contract with a fine tooth comb. Will you be the one to spot the clause that gives Cristian Techera tenure at UBC? Should Aaron Maund really be Canada’s Designated Survivor? And who put Yordy Reyna in charge of Translink?

Next season it’s up to you to figure these things out!

The Upper Tier at BC Place will be open- Perhaps the biggest news of all!

“It’s really exciting” said Naomi Wither-Flanders the clubs new marketing executive. “We had hoped that the upper tier would be open by 2025 at the earliest so to have achieved that goal six years ahead of schedule is a fantastic achievement for everybody concerned. Obviously some compromises will need to be made, including closing the whole of the lower tier, but I’m sure everybody will agree that’s a small price to pay for such a huge step forward”

But what about the temporary roof that hides the upper tier during home games? Will that remain in place and, if so, won’t that prevent supporters from seeing the game?

“It will remain in place” Naomi laughed “we just feel that not being able to see the game will improve the whole experience for everybody”

Stay tuned for further announcements during the off-season!

Vancouver Whitecaps: Stick a fork in them

If, at the start of the season, we had been told that Felipe and Jordon Mutch were penciled in to start a crucial home game in October we would no doubt think to ourselves “Hmm, they must have had good seasons”.

How wrong we would be!

The Whitecaps lost 4-1 to Sporting Kansas City at BC Place on Wednesday evening in a game that began with promise and ended as (yet another) neat summary of how terrible this season has been.

Not least among the issues was the number of players called up to international duty and also not least among the issues is that Vancouver have assembled a squad of some impressive depth (on paper at least) in which an astonishing number of players have barely kicked a ball in anger in the second half of the season.

Also not least among the issues is that they can’t keep a clean sheet even if their lives depended upon it. An issue that was beautifully highlighted by both central defenders, Aja and Maund, being shrugged aside by Kansas forwards as though they barely existed to give away two of the goals.

Also not least among the issues is that the best Vancouver player on the field is incapable of completing ninety minutes.

Brett Levis had a great game making challenge after interception after challenge but his obligatory onset of cramp in the last fifteen minutes forced Craig Dalrymple to make a final change at left back when energy up front was sorely needed.

It’s hard not to feel sorry for Dalrymple.

In the first half he got his side playing decent, even intelligent, football and if the odd chance here and there had been taken then perhaps the story would be a different one?

But in retrospect it simply felt as though the cannier Kansas were just waiting for the Whitecaps to tire before putting them to the sword.

Maybe it’s a shame that the relevance of season won’t be extended to one more game at least but really (and we all know this deep in our hearts) it doesn’t deserve to be extended.

If it were a dog this season would have been put out of its misery a good few weeks ago (or quarantined for suspected rabies sometime around May) so this quick ending is for the best.

All we can do now is look forward to the exciting new puppy that will be the 2019 season (while hoping more than a few of this squad get sent to the metaphorical farm to keep them out of harm’s way).

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Marinovic-5.5, Nerwinski-5.5, Levis-6*, Aja-3, Maund- 4.5, Mutch-5, Felipe-5.5, Shea-2, Mezquida-5.5, Hurtado-4, Kamara-5

Vancouver Whitecaps and the presence of absence

The Portuguese word Saudade superficially refers to the sadness we feel at the permanent absence of somebody or something from our lives.

But its meanings are far more layered than that.

It’s not quite grief because grief is mainly an expression of hollow emptiness whereas Saudade is a heady mix of nostalgia, sorrow and even the kind of strange pleasure we sometimes derive from thinking of things which make us sad.

But the best description of the word is “The presence of absence” because that acknowledges that some absences are tangible, palpable, things in and of themselves.

Almost separate entities from the object or person they derive from.

No doubt to many New Yorker’s the Twin Towers are still present by their absence and every displaced person will feel a sense of saudade for the land they were forced to leave behind and can never return to and we all have people or things that evoke a particular kind of loss that doesn’t quite fit the functional limits of the English language.

Saudade is such an evocative and useful word that I almost feel a sense of saudade for the absence of saudade in my life until now.

And the presence of absence will very much be a theme for the Vancouver Whitecaps in their game against Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday evening at BC Place.

Six regular first team players missing due to international call up is less than ideal for coach Craig Dalrymple as his side try to win the remaining three games that would clinch an unlikely playoff spot.

So what are his options?

Well Maund and Aja for Waston and Henry in central defence is a no brainer and the defence has been so prone to errors all season it doesn’t seem to matter who gets the start.

If he wants to continue with his 4-1-4-1 formation then Mezquida can fill in for Teibert as the high pressing forward.

Replacing Yordy Reyna isn’t quite so easy but this week Felipe expressed frustration that he wasn’t played further forward by Carl Robinson so this would be the ideal opportunity to slot the Brazilian in as the number ten.

He’s a very different type of player to Reyna but given the chance he has the ability to play a pass that can cut through a defence.

With Shea and Techera out wide (barring a surprise start for new signing Emnes) that just leaves the defensive midfield role up for grabs.

The obvious choice in terms of positioning and experience is Efrain Juarez but the Mexican has been such a wild card all season Dalrymple may think that’s too much of a risk. He could try Jordon Mutch as a kind of deep-lying playmaker but that would be at the expense of far too much defensive cover.

Another option is drafting in Sean Franklin to simply sit in front of the defence and operate as a kind of slightly further forward central defender.

Update: As pointed out by Glass City on Twitter de Jong is also an option here. My sources (my fevered imagination) had informed me that de Jong had been called up to the Canada squad but apparently not.

The Canadian has played there before without ever really convincing he was right for the role but he might well be the best of a bad bunch right now.

Or the coach could switch to a 4-3-3 and use the experience of Felipe, Mutch and Juarez in the middle to support Kamara, Shea and Techera up front.

None of these answers are wholly convincing and at least half the team will be faced with the challenge of being severely lacking in match fitness, but it’s not a bad starting eleven on paper and hints at just how much depth the Whitecaps have at their disposal.

But the season now rests on the shoulders of the players who were gradually left by the wayside as the year progressed.

Let’s hope they all feel they have something to prove.

Vancouver Whitecaps: There’s still hope!

So hope springs eternal for the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Well, maybe not “eternal” but at least until the next game because the 2-1 win in Toronto and other results around the league keep the Whitecaps within sniffing distance of a playoff place.

Interim coach Craig Dalrymple has been (perhaps surprisingly) conservative with his team selections; a Shea for a Techera being his most radical switch.

But he has moved Russell Teibert from the deep-lying, vague playmaker role that was so obviously not suited to his talents to a more forward pressing midfielder and that change paid dividends on Saturday afternoon.

Especially on the first goal.

For the first time in what feels like forever Vancouver did some actual passing and moving around the opposition penalty area and on the end of that passing and moving was Teibert, one of their central midfielders.

Unheard of!

The rest of the game was the story of two teams not quite doing what they were trying to do although “not quite” might be a generous assessment of Toronto FC.

The reigning MLS Cup champions were shambolic almost from the first whistle and the Whitecaps had more than one opportunity to break through their non-existent midfield and put the game out of reach but always lacked the decisive pass or the right decision.

It still remained fairly comfortable until disaster struck int he second half when Toronto had  a man sent off and the Whitecaps were forced to face their nemesis.

Ten men.

With crushing inevitability Doneil Henry put his hands where they shouldn’t be and Jozy Altidore converted the spot kick and the season seemed to be ebbing away once again.

Fortunately Toronto remained shambolic and substitute Jordon Mutch found himself with both acres of space and a calmer head than most of his teammates and he set up Kei Kamara for the tap in winner.

It’s far too late to speak of turning points at this stage of the season and there’s still a lot wrong with this team but Aly Ghazal is far better suited to being a lone defensive shield than as part of a pair (although he retains the ability to make at least one horrendously bad pass in every game) and neither Shea nor Techera will ever bring the consistency needed for a regular starting spot.

But Reyna having a hard worker like Teibert beside him frees him to be a creative threat and Kamara benefits from having players in the same colour shirt as him within thirty yards.

The playoffs are still a longshot at best and, because MLS is insane, the Whitecaps will be without half of their favoured starting eleven for their next game against Kansas but at least we still have more of that thing with feathers than we really should have given the kind of season this has been.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Marinovic- 6.5, Nerwinski-6, Levis-5.5, Waston-6, Henry-5, Ghazal-6, Shea-4, Teibert-6.5*, Reyna-6, Davies-5, Kamara-6

Vancouver Whitecaps play badly

So the “Fire Carl Robinson and hope we get a new coach bounce and sneak into the playoffs” gambit didn’t really work did it?

The Vancouver Whitecaps lost 3-0 to the LA Galaxy while playing in a manner which suggested they were more interested in the beaches of California than the opposition net.

But perhaps that’s a little unfair?

Maybe the whole performance was the team paying a heartfelt farewell homage to their former coach?

Two needlessly conceded penalties, a stunning lack of ambition and a blatant inability to master even the basic fundamentals of the game were certainly nice call backs to Robinson.

It’s hard to know by now whether these players are incapable of mastering those fundamentals or whether those fundamentals have been systematically eradicated from their arsenal over the last few years.

Whatever the answer to that riddle is the new coach’s first job will be to reintroduce (introduce?) his squad to the concept of passing and moving and somehow persuade them that the ball isn’t something to be quite so terrified of.

Hopefully his second job will be to place a moratorium on any talk of “rising to the challenge”, “never giving up” or some similar nonsense until the team prove they can actually rise to challenges and not give up during the time period between the referee’s first and last whistle.

Any bright spots from that game?

Well at least we are all a step closer to being definitively put out of our misery regarding the playoffs and Alphonso Davies was lively at times and Russell Teibert hustled.

But most of the time it felt as if the Whitecaps were approaching the game in much the same way as most of us watching; drifting in and out of concentration depending on the game state.

I don’t think any of them were actually checking their social media timeline but they may as well have been.

Poor Craig Dalrymple must have woken up in a cold sweat this morning (if he slept at all) because he now has to take this team to Toronto next week before bringing them home to what will surely be a less than full and less than enthusiastic BC Place.

Oh and then back down to Los Angeles just to relive the nightmare.

Playing Teibert alongside Mezquida to press the Galaxy back line was at least an interesting idea but whenever that press was bypassed (and it was bypassed a lot) the Whitecaps were outnumbered to an alarming degree.

It’s tempting to suggest he should mix things up even more when it comes to team selection for the remaining games but “mixing things up” when it comes to team selection is exactly how we got to where we are now.

So the best we can hope for is a moderately quiet and somewhat dignified end to it all.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Marinovic-4, de Jong-3, Nerwinski-4.5, Waston-3.5, Henry-3, Teibert-5, Ghazal-4, Shea-3, Mezquida-3, Davies-5.5*, Kamara-4 (Felipe 3.5)

Craig Dalrymple: Searching for Adventure

Craig Dalrymple wouldn’t be human if there wasn’t a small corner of his mind which thought “You know what? If I get this team to go on a run and sneak into the playoffs then this job just might be mine for the taking”.

That’s a long shot to be sure but not beyond the realms of possibility.

So what are his main challenges as the team fly to Los Angeles to take on the slightly bizarre Galaxy on Saturday?

Getting the mood right- Maybe dim the lights, put on Sinatra’s “Songs for Swingin’ Lovers” and spend a buck or two extra on that bottle of wine…

No wait, that’s for a different mood.

What Dalrymple needs to do is to make sure the players are in the right frame of mind following Carl Robinson’s departure and, in particular, that goes for Captain Kendall Waston.

The Costa Rican was noticeably angry about that departure earlier this week and a noticeably angry Waston is a red card waiting to happen.

Dropping the Captain would be a huge statement but it needs to be done if his head won’t be in the right place (which is on the end of set-pieces).

Change formation or change the eleven?- The Whitecaps were good against Seattle and okay against Dallas but it really does feel like they need a shake up if they are going to make that near impossible run to the post-season.

Three at the back? A genuine 4-3-3?

That’s probably asking too much in such a short space of time but if Dalrymple were to take my advice (Which Robinson very definitely refused to do and look what happened to him) he would stick with the 4-2-3-1 for now but play Felipe as the number ten behind Kamara and move Reyna wide in place of Techera.

Techera can drift in and out of effectiveness in any game but he drifts an awful lot more away from home and Reyna’s best position may well be out wide anyway.

I’ve not been impressed by Felipe at all this year but he seems like the kind of player/person who enjoys proving people wrong so he may be capable of turning in a performance after being left out of recent games by Robinson.

It’s a roll of the dice but it’s still a better option than the status quo (although their early singles were quite enjoyable to be fair).

Make a change when change is needed- Dalrymple could become a legend overnight if he just made a substitution in the first half (or even at half-time).

After watching Robinson make changes that were clearly based upon some kind of five year plan it would be nice to see a coach react spontaneously to the actual game situation.

Enjoy it- These might be his only five games in charge of a club at this level.

He should relish the opportunity and do anything he wants to do and to hell with the consequences (Within reason obviously. Don’t play Techera in goal for example).

Taxi for Carl Robinson

So farewell then Carl Robinson.

The Vancouver Whitecaps coach was “Released” today by the Vancouver Whitecaps just five games before the end of the season and there must be a sense of “release” in more than a few hearts given how flat out strange this season has been.

But Robinson started his time with Vancouver well and gave the club the steadying hand and defensive rigidity it so desperately needed.

But since that first campaign there’s never really been the sense that any significant progress would ever be made under his watch.

When players of genuine quality were brought in they could never quite find a role, leaving the coach tinkering with formations and systems until, with grim inevitability, he would head back to the comfort of two defensive midfielders and the familiar steadying hand and defensive rigidity would return.

And perhaps that really is all his time here ever was?

A constant ebb and flow of chaos followed by order and then order followed by chaos and so on and so on. At best Robinson turned out to be the solution to problems of his own creation and at worst he allowed the constant churn of players to cover up the stasis that had enveloped the club for at least the last two years.

Because Robinson wasn’t just hamstrung by the limitations of the players at his disposal, he was also hamstrung by his absolute belief in those limitations. The comfort of their failings was clung to like unassailable catechisms to become an overarching “Get Out of Jail Free” card for his own tactical timidity.

And that timidity really came to the fore in two defining playoff series.

In the first the Whitecaps travelled to a Timbers team playing on two days rest after a physically demanding ninety minutes, plus extra time, plus penalties against Kansas and, instead of going for the jugular, Robinson settled for a stalemate and was undone by a quick away goal in the second leg.

A braver or more ambitious club would have looked at those games and decided that he just wasn’t the man for the job.

But the Whitecaps didn’t do that. They stuck with their man and we all got to sit through those two playoff games against the Seattle Sounders where Vancouver were barely interested in scoring a goal let alone wining the tie.

Once again Robinson had retreated into a sense of inferiority when the chips were down.

That really, really should have been that but, once again, the Front Office crossed their fingers and hoped for the best and that’s how we got to this debacle of a season.

Players signed for no apparent reason, players played with no regard to form or position and Robinson and his coaching staff becoming more and more embittered with every passing failure.

Firing him now isn’t a brave act at all, it’s the act of desperate people and nobody comes out of the situation looking good.

But what could/should Robinson have done differently? Or even do differently in his next appointment?

Well for one thing he should start coaching like the young coach he is.

More often than not his whole approach to the game is more akin to a sixty-eight year old grizzled veteran of one too many lower league relegation scraps than a man in his first lead coaching role.

Talk of pragmatism and effort and the “boys wanting it” aren’t really the done thing now and the best coaches in the world manage to convey a kind of joy about the game.

Imagine how great that would be?

Not only working in the game he loves but putting across that love through the way his team play on the field.

Trusting gifted players to use their gifts and encouraging limited players to move beyond their limitations.

He might even have fun.

And you know what else might be fun? Engaging with the fans.

I can’t think of a time where Robinson has celebrated a Whitecaps goal with the whole stadium. Losing himself in the collective joy of the moment.

Instead he celebrates within the insular world of the bench. All boys together proving all the world wrong.

True that sense of resentment can be put to good effect in the right circumstance but fans notice these things. They notice the half-hearted applause in their direction on the walk to the bench, they notice how little mention or thanks or acknowledgment they get in interviews and that absence costs a deal of goodwill at the times when a coach might really need it.

Only time will tell where Robinson goes from here and whether he prospers or falters but we need to remember to always keep the distinction between the human being and the job.

By all accounts Robinson was popular with the players, popular with the media who cover the Whitecaps and popular with opponents.

Why that popularity failed to translate in his public persona is hard to say but what we can say is that while we can happily bid “good riddance” to Carl Robinson the coach we can at least wish “good luck” to Carl Robinson the man.