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)

Vancouver Whitecaps walk right back to winning ways

Before we take a deep dive into the minutiae of analytics and tactics for which this blog is rightly revered, can we first acknowledge how great it was to be back watching live football again?

The manner of the result helped of course, but it was also about the off the ball vignettes you can never see when watching on a screen.

Florian Jungwirth constantly shouting the team on from the bench, the kit man desperately trying to get the blood out of Javain Brown’s discarded shirt (Why the laundry needed to be done quite so urgently is a question for another day) and the sheer mixture of exhilaration and relief shown by Marc Dos Santos in the moment he realized the game was won.

And how great was it to see that the price of the concessions at BC Place remain hilariously exorbitant?

It all felt surprisingly normal. Not “new normal”, just normal.

And the game felt that way too in the first half. The Whitecaps started brightly, pressing LAFC into mistake after mistake without ever looking likely to make the breakthrough the home crowd were aching for.

Then, around the twenty minute mark, Vancouver lost all momentum and the confidence visibly drained from the team. Nobody wanted the ball and those who did get the ball wanted to get rid of it as quickly as possible, regardless of who it went to.

It felt inevitable that the visitors would score and they did with a penalty that probably was one in real time, but shouldn’t have been one on VAR review.

But that penalty probably did Dos Santos a favour since it forced his hand in bringing on both Gauld and Baldisimo on for the start of the second half. Baldisimo always looks for the forward pass and Gauld, once again, gave the whole team a lift simply with his presence.

The Whitecaps still weren’t great, but they did at least test an LAFC defence that struggled to deal with anything other than the most straightforward of forays into their ranks.

Yet even the most world weary of cliched hacks could have written the script whereby Gauld scores the winning goal in the final minutes of the game. And he did just that by demonstrating an ability to drift into open space in the penalty area (This ability basically counts as a super power if you are a Whitecap) and his team saw out the inevitably extended period of added time with surprising ease.

The three points accrued felt vital from this game. Not just in terms of the standings, but in terms of giving the players the sense that BC Place was a good place to be. That it was home.

And, all other considerations aside, the coaches and the players deserved that moment after all they have been through in the last eighteen months and, quite frankly, so did we.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Crepeau-6*, Nerwinski-5, Brown-5.5, Veselinovic-5, Rose-4, Bikel-5, Teibert-4, Owusu-5, Dajome-3, Caicedo-5.5, White-5 (Gauld-5.5, Baldisimo-5.5).

Vancouver Whitecaps crack the road code

By hook or by crook the Whitecaps have somehow maneuvered themselves into a position where making the playoffs can officially be classed as “not inconceivable”.

Although the first half of the 2-1 win against Austin only served to remind us all of their shortcomings.

The better team against a poor opposition, they lacked the will and the ability to press home their advantage and went into the break trailing by a goal.

Then Marc Dos Santos broke from tradition and introduced a substitute at half time. And Ryan Gauld made all the difference.

Not so much in his play (although that obviously helped) but more in the overall sense of belief he seemed to inspire in his teammates.

The belief that, if they passed the ball forward quickly they might create more chances than if they passed the ball backwards slowly.

And it worked!

Gauld was involved in both goals and they now come home to BC Place for a Saturday evening game that isn’t just about seeing them in the flesh, but is also one where they have some skin in the game in terms of the postseason.

There’s been a lot of hope built on that return and anybody who has followed this team for more than a few months will know that hope is the most dangerous feeling of all.

But never mind, we should enjoy the moments while we can.

Somewhat ironic of course that they finally figure out how to win on the road in the final game before they embark on a run of home matches. But there we are.

Next stop BC Place!

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Crepeau-5, Brown-4.5, Nerwisnki-5.5*, Veselinovic-5, Rose=5, Teibert-4.5, Bikel-5.5, Owusu-4.5, Dajome-5, Caicedo-4, White-4.5 (Gauld-5.5).

Vancouver Whitecaps: Slow and Steady

Whether you think the Whitecaps 0-0 tie with San Jose on Friday evening was a good result or not depends on your perspective.

If you think the rest of the season is an attempt to get into the playoffs then it’s almost certainly not enough.

If you think the rest of the season is an attempt at keeping Marc Dos Santos in his role for next season then it might just about be fine.

Let’s deal with the playoffs first.

There seems to be an assumption in some quarters that, once the Whitecaps return to BC Place, there will be a change in both their form and their fortunes.

Any maybe there will be some kind of uptick in the results at first, but they will still be who they are no matter where they are located (and isn’t that true of all of us to some extent?) And the game against San Jose was a classic example of who they are.

A limited team led by a coach who plays to the limitations.

The tactic was clear.

Keep the game tight for sixty minutes and then introduce Gauld and Dajome to try to steal it at the end.

And it worked.

Apart from the “stealing it at the end” aspect of the plan, which kind of was the whole plan really.

Not that the players can be blamed. A midfield of Bikel, Owusu and Teibert is never going to unlock a defence. And watching Teibert and Nerwinski attempting to make attacking progress down the left was like watching two Englishman trying to order Sheperd’s Pie in an Oaxacan Cantina.

Commendable effort but no discernable results.

It’s frustrating to think that just a tad more tactical bravery could have turned all these interminable ties into a combination of wins and losses that could have put more points on the board (unbeaten run be damned).

So if the team isn’t set up to make the playoffs for this season, is it set up to keep Dos Santos in the role for next?

Maybe.

He’s a coach who is happier to just fail and justify that failure with excuses (some reasonable, some not) and examples of “what ifs” and “could have beens” than he is to aim for success and and risk his team being fully exposed.

So, if the Whitecaps improve somewhat toward the end of the campaign and fall short of the post-season by a maybe win or two, then no doubt Dos Santos will point to the time spent away in Utah and injuries and the late arrival of Gauld to justify another run at making this team a success.

There’s every reason to think he might be given that chance, but there’s very little reason to think he would succeed.

He is what he is and neither a different time nor a different place will change that.

His essence precedes his existence.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

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

Vancouver Whitecaps: Still Breathing

The LA Galaxy’s Dignity Health Stadium sounds as though it is sponsored by a corporation who specialize in ensuring your aged loved ones are ushered from the the realms of the living in a tasteful and thoughtful fashion.

Grandma not quite able to climb the stairs anymore? Let Dignity Health make her final few breaths on this earth as meaningful as the long (but not quite as long as she was hoping for) life she has lived.

But it’s not. Dignity Health are a fine upstanding company who run excellent hospitals and health centres and no doubt have access to some very good lawyers.

It did however seem as though the Vancouver Whitecaps were seeing the lights extinguished from their season during a first half in which they failed to attack, defend or midfield successfully.

This wasn’t helped by the absence of Dajome and Gutierrez, nor the decision to replace them with White and Nerwinski respectively.

Nor was it helped by the performance of Lucas Cavallini who, once again, ambled around the pitch with little interest in contributing other than berating a teammate or two for not working hard enough.

Although he did show commendable courage by, immediately after declaring himself unfit to continue, producing an overhead kick which grazed the post.

In Cavallini’s absence the Whitecaps were much better in the second half.

Whether that was correlation or causation is unclear, but once White was moved to his more accustomed central role the Vancouver forward line pressed the Galaxy into mistake after mistake and probably ended the game with a vague sense of regret that they didn’t take all three points.

Obviously it would be remiss not to comment on the late introduction of the player we have all been waiting to see and, thankfully, he did not disappoint.

Leonard Owusu was immediately involved in the game, wanting the ball and looking to push forward whenever the opportunity arose.

Hopefully that is just a taste of what is to come.

Yet there still remains the sense that the Whitecaps are getting better without ever quite doing enough to win games they should be winning and the likelihood is that they will die the death of a thousand ties in terms of making the playoffs.

Playing well for both halves of a game would also be a good tactic to employ.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Crepeau 5, Brown-5.5, Nerwisnki-5.5, Godoy-5.5, Veselinovic-5.5, Metcalfe-4, Alexandre-2, Bikel-5.5, White-5, Caicedo-5.5*, Cavalini-2 (Raposo-4, Teibert-5.5)

Vancouver Whitecaps: Still not adding up

With the scores tied at half-time in the Saturday evening game between the Whitecaps and Minnesota United Adrian Heath, the Minnesota coach, decided that his team weren’t good enough and made a change.

It worked and Minnesota dominated the second half.

Meanwhile Marc Dos Santos watched all this happen, made one switch that made his team more defensive, and then waited until his team conceded the inevitable goal before changing to a more attacking lineup and discovering that (Spoiler alert!) playing a more attacking lineup means more attacks.

More attacks means more chances for “things” to happen and Cristian Dajome “won” a last gasp penalty to give the Whitecaps a point they didn’t deserve.

And that point might not be enough anyway. They now face three road games in eight days before they (finally) return to BC Place. And, no doubt, we will hear much about how tough that schedule is in the coming days (while perhaps ignoring that Minnesota were on their third game in eight days without that seeming to be a reason for Vancouver to take advantage of their plight).

The jury has been out on whether Dos Santos is an innately conservative coach or simply one who isn’t capable of sending out a team that can take control of the game.

It’s probably a little bit of Column A and a little bit of Column B, but the arrival of Ryan Gauld should settle the matter once and for all.

And while there are those who think that the appearance of a “Number 10” heralds a new era of free flowing football, samba style soccer and the dawning of the new Age of Enlightenment, all signs point to Gauld being mainly a “get out of jail free” card for Dos Santos. Set up the team in a way that shows ultimate respect to the opponent and hope that Gauld can create something from the scraps.

In a way Minnesota offer some hope that this might work.

Nobody would describe Adrian Heath as a tactical mastermind (Maybe Heath himself I suppose?) but the arrival in recent seasons of better players has allowed him to allow the team to be the sum of their parts and that’s been good enough to make them a playoff team.

And that’s what we have to hope for once Gauld begins to play.

That Dos Santos can find a system that allows Gauld to be on the ball and that he selects the right players to make that system work.

To at least make the team he sends out add up to the sum of their parts.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Hasal-, 4, Nerwinski-5, Gutierrez-4.5, Godoy-4.5, Veselinovic-5, Teibert-4.5, Bikel-3.5, Baldisimo-3, Caicedo-4.5, Dajome-5*, White-4 (Metcalfe-4)

Vancouver Whitecaps do not disappoint us

What a strange situation.

The Whitecaps 2-2 tie with LAFC was a game in which the team played to their strengths, worried one of the better teams in the league and offered a blueprint for how they can achieve success going forward (in every sense of the word).

So what went right?

Gutierrez and Caicedo on the left and Brown with Dajome on the right offer both attacking and defensive options.

The two full backs are always keen to get forward and the two wide players are always happy to help out in defence (often from the front).

There was also more directness in attack. The willingness to hit an early cross and try to make something happen actually made things happen. So much more effective than the instinct to stop, pause and play the safe pass that allows the opposition to regroup.

Godoy and Veselinovic have been allowed time to form some kind of partnership. And the latter’s ability on the ball, and confidence to make use of that ability, offers more control than the patented long ball to who knows who.

The whole team had confidence on the ball. Willing to play out of the press rather than avoid it and so open up LAFC to the always dangerous counterattack.

But perhaps it was the midfield that made the real difference?

Alexandre always wants to play the forward pass, Baldisimo is becoming a nice hybrid of a holding player who can create and Bikel was exceptional at breaking up play and getting forward when the opportunity arose.

So that meant a three man midfield where all three offer some kind of attacking threat. Yes, you read that correctly.

A word to for Brian White, who will never be the long term solution, but offered decent hold up abilities and played with an unselfishness that allowed others to get into dangerous positions.

Impressive too was the way the team as a whole responded to the LA equalizer. Not dropping deep and fearful of conceding a third but pushing for (and probably deserving) a winning goal of their own.

Phew!

A whole slew of sentences outlining how good the Whitecaps were. What a world!

None of this means that all problems are solved of course. This is still the same team that were so turgid against Houston just one week ago.

But it does mean that the problems can be solved.

That there’s already enough in this squad to be competitive in MLS if allowed to play in the right way.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Hasal-5.5, Brown-6.5, Gutierrez-7*, Godoy, 6.5, Veselinovic, -6.5, Baldsismo-6, Bikel-7, Alexandre-5.5, Dajome-6.5, Caicedo-6.5, White-5.5

The Vancouver Whitecaps are not brillig

For years we’ve been told that the Whitecaps are disadvantaged by being based in Vancouver because the travel is so arduous.

For years we’ve been told that visiting Salt Lake is so tough because the home team have the advantage of training and playing at high altitude.

If nothing else good comes from this sinkhole of a season can we at least put an end to these kinds of excuses and get out clauses?

If the Whitecaps are not very good it’s because they’re not very good.

Those of us who hoped the win against the Galaxy would kickstart the team (and the coach) into playing with more determination and brio were left to sigh discontentedly as Vancouver approached the game against a very poor Houston team with the air of a side who thought that winning would be nice but not really all that important.

A moderately decent first half gave way to a listless second and any chance to give the season momentum was cast aside in favour of just letting the game drift away as though it were a pre-season friendly.

It’s not that the players didn’t try.

It’s just that they seem to be the equivalent of chess pieces being governed by a player who understands the rules of the game but doesn’t have a concept of how to make moves that disrupt an opponent.

Move the little horsey thing forward, then move the little horsey thing back again.

I don’t believe there’s an atom of meaning in it.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Hassal-5, Nerwinski-4.5, Gutierrez-5.5, Veselinovic-5.5, Rose-5, Teibert-4, Bikel-5.5, Baldisimo-4, Dajome-6*, Caicedo-5, White-3