Look at the cute puppy!

So I was walking across the Cambie bridge after the Whitecaps lacklustre defeat to the Portland Timbers on Sunday evening when one of those adorable Pacific Assistance Dogs Society Golden Labradors appeared in front of me.

What a treat after such a terrible game!

But as I continued to watch her/him (Let’s just call the dog “Padsy” to save me any more gender confusion and also to protect his/her identity) anyway, as I continued to watch Padsy I became increasingly disillusioned with the behaviour displayed.

At first Padsy was distracted by simply seeing the water in False Creek, then some popcorn appeared by the railing and Padsy responded with almost uncontrollable excitement, then another dog sent Padsy into a fit of delight so unseemly that even Caleb Porter would feel embarrassed at the excess.

“Tut, tut Padsy” I thought to myself as I observed these demonstrations of both ill discipline and pointless expectation.

Padsy didn’t seem to realize that trying the same thing over and over again without success was the errand of a fool and I genuinely began to wonder if Padsy had ever even heard of Einstein’s famous maxim.

But then my thoughts turned to the person walking Padsy (Let’s call them “Walky” to save me any gender confusion and also to protect his/her identity) because Walky just didn’t seem interested in improving Padsy’s behaviour at all.

At the very moment when Padsy needed somebody to calmly explain that what they were doing wasn’t really working out Walky seemed oblivious to the issue.

When Walky was presented with a terrific opportunity to make Padsy a better dog simply by employing the right mix of punishment and praise Walky opted out and let things carry on as they were even though they clearly weren’t working.

How could I blame Padsy for being oblivious to the aphorisms of Einstein if Walky was equally bereft of such knowledge?

In the end we went our separate ways with Padsy and Walky as happy as two clams at a wedding reception with an open bar and me desperately trying to think of a good metaphor for all that is wrong with the Whitecaps.

 

 

 

A familiar story for the Vancouver Whitecaps

To be fair to Carl Robinson he has solved one long standing issue with his Whitecaps team this season; they no longer view conceding the first goal as necessarily fatal to their chances in any game.

But an issue he has very definitely not solved is how to beat a team who come to BC Place with the main intention of sitting back and stifling Vancouver.

On Sunday afternoon the Portland Timbers were decimated by injuries, suspensions and international call ups but still managed to leave the building with all three points after a fairly simple 2-1 win.

They were helped out massively in that regard by the Whitecaps starting the game seemingly confident in the knowledge that simply turning up would be enough to secure the win and that displaying any kind of urgency would really be quite unnecessary.

They paid the price for that attitude by conceding the inevitable goal which gave the visitors a sense of belief that could, and should, have been snuffed out of them by a home team attacking with gusto from the get go.

Miraculously the Whitecaps levelled just before half-time through the obligatory set-piece and there was suddenly the hope that such an unlikely reprieve would tempt the coach into making the changes needed during the break.

He didn’t of course and his side came out with the exact same plan in the second half and promptly conceded again and that, effectively, was all she wrote.

A couple more set-piece scrambles offered a glimmer of hope but nothing more and eventually the Whitecaps capitulated to a Cascadian rival with barely a whimper.

So what went wrong besides the intangibles of “attitude” and “heart”?

Well the major tactic on the day seemed to be to hit long balls for the lone striker to run on to and mostly that lone striker didn’t get anywhere near the ball because he was surrounded by at least three Portland defenders.

But even if he did get the ball he couldn’t do anything with it because he was surrounded by at least three Portland defenders.

Fortunately though Carl Robinson had a plethora of attacking options to utilize from his bench and he used these to good effect.

Just kidding, he may well have used those options but in ways that became more and more mysterious as the game wore on.

First it was Reyna to replace Mezquida in the exact same role that wasn’t working anyway, then Davies for Tchani in the middle, then Shea for Montero which moved Bolaños  into the middle, Davies out wide and put Shea up front.

And through all those changes the Whitecaps still managed to leave their lone striker isolated from the rest of the team.

Shea as centre-forward is a terrible idea anyway but if he is going to play there then there has to be somebody near him to pick up any knock downs. I mean, there won’t be any knock downs because Shea isn’t a centre forward but at least that feels vaguely like a plan.

There was a telling moment in the second-half when both teams had a player down injured resulting in a lengthy stoppage.

Portland coach Caleb Porter used that time to call a group of his players over and detail what he wanted from them for the rest of the game. Carl Robinson decided that the time would be better spent complaining to the fourth official.

Hard to know which approach would help a team more.

Once again the Whitecaps have wasted an opportunity to give themselves some breathing space in the playoff race and now face three tough road games before they are back at BC Place in the middle of August.

The most concerning thing of all though is that while we’ve all been looking forward to having a full squad of fit players available we didn’t stop to think whether the coach would know how to use those players to good effect.

The signs from Sunday are that he probably doesn’t.

One step forward and one step back as always with this team.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Ousted- 6*, Nerwinski-6, Harvey-6, Parker-6, Jacobson-6-Laba-6, Tchani-5.5, Bolaños-6, Techera-4.5, Mezquida-5, Montero-5 (Reyna-5.5, Davies-5, Shea-5.5) 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two sides to the Whitecaps LA story

So the Vancouver Whitecaps beat the LA Galaxy 1-0 in Carson City on Wednesday evening, a great three points to be sure.

But but before we look at all the good that entails let’s first of all wallow in a little negativity.

Sure, a road win in MLS is a good thing but this LA team are really bad right now and the if the Whitecaps had shown any kind of cutting edge at all they would have won the game by two or three goals at least.

But time and time again either the final ball was wayward or the final run was askew leaving Vancouver reliant on a set-piece goal and the insubstantial nature of the LA attack.

No team hoping to go deep into the post-season can afford to spurn chances in the way the Whitecaps did.

Okay, now we’ve got that out of the way let’s focus on the positive.

MLS is a weird League and it’s almost certainly foolish to make any kind of definitive predictions but this felt like a decisive moment in the season for Carl Robinson and his players.

Suddenly they are up to fourth place in the Western Conference standings, with games in hand on almost all of their rivals, and the roster is no longer being thinned by injuries.

That meant that DP Brek Shea didn’t start and although Tony Tchani still seems to be half a second too slow on the ball his presence is clearly providing value as a defensive shield in the middle of the park and it was his header from a Bolaños free-kick that did for the Galaxy in the end.

Elsewhere both Mezquida and Montero toiled without much joy up front but Andrew Jacobson had his best game as a fill in central defender and Jake Nerwisnki once again did enough to keep Sheanon Williams kicking his heels on the bench.

Shout out too to David Ousted who has been unreliable at times this season but produced one very good and one genuinely great save to earn himself a well deserved clean sheet.

Next time out for the Whitecaps it’s a depleted Portland Timbers (Gold Cup, red cards) at BC Place on Sunday afternoon and they currently sit level on points with their Cascadian rials with three games in hand.

A win in that game would be a huge blow for the Timbers and an even huger fillip for the Whitecaps and there’s now the possibility (Just the possibility) that Vancouver can soon stop worrying about whether they will actually get into the playoff picture and start being far more concerned with where they fit into that final scenario.

It could all still go horribly wrong of course but, for the first time this season, the Whitecaps can look forward to the rest of the year with expectation rather than hope.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Ousted-7, Nerwinski-6.5, Parker-6.5, Jacobson-6.5-Harvey-6.5, Laba-6, Tchani-6, Bolaños-7*, Techera-6.5, Mezquida-6, Montero-6 

 

MLS: A Journey in Space and Time

The news that the BBC have announced Jodie Whittaker (A woman!) to play the role of the thirteenth Doctor Who means two things.

Firstly, it’s probably best to avoid Twitter for a while as many “traditionalists” will be undergoing a collective meltdown.

Secondly (And far more importantly) it also means that the BBC seem to have rejected my idea for a new time travelling hero “Doctor Today! (It’s always today where he is)”.

But never mind for I will now be pitching a series of scripts for the new Doctor based around characters in Major League Soccer.

The crossover potential is huge and should also enable the BBC to tap into a whole new demographic of transatlantic sports fans.

I don’t want to give too much away at the moment but here are just a few of the villains the new Doctor will be encountering in the upcoming season.

The Dempsey- Raised in the mining caves of the planet Thworg the Dempsey are a sullen and hollow-eyed race of slow-witted workers who unexpectedly stumble upon the plans to a cyber technology that will transform them into unstoppable killing machines.

Too stupid to realize this however they immediately tear up these plans and go back to working in the caves.

In the final scene the Doctor makes a moving speech about how humanity can still be found in even the simplest of alien life forms before blowing up the whole planet and sending the Dempsey into sweet, sweet oblivion.

The Bradley– A super race of dome-headed killers from the planet Thwug the Bradley hound the Doctor to the very edges of time itself, constantly complaining about her decision to park the Tardis a little bit to the left of where the Bradley thought it should be.

The Doctor eventually defeats the Bradley by using her Sonic Screwdriver to remove their vocal chords thus taking away their sole reason to exist.

The Teibert- Perhaps the most terrifying of all the Doctor’s new foes the Teibert are a shape-shifting race of mind-melders from the planet Thwog.

The Doctor’s attempts to interrogate the Teibert on why they are so hell-bent on destroying the universe receives nothing but the bone chilling and soulless reply “That question is canceled” over and over again.

The younger kids will be having nightmares after this one.

The Porter- The Porter are an obnoxious and paranoid race from the planet Thwag. Their constant attempts to ingratiate themselves with species of a higher intellect provides one of the more comic episodes of the new season.

And the final scene in which the Doctor rebuffs an attempted high-five from the Porter should be a gift to GIF makers for many a year to come.

The Robinson- The Robinson are a race of super androids created by the former rulers of the planet Thwig many light years ago.

But the Thwig civilization has long since perished and the Robinson programming has now degraded to such a degree that they are only able to utter a few random and meaningless phrases.

“Fine lines”, “This will make us stronger” and “You have to get that right” are just a few of the catchphrases destined to be chanted in the playgrounds of Britain in 2018.

The Doctor finally defeats the Robinson by changing her plan of attack halfway through the episode.

There will be more updates on the new Doctor and MLS crossover franchise accord as they become available, but don’t forget to also look out for the Doctor’s new companion VAR, a sentient computer system who somehow manages to get far more things wrong than he really should.

 

Whitecaps v NYCFC: What did we learn?

The 3-2 win over New York City FC at BC Place on Wednesday evening was arguably the Vancouver Whitecaps’ best game of the season in terms of pure drama.

But in the cold light of  day what lessons can we take from the game as we all head into a probably much-needed break from the recent maelstrom of events and incidents surrounding the club?

One Jordy Reyna does not make a summer- it was great to finally see the Peruvian on the field and it was even greater to see that he played the game in exactly the way advertised; a mixture of trickery and directness with a clear eye for goal.

But he arrived on the scene against an opponent who were themselves still pushing for the winner and thus leaving wide open spaces at the back.

If Reyna is really going to be a difference maker in the kind of home games the Whitecaps have so much trouble in winning, the kind where the visitors just back and frustrate, then he’ll need to be used as much more than just a maverick presence.

Carl Robinson’s job now is to figure out how he can combine the attacking talents of Reyna, Montero and Bolaños in particular.

Because if he can do that then his side may finally possess the means to break down any MLS defence.

Formations don’t matter- this is one of the coach’s go to comments in any post-game interview and, on this occasion at least, he was proved right.

The Whitecaps started both halves in a 4-2-3-1 formation but whereas the first forty-five minutes felt like watching a training session in which one side were not permitted to cross the half-way line, the second half showed the value of getting the ball to the three players just behind Fredy Montero.

Once Techera, Bolaños and (When he arrived) Reyna actually got some decent possession the game was suddenly a lot harder to control for New York.

It makes no sense to use players of creative quality as what amounts to the first line of a defensive midfield so let’s hope this win imbues the coach with the confidence to release the better instincts of his quality players.

Jake Nerwinski has earned another start- the youngster may only have fallen into the right-back spot for non-footballing reasons and he may have been poor in Chicago (Although everybody was poor in Chicago) but on Wednesday he was solid at the back and a genuine threat going forward.

Even after he’d set up the winning goal with an excellent cross Carl Robinson had to virtually dive onto the field to stop Nerwinski from charging forward as the clock ticked down passed the ninety minute mark.

Nerwinski has taken his chance and he should be rewarded for that.

The Robinson/Tchani relationship is interesting- there’s not a game goes by without the coach bellowing instructions to Tony Tchani. Now, admittedly he does this to other players as well but to nothing like the degree he does with Tchani.

We can only speculate as to why that might be but the fact that he’s stuck with the player through a number of average at best performances must mean that Robinson sees something in the player that has yet to materialize in Vancouver.

Robinson did play in a similar midfield role in his playing days so maybe that propels him to offer more advice than usual, but there was a moment in the first-half when Tchani seemed to be gesturing towards the touchline and advising his coach to calm down a tad.

It will be interesting to see if Robinson’s input ultimately results in a player who can be genuinely influential on the field.

Kendall Waston shows his importance- there probably wasn’t much doubt about this but the return of the captain certainly helped Nerwinski to a better all round game and it also gave the whole back line greater solidity.

Dubious penalty call aside the Whitecaps may well have fallen too far behind to mount any kind of second half comeback had Waston not been on the field.

Keeping both Waston and Parker seems essential for any continuing success this season.

 

Vancouver Whitecaps survive a Wednesday night with Toledo

If ever a game could be filed away in the clichéd vaults of “A game of two halves” then the Vancouver Whitecaps 3-2 win over New York City FC at BC Place on Wednesday evening would be it.

The Whitecaps took the lead early when Fredy Montero pounced on an error by the visitors and from that moment on it felt as though the rest of the half was a concerted effort by everybody on the team to categorically disprove one of Carl Robinson’s favourite maxims: “The first goal is crucial”.

It’s certainly not crucial when the team scoring it then fail to show any kind of attacking intent and are content to sit passively back and allow their opponents to dictate the play.

The inevitable first goal came from a poorly defended corner kick and the second from the equally inevitable Baldermo Toledo controversial penalty decision.

Carl Robinson and his team probably had cause to complain about that particular decision but in their heart of hearts they must have known that the scoreline accurately reflected the balance of play.

Characteristically the Whitecaps coach had watched his team underperform in the first half and so chose to do absolutely nothing about that fact from a personnel point of view.

Uncharacteristically this actually seemed to work and his side came out with a genuine sense of purpose that was sorely lacking before the whistle.

Suddenly Vancouver were taking the game to New York, suddenly the likes of Bolaños, Techera and Montero were getting on the ball instead of acting as de facto defensive midfielders and (Perhaps most importantly of all) suddenly the BC Place crowd held a sense of belief that the hometown heroes could produce something of note every time they came forward.

And, lo and behold, a Bolaños cross was volleyed home by Jordan Harvey and the game was well and truly afoot.

And then the introduction of Yordy Reyna with thirty minutes remaining added an extra spark to the affair as the Peruvian displayed the kind of trickery and directness that has largely been an anathema to the Whitecaps for most of the year.

Yet when the striker blazed over from six yards out with just five minutes to go it seemed as though the chance for the three points had gone.

But the with a minute to go the tireless Jake Nerwinski won the ball on the halfway line, continued with his run and then delivered the perfect cross for Reyna to head powerfully home.

The game was won and people at a Whitecaps game were actually having a good time!

One game does not make a season of course and anybody who wants a cold hard reality check should probably just watch that first half again to see just how anaemic the Whitecaps were in all aspects of the game.

But if that second half can convince Carl Robinson that taking the initiative at home is a far more effective plan than relinquishing it then at least we can all go into the mid-season break with a sliver of belief that this team can grow into something better.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Ousted-6.5, Nerwinski-6.5, Harvey-6.5, Parker-6.5, Shea-6, Tchani-6, Jacobson-6, Techera-6-Bolaños-6.5, Montero-6.5* (Reyna-6.5)

 

How to fix the Vancouver Whitecaps

Before we get on to any kind of tactical discussion let’s first address something said by Carl Robinson in his post game comments after the 4-0 defeat to the Chicago Fire.

Asked to outline what went wrong the coach said

“Attitude and energy. That’s what we didn’t have in the first half. We were there and we were running beside people, and I thought we weren’t making contact. We were playing in probably second gear”

That certainly feels like the ideal opportunity for Robinson to make a “statement” substitution. His team is trailing 3-0 and he clearly feels that at least some of his players aren’t giving their all for the cause.

So take somebody off after thirty minutes to let them know how unacceptable that is. Send a message to the rest of the team that any sign of lack of commitment will be showcased for all to see.

But Robinson isn’t, and probably doesn’t want to be, that kind of coach and a double change wasn’t made until six minutes into the second half.

Oh well.

But now that a number of players are returned or returning from injury what’s the best way for the coach to use the more plentiful resources available?

TRIGGER WARNING- THE FOLLOWING WILL CALL FOR A RETURN TO THE 4-2-3-1 FORMATION AND THE POSSIBLE INCLUSION OF ERIK HURTADO!

Looking back at recent deals the Whitecaps have made it sort of feels they have mostly gone for the players they want rather than those they actually need; stocking up on wide midfielders while leaving the rest of the field largely untouched.

So when discussing any starting lineup it’s best to reverse that thinking and try to live in the tactical world we need rather than the one we want.

And we’ll also be living in a world that doesn’t include hypothetical signings, so there won’t be any Atiba Hutchinson magic bullet to solve all the problems.

The Whitecaps can only play the players they have and sooner or later Robinson will have to bite the bullet (Not the Atiba Hutchinson magic bullet, a different one) and play those players in the positions they are actually best suited to.

If he does do that he will end up with the following.

A fairly predictable back four of Harvey, Parker, Waston, and Nerwisnki/Williams (dependant upon the circumstances of the latter).

For the defensive two you can take your pick out of Laba, Tchani, Jacobson and Teibert. They all have their strengths and they all have their weaknesses in that role.

If pushed I would start Jacobson and Laba, but if somebody wants to argue for another combination then that’s not a hill I would want to die on (I don’t want to die on any hill! Why am I dying on a hill?)

The next three is where it gets interesting and where the lopsided nature of the recent transfers become apparent.

But as things stand Bolaños and Techera have earned the right to a starting position out wide.

We can then drop Fredy Montero back from his lone striking spot to a number ten role (He actually drops back there anyway to try to get the ball) and, for now, give Bernie Ibini a chance to prove his worth as the kind of powerful striker that Carl Robinson’s style of play desperately calls out for.

The disadvantages of this system are clear.

Too many defensive players, no starting gig for Shea, Reyna, Davies etc. and there’s still the chance that the disconnect between the midfield and the forwards will be painfully obvious.

But here are the advantages.

Players are playing in their best position and there’s a genuine alternative at every one of those positions, which should make the fight for places genuinely intense if managed correctly.

And did I mention that players are playing in their best position?

Nobody would pretend that a lineup which even hints at the possibility of Erik Hurtado being a regular starter (If Ibini fails to perform) will go on to win the MLS Cup, but we are where we are.

It was refreshing to see Robinson try different tactical options earlier in the season but we’re approaching the stage where a number of MLS teams are clearly finding both their groove and their feet and the time for consistency and certainty is fast approaching for any side looking to push on in the second half of the campaign.

If not now then when? If not this then what? if not who then why? If not how then which?

I commend this lineup to the house.