Vancouver Whitecaps throw a dead cat onto the table

There are some political strategists who swear by the “dead cat” strategy.

If things are going badly, they argue, just throw a metaphorical dead cat onto the table and everybody gets distracted from your failure by the fallen feline.

And what we got with the Whitecaps 4-2 defeat at the hands of the Montreal Impact in a smoky BC Place on Sunday evening was a series of dead cats thrown onto the turf, each of which will probably distract us from the fact that Vancouver were, after the first twenty minutes, terrible.

Bu they did start well.

Pressing effectively and creating chances with incisive passing, but then it faded. They reverted to type and began to lose possession with crushing regularity.

The midfield was non-existent, the defending was shambolic and the goalkeeping was erratic.

They were lucky to go into the break only one goal behind, but Marc Dos Santos didn’t feel the need to make any changes until his team inevitably went into a two goal deficit early into the second half.

Cue the first dead cat of four substitutes at once. Then cue the second dead cat of Lucas Cavallini foolishly picking up a second yellow card and then even more foolishly getting involved in further shenanigans before leaving the field.

It went to 4-1 before before Montreal introduced their own deceased mouser by somehow managing to get a red card that was even more foolish than Cavallini’s.

A scrappy own goal pulled Vancouver back to within two, but after that they never really looked like adding another apart from a great chance for Russell Teibert which was cleared off the line.

A Teibert goal would probably have been the equivalent of an exploding tiger in terms of distraction, but it wasn’t to be and the game petered out with a purr as the Impact wrestled back some decorum and took the win.

Once the chaos has died down the Whitecaps are going to have to accept that they continually fail to approach even basic competence in every part of the pitch for long stretches of every game.

There’s no discernible long term strategy, just tactical changes made with hindsight and not foresight. Just the hope that individuals can rise above the mediocrity of the collective from moment to moment.

Nobody can be watching this and think it’s acceptable no matter what the distractions happen to be.

How many cats have to die for this team?

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Hasal-3, Godoay-3, Rose-3, Cornelius-3, Adnan-2, Teibert-3, Baldisimo-4, Owusu-2, Milinkovic-5*, Bair-4, Cavallini-1 (Montero-4, Guttierez-4, Dajome-4, Nerwinski-4)

Vancouver Whitecaps: Autumn Special!

Before we get to the meat of the issues that really count we should acknowledge that the Whitecaps will be playing the Impact tonight. A game that will end in a 2-1 victory for Vancouver with Cavallini and Ricketts the goal scorers.

Now that we have dealt with that minor issue we can move on to the two main items of note to occur in the wonderful world of the Whitecaps this week.

The big news is that they are now scheduled to play three more games in September, including a “home” game against Portland in Portland.

Leaving aside the absurdity of what counts as home or away games in MLS, it’s tough to think of a worse place to be playing football than Portland right now.

Wildfires, protests and a pandemic do not good teammates make and while it’s possible, even likely, that the fires and the smoke will have dissipated by the time Vancouver arrive there the whole situation still feels oddly incongruous, if not inappropriate.

That fact that MLS can only arrange the schedule on a month by month basis indicates just how febrile the situation in the whole of the United States is right now and that makes each game seem less like it belongs to a season and more akin to one of those standalone episodes of a long running TV series that never quite satisfy.

And the November election looms ignored in the distance like a Brek Shea contract clause.

There is no outcome that will “heal” America. There is only the promise of differing levels of chaos. It would be a brave person who planned a a trip to a major US city in the weeks following the vote, let alone plan a series of sporting events (and we can throw in the pandemic winter for bonus uncertainty).

America isn’t quite a a failed state just yet, but it is in a state of failure and any Canadian team would be within their rights to say “Thanks, but no thanks” to the prospect of regular visits accompanied by regular quarantine on return.

The other big news of the week was the announcement that the club would soon be appointing a new Chief Revenue Officer and Chief Marketing Officer. 

“Rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic!” screamed the sheeple on social media failing to realize that this was just the latest in a long line of brilliant moves to skirt the arcane MLS roster and salary cap rules.

How those people will be laughing on the other side of their faces when the Whitecaps announce new Chief Revenue Officer Kylian Mbappé and new Chief Marketing Officer Kevin De Bruyne.

The Bizzaro Whitecaps

I must have walked past this doorway thirty times
Just trying to catch your eye
You made it all worthwhile when you returned my smile

Back in the day it was often said of The Wedding Present that they were every Smiths’ fans second favourite indie guitar band.

But, now that time and trouble have turned Morrissey’s heartfelt paeans to the sweetness of loneliness into something more akin to the bitter rantings of white privilege, it’s safe to say that The Wedding Present have moved up a place in the odes to unrequited love standings.

And watching the first game of of football played at BC Place since all this began carried the heady scent of lost love amid the sound of the ball hitting a boot and the steady hum of fake crowd noise.

Did I just get a glimpse of where I usually sit? Maybe if the camera pans around a little more I can see it? Was that somebody from the TV crew sitting where I should be? A strangers behind in my favourite seat?

Of all the games since sport resumed this one felt the most disconcerting.

It probably also felt disconcerting because the Whitecaps won a game and, while the performance didn’t merit the three points it behooves us to concentrate on the good given how long it’s been since anything good happened just about anywhere.

Firstly, Lucas Cavallini scored a goal. The kind of close range finish that was supposed to be his trademark by now. Perhaps that will kick start a scoring run? But he is still mostly isolated up front with nobody to link up with. No Bogart to his Bacall. And Ali Adnan’s crossing can’t do all the heavy lifting when it comes to creating chances.

The real standout player though was Michael Baldisimo. He sat deep. He wanted the ball. He wanted to play the ball forward when he got it. He scored a pile driver from the edge of the box.

If the Whitecaps can figure out how to give him options to pass to when he is in possession then Baldisimo may grow as a player in the next few months. But he needs the ball at his feet and not to be constantly chasing back as the opposition mount yet another attacking foray (Memo to Self: Remember to keep it positive!)

It was also good to see Erik Godoy back, even if it was out of position and for just one half and Derek Cornelius looks more and more like the kind of solid central defender the team need him to be.

And while Thomas Hasal’s ability to save shots was never in doubt, last night he looked more comfortable coming for crosses and set-pieces than he has done thus far.

So, in the end, it was a much needed three points and, while even the staunchest supporter surely wouldn’t have the brass neck to claim that all was now right in the Whitecaps world, even a dalliance with victory is a reminder that anyone can make a mistake and we just need to continue to be honest in how we assess this team.

Thanks.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Hasal-6, Godoy-4, Adnan-6, Cornelius-5.5, Rose-4.5, Teibert-4.5, Owusu-5, Baldisimo-6*, Milinkovic-4.5, Cavallini-5.5, Bair-4 (Nerwinski-5)

And you may ask yourself….

In an attempt to get to the heart of what is really going wrong with the Vancouver Whitecaps I recently conducted a thought experiment in which I imagined myself being suddenly transposed into the body of the club’s Sporting Director Axel Schuster for a day.

I present to you now the unedited notes from this fascinating experiment.

I wake up in a strange bedroom. Where am I? What is happening? I climb out of bed and struggle to find the door. I must complete my ablutions, but the first door I find leads only to a sauna room. It’s an option I suppose, but surely there must be a bathroom somewhere?

Success! Ablutions completed I find a switch and the burst of light almost blinds me, until my eyes focus and see a giant poster of the Whitecaps Sporting Director Axel Schuster.

How odd.

But wait. This isn’t a poster, it’s a mirror! I reach out to my reflection as my reflection reaches back. It too, seemingly searching for answers in a world thrown off the axis.

Dazed with confusion I stumble out of the bathroom to find myself in a large and brightly lit kitchen. A woman is speaking to me in German and I understand every word. I even reply to her in German.

“Good morning Axel.” She smiles. “Ready for your morning coffee?”

“Who are you?” I ask, my voice faltering. “Who am I?”

She laughs. “Oh Axel, always with the jokes. But you will be late for work.” Her head nods toward a painting of the Whitecaps office in Gastown which, upon closer inspection, looks to be dotted with what seem to be freshly made holes, almost as if somebody had been throwing darts at it.

Slowly my mind begins to get a grip on the situation. I’m not just imagining that I am Axel Schuster. I am Axel Schuster!

I gulp down the coffee and rush to the bedroom to dress. Who knows how much time I have to use my skills to save the Whitecaps?

I survive the slightly fraught drive to the office (I am still getting used to living in this strange body and my feet slam down hard on the brake and gas pedal repeatedly, causing the vehicle to lurch alarmingly). But eventually I walk uncertainly into the Whitecaps office to be met by a smiling receptionist.

“Good morning Axel.” She says.

“Good morning.” I reply in my charmingly clipped English. “Could you tell me where my office is please?”

She laughs delightedly. “Oh Axel.” She smiles. “Is this another one of your jokes?”

I sigh and say that yes of course it is and walk into the corridor, the walls of which are covered with posters of the current Whitecaps team and which, upon closer inspection, look to be dotted with what seem to be freshly made holes, almost as if somebody had been throwing darts at them.

Finally I spot a door with my name on it and enter.

The office is small but functional and I’m delighted to see that the computer unlocks using facial recognition technology. “This will be interesting.” I whisper to myself but, before I can explore further, there is a knock on the door and coach Marc dos Santos enters without waiting for permission to enter.

“You wanted to see me?” He says, taking a seat.

“Did I?”

He laughs and points a finger at me. “Is this another one of your jokes Axel?” He asks.

“Yes that’s right.” I say and then suddenly realize that right here and right now is my chance to get to the heart of the matter.

“I wanted to discuss the performances in the three games against Toronto and Montreal.” I say sternly.

He shrugs. “I will admit that they weren’t all that great, but there was definite improvement in the third game.”

“Good grief man!” I exclaim “You can’t be using two games just to build up to a third game that is slightly better and think that’s acceptable.”

He looks at the floor.

An idea comes to me and I type furiously at my keyboard and turn the screen to face the coach.

Have you tried reading this blog?” I say pointing at the latest missive from Soccer Shorts. “It’s full of great ideas.”

Dos Santos looks confused. “But you read it once when you arrived here and said that it seemed to have been written by a moron.”

“I am sure I didn’t say that.”

“Yes you did. You said it failed to achieve even the level of pseudo-intellectualism and that a five year old who had never seen a game of soccer could do a better job of analyzing the game.”

I slump back in my chair.

“And then you said…”

I stop him there. “Yes, yes, yes that is all very interesting, but he makes some very good points about how you don’t really seem to have any tactics to speak of.”

“I do!” He protests vehemently.

“Such as?”

“Well, when we take a goal kick we always aim for Ali Adnan because he’s good at heading the ball.”

“Anything else?”

“Not specifically.” He mumbles, looking back to the floor. “But I’ve definitely asked the players to play better.”

I lean forward. “I just think that picking a system, sticking with it and then coaching the players to play that way every day might have better long term benefits than constantly trying to remedy the problems of the last game with more changes.”

He nods and says nothing.

Just then I am aware of a swirl of colour rushing through my brain, a kaleidoscopic vortex of tones and hues that seem to both sooth and terrify me in equal measure.

“Are you okay Axel? Is this another one of your jokes?”

The words are muffled and distant. Almost as if they have arrived from a completley different dimension.

Am I being called away so soon? Is my work here already done? Have I saved the Whitecaps?

I am plunged into darkness.

After what feels like an eternity I wake up in another strange room. Where am I now? Who am I now?

I struggle out of bed and find a light switch. The brightness dazzles me and I see the walls are festooned with yellowing copies of the Vancouver soccer pages which, upon closer inspection, look to be dotted with what seem to be freshly made holes, almost as if somebody had been throwing darts at them.

I turn to see a giant poster of Russell Teibert. But wait, this isn’t a poster…..

Vancouver Whitecaps: What the *$£^?

This is where the Vancouver Whitecaps are right now.

The coach doesn’t know his best formation, let alone his best starting eleven.

Academy products are thrown into the lineup in the hope of offering at least some semblance of positivity.

The “big” players who were missing in Orlando have returned to make the team even worse.

They couldn’t create a chance from open play if they were playing against four three-toed sloths with narcolepsy.

They couldn’t stop the opposition scoring if they had the 5th Canadian (Armoured) Division camped outside their penalty area in support.

Oh, and their DP striker is terrified of taking penalty kicks, but keeps taking them anyway for some reason too bizarre to fathom.

In short, it’s all just incompetent and joyless.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Hasal-4, Dajome-3, Adnan-4, Veselinovic- 4, Rose-4, Cornelius-4, Teibert-2, Baldisimo-5*, Metcalfe-3, Milinkovic-3, Cavallini-1 (Nerwinski-3, Owusu-3)

Vancouver Whitecaps: Stop, Luke and Listen

I’m delighted to announce that the write up for the Vancouver Whitecaps 1-0 defeat to Toronto FC will be very generously guest hosted by TSN’s main commentator, Luke Wileman.

This is a huge honour for me Luke, glad to have you here.

Thanks Russell, great to be here. Here’s my quick take on the game.

“This game was played in Toronto, Toronto of course is the capital city of the Canadian province of Ontario. With a recorded population of 2,731,571 in 2016, it is the most populous city in Canada and the fourth most populous city in North America. The city is the anchor of the Golden Horseshoe, an urban agglomeration of 9,245,438 people (as of 2016) surrounding the western end of Lake Ontario.

And, interestingly, Lake Ontario is one of the five Great Lakes of North America. It is surrounded on the north, west, and southwest by the Canadian province of Ontario, and on the south and east by the American state of New York.

New York being the city where NYCFC currently play of course and it’s of interest to note that they played their first game in 2015, as the twentieth overall expansion team of the league; it is the first franchise to be based in the city, and the second in the New York metropolitan area, after the New York Red Bulls.

Interestingly, 2015 was a common year starting on Thursday of the Gregorian calendar, the 2015th year of the Common Era (CE) and Anno Domini (AD) designations, the 15th year of the 3rd millennium, the 15th year of the 21st century, and the 6th year of the 2010s decade.

A decade being a period of 10 years. The word is derived (via French and Latin) from the Ancient Greek: δεκάς, romanized: dekas, which means a group of ten. Decades may describe any ten-year period, such as those of a person’s life, or refer to specific groupings of calendar years.

The first know calendar is believed to have been….”

Luke! Luke! You can stop now. I’ve got it from here. Thanks so much.

The Whitecaps were slightly better in that they were functional in defence but still offered nothing of any interest or variety going forward.

Most times this game would feel like a weak-hearted affair that pointed to real problems. But after the previous game it feels like a step forward and that, in itself, is a problem.

Time for the Soccer Shorts Player Ratings.

Hasal-5, Nerwinski-3, Adnan-5, Veselinovic-5*, Rose-5, Cornelius-5, Owusu-4, Teibert-3, Metcalfe-4, Cavallini-3, Ricketts-4

We Need To Talk About Marc

When Marc Dos Santos first arrived in Vancouver to replace Carl Robinson he was a breath of fresh air.

He clearly thought that talking about the game was something to be enjoyed rather than endured and that discussing tactics in public wasn’t beneath him or above the fans.

It seemed the Whitecaps had found a coach who could connect to the supporter base and, given time, could develop a style of play that was at least relatable. Maybe even watchable?

He probably got a pass on the awful first season given the amount of upheaval the squad went through and he should probably get a pass on this season thus far given the whole global pandemic thing.

But all these reasons are starting to sound like excuses and last night’s 3-0 defeat to Toronto wasn’t the start of an itch that doesn’t yet need to be scratched. It was the scab that fell off to reveal the pus underneath.

The Whitecaps weren’t just bad. We have grown used to that. They were disorganized and disinterested. Ambling around the field as if being in possession of the ball would be nice, but not really all that important.

After the game we got the usual soundbites about this is how a team grows and how lessons will be learned.

Which is fine.

But this isn’t a new thing.

It’s a frequent occurrence that the players play abysmally. This gets worked on in training and the next outing is a bit better (See the two opening games of the regular season as a prime example).

But that’s not how it’s supposed to work. Players shouldn’t need to play so badly that they are shamed into following the instructions of the coaches and coaches shouldn’t need to rely on shame as their only motivating factor.

Somewhere along the line Dos Santos has either lost the locker room or lost the ability to communicate his vision clearly.

The Whitecaps are, once again, adrift on the sea of disillusion and disenchantment.

It’s a terrible time to make any kind of coaching change of course. What with the whole global pandemic thing I mentioned earlier going on. And do we trust the club to bring in the right person for the role anyway?

It will be what it will be for the rest of this “season” I fear. The Whitecaps will play slightly better in the upcoming game on Friday and that will be used as an argument that things are not too bad and then they will be outplayed by Montreal before playing a bit better in the following game which will be used as an argument that things are not too bad.

An eternal circle of despair that can only be broken by that global pandemic thing I mentioned earlier.

Vancouver Whitecaps: What Do We Get?

It’s 2020.

I don’t need my football team to be brilliant.

I just want them to look as if they have been coached before they go on the field.

I just want them to look as if they have met each other before they start kicking the ball.

I just want them to play the game as though the opposition goal exists and isn’t just some legend from some long forgotten mythology.

I just want them to play as if the game is sometimes about expressing themselves and not solely about limiting the damage the opposition can inflict.

It’s 2020.

That isn’t going to happen is it?

Time for the Soccer Shorts Player Ratings.

Hasal-2, Nerwinski-2, Adnan-2*, Veselinovic-2, Rose-2, Teibert-2, Owusu-2, Dajome-2, Gutierrez-2, Reyna-2, Cavallini-2

So farewell then Hwang In-Beom

Like many people I have spent the last few months watching in fascination at the habits and rituals of the humble delivery driver.

The “Sorry we missed you” note even though you haven’t left the house all day. The imaginative use of dates to imply a delivery was attempted twenty four hours prior to when it was even possible and the plaintive “Can you let me in?” plea when our hero stands balancing a cavalcade of boxes filled with cat food, printer cartridges and the second volume of that Fantasy trilogy about a dragon who turns out be the White Lord of the North.

Yet one of their rituals remains shrouded in mystery.

For, on most days, a delivery truck will pull into the parking area at the back of the apartment block and, without stopping, circle around and leave.

They are not using the space to simply turn around and change their direction, that makes no sense given the road configuration.

So what is going on?

The best suggestion I have heard is that a tracker in the truck monitors their progress so this quick, yet seemingly pointless maneuver, satisfies a data driven formula that the correct route has been taken.

It may be generations until we discover the true answer to that question, but I like the idea. Trucks that are both there and not there, leaving ghostly trails of their progress. Tricksters making nonsense of the plans of others, leaving nothing but chaotic rhyme and algorithm.

And while Hwang In-Beom’s story in Vancouver may not be as complex as this deep dark mystery he too was, in many ways, here and not here.

Gone before he had arrived.

He never made secret his desire to play “In Europe”, although sooner or later we are going to have to settle on a definition of what “In Europe” actually means. The Luxembourgian third tier? The Spanish Futsal Amateur Cup?

But Russia definitely counts as Europe. The travel will still be brutal and Putin’s Fiefdom doesn’t scream “fun destination”, but it could be a springboard to better things.

But then so could MLS if In-Beom had settled and delivered here. But his always endearing presence off the field was almost always matched by his almost always ethereal presence on it.

The Whitecaps needed a player who could lift them up and they got a player who changed nothing.

Maybe that’s the kind of player In-Beom is? One who plays to the level of the team he is in? Maybe he can keep a good team good, but can’t make a poor team decent?

It’s certainly possible to imagine him fitting in to a well structured system that relies on one touch passing and movement and doesn’t look to him as the creative fulcrum.

From the perspective of the Whitecaps they have lost a Designated Player who didn’t play like a Designated Player (Not a new scenario for them).

They wanted a number ten, but ended up with a player who is best suited to playing number eight playing as a number six.

His replacement needs to be somebody who wants to be here, somebody who is effective in the system and somebody who leaves behind something more than the faintest of traces on a heat map of the final third.

Vancouver Whitecaps: Sink or Swim?

While on vacation a couple of days ago I was sitting quietly beside the (socially distanced) pool when I suddenly became aware of a commotion in the corner.

There was a squirrel in the hot tub!

“He’s swimming!” Shouted the children, their cherubic faces aglow with delight and wonder at a Disney cartoon come to life before their very eyes. “He’s drowning!” Shouted the adults, their gaunt faces pulled taut across their skulls as the year added yet one more horror to the seemingly endless litany.

I stepped forward to explain the situation.

“You are all wrong.” I said, invoking my default opening to any group of strangers I happen to meet.

“For this animal is neither swimming nor drowning.” I explained calmly. “He is merely representing, through the medium of interpretative dance, the current mindset of the average Vancouver Whitecaps fan.”

The assembled group nodded quietly, thanked me for my assistance and returned to their various activities; attempting to play volley ball in a pool the size of a bathtub, staring with hostility at the couple who had snagged the sun loungers that provided both sun and shade and emitting shrill screams for no apparent reason at random intervals.

I glanced back at the squirrel and, as he sank beneath the scalding bubbles for the final time, I fancied I saw a look of quiet satisfaction flicker across his tiny rodent face at the thought of a metaphor well represented.

For reader, that squirrel was right.

How do we assess what just occurred in Florida from a Whitecaps perspective? A brave battle against the odds? Or just more grist to the mill of unease?

It is, of course, too soon to say from the overall perspective but, for individuals, there were clear winners and clear losers.

In the loss column we have Theo Bair and Ryan Raposo. Neither will likely get a better chance to gain valuable minutes in meaningful games and, while both did get the minutes, neither made best use of them.

Raposo was an ethereal presence whenever he was on the field and Bair flattered to deceive in the role of central striker. Always threatening to hold the ball up and offer respite to his beleaguered defence, but never quite getting the job done (this probably makes Lucas Cavallini a default winner by his much missed presence).

Another big loser was Hwang In-Beom. There’s no player it would be more satisfying to see succeed than In-Beom (and no player the team needed more than somebody who could create something out of nothing, or provide quality chances to the strikers) but I’m not sure we are ever going to see that from the South Korean. Certainly not with any level of consistency.

The winners include Tomas Hasal of course. A third string goalkeeper who made some good saves and rode some good luck to become the feel good story of the tournament for the Whitecaps.

None of this makes him ready for the starting spot on a regular basis, but it may well mean he is mentioned in conversations for roles that, prior to Florida, his name would not even have been an afterthought.

Veselinovic and Cornelius come out well too. Both demonstrating the value of having defenders who think that defending is something to be done at all times and not just an optional choice depending on the game state (the loser here is Khmiri).

And perhaps the most surprising winner of all is coach Marc Dos Santos.

By the end of the tournament there was the sense that he could get the players to buy in to whatever tactic he was selling and use that buy in to get results above the pay grade of the players at his disposal.

That is a huge turnaround from the feelings after the first two games.

We’ve still yet to see any proof that Dos Santos can achieve results over the longer term and we’ve still yet to see if he can make Vancouver anything more than a backs to the wall, hope to get a result against the odds, playing for the playoff line kind of team.

But he left Florida with his stock a little higher and who knows when we will get to judge either him, or the players, again?

Belated Soccer Shorts ratings for the Kansas game!

Hasal-6, Nerwinski-5.5, Cornelius-6*, Veselinovic-6, Owusu-5, Teibert-6, Adnan-6, Dajome-5.5, In-Beom-5.5, Bair-5