Vancouver Whitecaps go on until they come to the end again

There are points earned by late goals and there are points earned by late goals.

Some are of the “How on earth did we come away from this game with anything?” variety and some are of the “That felt like it has been coming” variety.

And Julian Gressel’s late goal to earn a 1-1 tie with Real Salt Lake was very much of the latter variety.

This was comfortably one of Vancouver’s better road performances. Willing to be on the front foot from the get go and trading chances with Salt Lake without ever looking as though the thought of a low block had even entered their heads.

Cavallini had one of his better games, Cubas was Cubas, and Ryan Raposo looked a constant threat from the left until Sartini moved him to the right.

Moving players around was very much a feature of the night with Gressel playing in (by my calculations) fifteen different positions.

The fact that the goal came from Gauld, playing in the wing back position, crossing to Gressel, playing as the forward, is probably a good indication that the Whitecaps were either playing a very fluid formation or just throwing stuff at the wall to see if it stick.

A hugely positive outing for Thomas Hasal too as the keeper looked to have refound any confidence that may have gone astray during his long absence.

The only real downside was another awful outing from Cristian Dajome.

There have been games in recent seasons where Dajome has carried the team on his back but this year for whatever reason, enforced absences, lack of confidence, too much time in too many different roles, he looks to be the epitome of a player who is really hoping that the ball doesn’t come his way.

A longer break for the Whitecaps to reboot now with the playoffs looking a lot more likely then they were even two short weeks ago.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Hasal-6.5*, Dajome-1, Raposo-5.5, Nerwinski-5.5, Veselinovic-5.5, Blackmon-5.5, Cubas-6.5, Teibert-5.5, Gauld-5.5, Schopf-4, Cavallini-5.5 (Berghalter-5, White-4.5, Gressel-6)

Vancouver Whitecaps almost die by their own sword

For seventy minutes the Vancouver Whitecaps produced an excellent home performance against the Colorado Rapids.

They seized the initiative from the start, scored a goal through concerted pressing and Ryan Gauld gave and old school Designated Player display; all energetic hustle, deft touches and quality finishing to go with it.

Julian Gressel too gave an example of his worth to the team, always willing to get forward and always willing to hit the ball where it should be at the earliest opportunity.

In the centre of the pitch Cubas and Berhalter looked to have the makings of a promising partnership. The defensive stalwart that is Cubas aligned with the very welcome progressive passing of Berhalter.

To be fair it’s hard to make an objective judgment on Berhalter. As Bob Dylan sang “I can’t help it if you might think I am odd, when I say I’m loving you not for what you are, but what you’re not”.

It feels that who Berhalter isn’t is almost as important as who he is.

The second half began equally brightly with the Whitecaps looking the far more likely to score the next goal and then, with about seventy minutes gone, Vanni Sartini switched to three in the middle, presumably to shore up the game, and that left Gauld and Cavallini isolated.

All this move did was allow his players to switch to their most comfortable setting of dropping as deep as possible, reacting to events rather than taking responsibility for them and relying on good fortune to act as their twelfth man.

It worked in the sense that the Whitecaps won, but it failed miserably in that the Rapids could easily have scored at least two goals (probably more) in the denouement.

Will lessons be learned?

Of course not, but the three points keeps the season alive for at least two more weeks and that’s good enough for now.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Hasal-5.5, Gressel-6, Godhino-5, Brown-5, Veselinovic-6, Blackmon-5, Cubas-6, Berhalter-6, Schopf-4, Gauld-7.5*, Cavallini-3 (Raposo-4.5, Nerwinski-2, Teibert-3)

Vancouver Whitecaps offer an all too familiar echo

From yesterday but now with additional frustration.

It wasn’t really a surprise that the Whitecaps conceded five goals in LA on Saturday evening.

They have started enough games already this season where their heads don’t even vaguely enter the game until they fall behind but, this time around, they couldn’t even manage that.

It probably should be a surprise that a group of professional athletes haven’t been shamed into playing for a full ninety minutes by this stage of the campaign, but they most likely have begun to believe their own mythology concerning stirring come backs and unlikely victories.

From the outside it’s difficult to say just what is causing the team to so consistently fail to perform from the first whistle but it certainly “feels” like a locker room culture issue. With nobody, neither coaches nor players, able to instill a sense of responsibility into the starting eleven until it’s forced on them by events.

Obviously we got the usual post-game cliches abut “learning from this” but safe to say that isn’t going to happen for more than or two games at best.

The problem with mythology however is that isn’t true.

Women don’t turn into swans, there are no half-men, half-bulls hiding in dark mazes and football teams that don’t learn from mistakes won’t get away with it for time eternal.

It should probably also be a surprise that Vanni Sartini continues to treat every game as a chance to experiment with his lineup rather than consolidate a first choice starting eleven.

The coach still seems more enamoured with making “interesting” tactical choices than he is letting his players get to know each other for the most crucial part of the season and, sooner or later, Sartini will discover that consistently winning games (or just consistently getting his team to play competent football) is more important than winning hearts and minds.

On top of these “interesting” choices there also seems to be a mismatch between how some players are treated when it comes to selection and how others are treated. Some have a short leash and some have the fabled “Leash of Infinity”. As a supporter it’s consistently frustrating to watch Russell Teibert give mediocre performance after mediocre performance with no consequence for his starting spot. But how much more frustrating must that be for players wanting to get a fair chance to prove themselves? It’s not just Teibert who gets the favoured treatment, but when the captain isn’t held to as high a standard as some others well, there’s a a recipe for the seeds of a culture of selective disinterest right there.

The good news is that most of the other results of the evening went well for the Whitecaps, but that will all add up to nothing if they don’t even have the professional pride to play to their best at all times.

The nightmare scenario is probably that the Whitecaps sneak into the playoffs and crash out at the first hurdle again. A yearning for just enough to success to not rock the boat has been the drug of choice for the Whitecaps for years. Giving them a shot of just such a thing might do them more harm than good in the long run.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Cropper-0, Gressel-1, Raposo-4*, Brown-3, Veselinovic-2, Nerwinski-0, Teibert-1, Cubas-4, Vite-2, Gauld-3, Ongaro-1 (Ricketts-4, Dajome-2, Blackmon-3)

Is Sartini the right one?

We’ve had as near as makes no difference the equivalent of a season’s worth of games with Vanni Sartini in charge of the Vancouver Whitecaps, which is ample time to make sweeping judgements abut the nature of his his tenure.

On the positive side of the ledger he’s the first Whitecaps coach since Teitur Thordarson to connect with the fans in a meaningful way.

While Rennie and Dos Santos were mostly locked in with their own internal demons and Robinson felt he was far too much a real football person to stoop to the level of pretending to care about a Canadian soccer team, Sartini lives every moment on the outside.

Too exuberant at times? Not really. Modern coaches have become shamanic presences as much as tactical masterminds and Sartini appreciates that he’s as much a part of the game day experience as any of his players.

That doesn’t mean he isn’t tactically interesting too.

He only wavered from his preferred three central defenders for a few games and has been willing to play just about anybody in those roles if needed. Almost never successfully of course, but Javain Brown is a much better defender with the game played in front of him than having to track back following a forward run.

Similarly his love of a wing back has led to the transformation of Ryan Raposo into a surprisingly disciplined left sided defender.

But Raposo isn’t a long term solution in that position just as Dajome isn’t a solution on either side of the pitch. The issues on the right side have been solved by the arrival of Julian Gressel and one suspects that the left side will be solved by acquisitions rather than coaching.

And the issues in the centre of the field have been solved by the arrival of Andres Cubas rather than anything that Sartini did tactically. And “issues” is a fairly unassuming description of the debacle the midfield had been until Cubas arrived (and still is in his absence)

The biggest problem by far however is the inability to get the team to play for ninety minutes.

This is a carry over from the Dos Santos era, but whereas the Dos Santos version of the Whitecaps seemed to be hamstrung by fear the Sartini version seem to be hamstrung by lack of intensity.

Constantly needing the shock of adversity to up your game isn’t a strategy for long term success and it isn’t indicative of “character” either and if Sartini doesn’t figure out a way to fix this problem then it will be his downfall in the long run.

Overall we are left with a mixed bag that mostly leans toward the positive and the Canadian Championship win showed that he could be single minded about an objective in a way that displayed admirable determination.

Sartini will probably turn out to be a coach who needs players to solve his problems rather than anything he does in coaching sessions but he’s still on a learning curve, he’s likeable and he’s achieved some success already.

That’s a huge improvement on his recent predecessors.

Vancouver Whitecaps stop making sense

So once again we were forced to watch another shameful first half performance from the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Sleepwalking their way to conceding an early goal while failing to produce anything remotely approaching a respectable passage of football.

Only the hustle of Julian Gressel offered any redemption.

His crosses may have been terrible but at least he was making the effort to kick the ball into the opposition penalty area

The second half wasn’t much better.

Houston sat back and allowed the Whitecaps to pass the ball very, very slowly without any real intent and perhaps occasionally float in half-hearted crosses that were gobbled up by a defence specifically designed for such a purpose.

Meanwhile the visitors looked dangerous every time they sprang forward.

It’s true that Andres Cubas was sorely missed, but having two central midfielders who are incapable of even remotely understanding where the ball will be in the next five seconds seems like a dangerously casual approach to the basics of the game.

It became increasingly obvious that the Whitecaps had neither the will nor the guile to create even the shadow of meaningful chance let alone score an actual goal.

A disgraceful display all round.

Oh, and then they scored two late goals and walked away with three points that keeps the season very much alive.

Nothing makes sense any more.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Cropper-3, Gressel-4*, Raposo-3.5, Brown-1, Veselinovic-1.5, Blackmon-1.5, Teibert-1, Owusu-1, Vite-1.5, Gauld -3, Ricketts-2 (Baldisimo-2, Cavallini-3.5)

Whitecaps don’t let the wheels fall off!

Any other team would probably get a pass for not being fully focused in their first game back after a big cup win.

But “not being fully focused” is so much a part of the Whitecaps DNA that this felt more like business as usual.

Simple passes weren’t completed, runs weren’t made and opponents were left to roam free and the inevitable goal was conceded.

After thirty minutes Vancouver decided that they would finally give it a go and began to creep back into the game

Gauld fired shot after shot wide and/or high, Cubas began to intercept the ball and Gressel hit first time cross after first time cross while his teammates wondered why he wasn’t taking an extra touch and passing the ball back to the player who gave it to him.

When the equalizer came it felt both inevitable and surprise.

Inevitable because Nashville invited pressure when they didn’t need to and teams that do that almost always pay the price and a surprise because Vancouver looked incapable of breaking down the that defence no matter how hard they tried.

A Javain Brown knee into the back of the net was a fitting conclusion to a game where both teams were more keen to display their weaknesses than their strengths but, for the Whitecaps, it was a perfectly satisfactory road point to keep the season trundling along.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Cropper-6*, Gressel-5, Raposo-4, Brown-5.5, Veselinovic-4, Blackmon-4.5, Cubas-5, Baldisimo-3, Vite-1, Gauld-5, White-3 (Owusu-4.5, Dajome-4.5)

All hail the Vancouver Whitecaps!

And so it came to pass that the Vancouver Whitecaps would win the Voyageurs Cup.

Not without the inevitable angst and a few doubts along the way but, in the end, the Whitecaps were deserved winners over Toronto FC in the Canadian Championship final.

But there must have been more than a few Whitecaps fans who felt a shiver of trepidation when the starting lineups were announced.

The thought of Jake Nerwinski lining up against Lorenzo Insigne felt like a recipe for chaos on the right side of the Vancouver defence but, like all recipes these days, the preamble and promise did not live up to the taste test.

Nerwinski reduced the Italian to an ephemeral presence who was forced to drop deep to get into the action and, somewhere in Insigne’s subconscious, there must have been the ominous foreshadowing of games to come where teammates make all the wrong choices at all the wrong times.

Nerwinski and the whole defence were once again helped out by the tireless presence of Andres Cubas who, at one stage, seemed so intent on harrying TFC back toward their own goal that it didn’t seem impossible that he might force the ball into the back of the net with a tackle.

But everybody contributed. Dajome and Raposo did sterling work in the wing back roles (and Gressel gave a pleasing cameo of just how good his delivery can be) while White and Cavallini were a constant annoyance to the TFC backline.

The star of the show though was Ryan Gauld, particularly in the first half. The Scot ran rings around a lumbering Michael Bradley and helped create enough chances to push Vancouver to a bigger lead than the slender one goal they held at the break.

The second half turned out to be a salutatory reminder of the weaknesses this team still possesses.

The inability to build on a lead, the overwhelming desire to drop far too deep and the frustrating habit of misplacing even the simplest of passes when the pressure is on.

They bent but they did not break however and, while being forced to a penalty shootout was probably rough justice based on the tenor of the game as a whole, it is by far the best way to win (and worst way to lose) any important game of football.

Whether this game gives the team the self-belief it so clearly needs or turns out to be yet another false dawn remains to be seen.

But Tuesday evening was a reminder of why we go to the games, why we follow the team no matter how terrible they can be and why the reward of the good times is worth the endless risk of the bad.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Cropper-6, Dajome-6, Raposo-6, Nerwinski-7, Veselinovic-6.5, Blackmon-6.5, Teibert-6, Cubas-7, Gauld-7.5*, Cavallini-6, White-6.5 (Gressel-6, Baldisimo-5.5, Godinho-6 Ricketts-5)

The Whitecaps do bad things

From last night but now with additional catharsis.

So here’s the theory.

The Whitecaps, as a group of players, are neither tactically smart enough nor mentally strong enough to raise their game to the levels they are capable of unless they are facing some kind of backs to the wall scenario

Ask them to battle for a point in Portland and they’re fine, ask them to fight back from a goal down and they’ll give it a go.

But ask them to take the initiative in a home game against an Eastern Conference team and they fall to pieces.

This “taking the initiative” things is such an incomprehensible riddle to solve. I can only think of the second half against LAFC as a time when the Whitecaps genuinely went at an opponent at BC Place this season. Not just trading chances or outperforming them in xG, but actually riding the crest of their own momentum.

And so it was against Chicago on Saturday evening as the Whitecaps were out played, out thought and out fought for all but twenty minutes of the second half.

Time and time again lazy passes were played, runs weren’t made and opponents were left to roam free.

If this was a one off display of incompetence and disinterest then fine. But throw in the games against Minnesota, Seattle and Columbus (and pretty much any first half for the rest of the season) and there’s a pattern of, well let’s call it what is , “unprofessionalism”.

Is that too harsh? I don’t think so. If you allow an opponent to work harder than you and don’t learn from that at the first attempt then that’s unprofessional. How many times have we heard Sartini tell his team that they need to focus for the full ninety minutes? Yet still they continually fail to do just that.

There are some groups of players who would see the coach’s decision to rest regular first team starters ahead of a Cup Final as a chance to prove a point.

The Whitecaps just saw it as a chance to sleep walk through the game and resort to complaining to the official when the opposition did what any half-decent football team would do on the road.

Why are they so mentally brittle?

Partly it has to be down to the coaching staff. A stronger coach would definitely have made changes before half-time in this game and there never seem to be any real consequences for playing this badly. Just more praise after the inevitable bounce back performance.

First team places certainly don’t seem to be assigned based on first team performances. How dispiriting must it be for a bench player to see Russell Teibert be virtually undroppable? Or to see Cristian Dajome get as many minutes as he has given his tanking form this year? Doing well in training seems to be the only metric used when naming the first eleven.

But it also has to be an issue with the players themselves.

There doesn’t seem to be any sense of accountability within the squad when they do play so poorly. Just enthusiastic hand claps and cliched words of regret in the post game media appointment.

That’s exactly what we got. But this time they will definitely learn from their unacceptable performance it seems.

Winning the Canadian Championship on Tuesday evening will be a huge boost for the club, but even that won’t take away from the fact that this squad takes what it can get and simply isn’t prepared to go the extra mile to get more.

If Sartini doesn’t win on Tuesday and the Whitecaps fail to make the playoffs it’s hard to see how he keeps his job. But there have been too many games he has treated as free passes this year. Early season road game against an Eastern Conference opponent? Meh. Game before a Canadian Cup contest? Meh.

Almost no team in the world can afford to turn their competitive spirit on and off at will and this team most definitely can’t.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Boehmer-3, Gressel-2, Godinho-2, Jungwirth-1, Nerwinski-2, Brown-1.5, Cubas-4.5, Owusu-1.5, Vite-1.5, Dajome-1.5, Cavallini-2.5 (Gauld-4.5*, Teibert-3, Blackmon-2)

Vancouver Whitecaps play more than “prevent defence”

The 1-1 tie with Portland on Sunday evening was comfortably the Whitecaps best road performance and (taken as a whole) the best overall performance of the season too.

No doubt the return of Andres Cubas helped the defence remain solid, but Ryan Gauld looked back to his best and that also helped Brian White give one of his better showings too (the benefit of White is that other players always know where he will be on the pitch and that is especially helpful to Gauld it seems).

Isaac Boehmer had another stellar night in goal with only a penalty-kick able to beat him and Veselinovoic and Nerwinski were stalwarts at the back.

Triston Blackmon though continues to veer between looking supremely comfortable on the ball and then unthinkingly playing a pass that puts the opposition in a great position. If he can figure out how to concentrate for the full ninety minutes he’ll be a much more useful a defender.

There was also some frustration that the Whitecaps sat a tad too deep as the game wore on but that’s often the nature of the game and, to their credit, they continued to look to create chances whenever the opportunity arose.

The arrival of Julian Gressel can only make them stronger and there’s now probably only two more roles that Sartini needs to figure out to make the team as good as they can be.

Who to play alongside Cubas and how to set up the front three?

One scenario would be to have Baldisimo in the former role (a very good passer of the ball alongside a very good ball winner is the dream ticket) and it should be a toss up between White and Cavallini as the lone striker playing in front of Gauld and Vite or Dajome.

My take is that White (as above) is easier to build a system around than the more maverick Cavallini, but both have shown strengths and weaknesses this season so a mix and match approach isn’t that terrible an idea.

All in all, and given the injuries they have faced this year, the Whitecaps are in a pretty good place right now.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Boehmer-6.5, Dajome-5, Raposo-5.5, Nerwinski-5.5, Veselinovic-6, Blackmon-4.5, Cubas-6.5, Teibert-4.5, Gauld-6.5*, Cavallini-5, White-5.5 (Baldisimo-5, Godhino-4.5)

The Whitecaps hit the ground like sacks of wet cement

So we can at least agree that soccer makes no sense?

In the first half of the 2-2 tie with Cincinnati the Vancouver Whitecaps were mostly awful as Vanni Sartini deployed a brave line of magical thinking by believing that a midfield two of Teibert and Jungwirth would be adequate cover for the absence of Andreas Cubas.

It was not adequate cover for the absence of Andreas Cubas and Vancouver were lucky to go into the break only one goal behind.

They were also unlucky again with injuries, although one does begin to wonder if so many injuries is related to the way they train and if so many freak accidents is related to a lack of cohesion on the field.

It could all just be the role of the dice (memo to self: leave “role” in there as is, it’s pleasingly pretentious) of course so no definitive answer will be forthcoming.

In the second half the Whitecaps were much better defensively (maybe they had lulled Cincinnati into a false sense of security?) but the game really turned with the arrival of Brian White, who provided some energy up front and particularly Michael Baldisimo, who provided some forward passes to a front line desperate for even the smallest sliver of hope.

By the end of the game it was the Whitecaps who looked the more likely to grab the winner and while a point isn’t a season changing tally it does at least keep them ticking along just when it looked as though the season may fall away from them.

It may still do just that of course but, for now, they are still a viable option to sneak into a playoff spot.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Cropper-3, Raposo-4.5, Dajome-4.5, Brown-4, Godoy-3.5, Blackmon-4, Teibert-2.5, Jungwirth-2, Vite-2, Gauld-5.5*, Cavallini-3 (Boehmer-5, Nerwinski-4, Baldisimo-5, White-4.5)