“All good teams are alike; each bad team is bad in its own way.”
And the Whitecaps have taken Tolstoy’s memorable quote about football to a new level. For they somehow manage to be bad in a slightly different way in each game.
In the 3-0 defeat to San Jose, for example, they pressed well in the first half and looked capable of causing the hosts problems as the game went on.
Well, the game went on, but the Whitecaps didn’t. Not really.
Sloppy defending gave away an early goal in the second half and then Andy Rose, included in central defence for his experience and calm head, picked up a silly second yellow card and the game was essentially over.
Apart from two more goals and Erik Godoy being harshly red carded for what looked like a minor, if somewhat foolish, kick to an ankle.
In truth referee Alan Chapman probably did Marc Dos Santos a favour with that decision; allowing him to talk about bad officiating rather than the way his team, once again, fell apart at the first sign of adversity.
But, as Tolstoy also said, “Every coach thinks of changing the team, but none thinks of changing himself”.
From last night but now with bonus Director’s commentary.
Marc Dos Santos was about as irritated as we ever see him in the post game media call claiming, with some justification, that his team are having to put up with an awful lot right nowand that should be taken as mitigation for the performances.
That’s fair. But the recent performances aren’t an aberration, they’re merely a continuation of a theme.
The Vancouver Whitecaps 3-1 loss to the Seattle Sounders felt like nothing so much as the latest sequel in a movie franchise that has long since lost its way.
Yeah we get it. The Whitecaps defend stubbornly but fall apart once the first goal is conceded.
Yawn. Oh big surprise! The Vancouver star forward has just missed a golden opportunity with the scores still level.
Derivative! The Whitecaps midfield fail to provide any forward momentum at all.
After the game Dos Santos claimed that he needed midfield players who “had the personality to play”. It’s hard to know if that’s a dig at the players themselves or the people who have brought the players in but, either way, a coach rarely wins the battle against either of those opponents.
This felt like Dos Santos beginning to clear the path for an exit strategy that preserves his reputation as much as possible.
If this were an in flight movie half the audience would walk out.
And so it goes.
With all the participants phoning in their parts with little to engage those watching other than the slim hope that it won’t go on too long and it won’t be the unmitigated disaster that some of the previous outings have been.
Actual thoughts on the actual football game?
Lucas Cavallini is a burden rather than a benefit right now. His temperament costs him playing time and he’s a slow player who isn’t a clinical finisher playing in a team that needs pace up front and creates few chances.
I suppose it could be argued that Montero’s resurgence may have, ironically and very typically for the Whitecaps, made the team play in a way that suits Cavallini less. Milinkovic was playing well in the number ten role, but now that he’s been shifted to the wide left to accommodate Montero that only leaves the inconsistent Dajome and whoever is playing left back to supply Cavallini with the crosses he needs.
But that’s thin gruel to fuel an argument in favour of a Designated Player who is more interesting to watch for his body language than his play in front of goal.
Why Michael Baldisimo isn’t starting remains a mystery. He can move the play forward and he cares about keeping the ball (Maybe that’s why?) yet is consistently left on the bench in favour of journeymen who haven’t got a creative bone in their collective bodies.
Ironically, Baldismo does have the “personality to play”, he just rarely gets the chance.
The defence is mostly fine. It’s just that they have to defend for about eighty-eight of every ninety minutes and they will never beat those odds.
Oh, and the referee was hilariously bad.
So on to San Jose for the next installment of this long running debacle.
Time to roll the credits and give you Soccer Shorts player ratings.
The thing is, if you’re not a very good team, then you’d better make sure you spend some time working on the basics.
Defending set-pieces, passing the ball in front of a runner and not to or behind him, how you will try to break down a defence that is sitting deep.
Things like that.
I’m not sure what the more depressing thought is. That the Whitecaps do work on these basics or that they don’t work on them. But either way they never employ them, so I suppose it doesn’t make any difference in the end.
The 1-0 defeat to Portland on Sunday was better than the 6-0 loss to LAFC in many ways, but in others it was worse. A 6-0 loss can be dismissed as an aberration. One of those nights. The capricious nature of the sporting gods.
But the loss in Portland was painful because it exposed the Whitecaps for what they truly are. A leaden footed and slow witted team who rely on “moments” to create goals rather than anything as substantial as a coherent system of consistent interplay.
The game was a deep dark truthful mirror that told us that it’s not just Russell Teibert who loves to regress play rather than progress it. It told us that caution and cowardice are not bugs but features of how the team play.
It told us that Lucas Cavallini is a forward rather than a goal scorer and will need more than half chances created if he is going to prosper. And that he will probably need more than a few full chances too. It told us that Bikel and Owusu are functional at best in the centre of the pitch and that the full backs cause as many problems for their own defence as they do the opposition.
And it told us that Marc Dos Santos was content with all that. Was content to limit the damage against a Cascadian rival, because that was better than taking a risk.
Better to lose by one and not try to win than try to win and lose by more.
The players already seem to have lost belief in the coach and, in this game, it felt like the coach had lost belief in himself too.
There’s a theory that plants developed caffeine as a way of improving the memory of bees and thus making them better pollinators.
Obviously that particular framing of the theory implies a degree of sentience that plants don’t possess, but using drugs to control the actions of others feels like an almost sinister mode of behaviour from our fellow travellers on this hurtle through space.
I say this though not to cast aspersions or provoke counter insurgency from our Apoidean brethren, but merely to distract us all from the Whitecaps game in LA.
A game in which no Vancouver player performed well and in which the team as a whole were a mess from the very first whistle.
There are moments in life when it is best not to dwell on the suffering of others and move on. Silently thanking the deity of our choice that we were not in their place.
The phrase “Road Trip” doesn’t really do justice to the adventure the Vancouver Whitecaps are about to embark upon. “Odyssey” perhaps? “A journey into the dark heart of America”? “Dude, where’s my plane?”
But, whatever nomenclature we eventually settle on, the rollicking escapade did at least get off to a good start.
Actually, it got off to a slow and turgid start, with the Whitecaps spending the first half of the game against Real Salt Lake flailing around for the ball like puppies trying to chase down a scurry of squirrels.
But the second half was better.
Fredy Montero began to get on the ball more and the forward forays did at least seem to have some purpose.
And, once David Milinkovic scored and Salt Lake had Kyle Beckermann sent off, every Whitecaps fan settled down to watch their team sit as deep as possible and allow the ten man opposition to come on to them.
So, as against Montreal in the week, it came to be that this tactic led to the concession of a goal but, as against Montreal in the week, the Whitecaps responded by scoring another goal of their own.
And, this time around, it was substitute Lucas Cavallini latching on to a Fredy Montero cross.
It was brave of Marc Dos Santos to leave Cavallini on the bench. Surprisingly brave. But he will surely have to start the Canadian for the game in LA on Wednesday.
That probably means dropping Montero to the number ten role and moving Milinkovic wide in place of Adnan.
That’s a shame because Milinkovic has been better in the central role than on the wing, but needs must I suppose.
Elsewhere Cristian Dajome showed that he can be both a frustrating and effective MLS player. His first touch at times was awful, but his work rate and pace helped create the first goal and he seems to be developing a basic understanding with both Montero and Milinkovic.
And speaking of pace.
Is this the slowest Vancouver team since they joined MLS? The restless spirits of Kekutah Manneh and Darren Mattocks have hung around the club for years, imbuing each iteration of the squad with at least two or three players who can “turn on the afterburners” before running the ball out of play for a goal kick.
That absence is no bad thing. Speed can be a hell of drug for players searching for the easy pass, but it does mean being more careful in possession. Picking out the man, not the space twenty yards ahead of him.
But that will require an evolution in the way they play. An evolution that can be helped by both Montero and Baldisimo. Two players at either end of their careers who appreciate that the ball is their friend and who want it be the friend of their friends too.
Whether that can happen this season is unlikely. But the process can at least start, and it has to start because the Whitecaps can’t survive if they treat every one of their upcoming matches as the road games they actually are.
Somehow Dos Santos has to instill the mind set into his players that where they are playing is irrelevant for the rest of this season. Every game can’t be a backs to the wall, smash and grab raid. Not successfully anyway.
Wherever they lay their cleats, that’s their home for the rest of the year.
Who knew that all the Vancouver Whitecaps needed was a player with genuine quality who could link up with his teammates and keep the ball?
Fredy Montero didn’t quite win the game single handedly against the Montreal Impact on Wednesday evening at BC Place, but it felt that way at times.
Only playing because Lucas Cavallini picked up a red card in the previous game, Montero was clearly out to prove a point before the team head south to who knows what.
He drifted around the field, always offering himself as a passing option and always treating the ball with respect rather than as a hand grenade with the pin pulled out that has been the dominant style for this team all season.
He also used a touch of devilry to make a half-hearted punch to his knee look like a hammer blow to the head as wielded by George Foreman in his prime.
Oh, and he managed to score from the subsequent penalty kick.
Elsewhere Cristián Gutiérrez slotted in at left back in place of Ali Adnan and offered the Impact none of the freedom the Iraqi afforded them last time out and David Milinkovic demonstrated that his best position by far is the number ten role where he can be both creative and an early line of defence.
It’s hard to make any sweeping judgments after a game in which the opposition go down to ten men in the first half. And it’s even harder when we remember that this was yet another change of formation for the Whitecaps with a line up that featured several players who wouldn’t be in the coach’s first eleven all other things being equal.
Which poses this problem.
Both Montero and Gutiérrez have earned the right to start the next game in Salt Lake on Saturday, so does Marc Dos Santos pick them and leave out his two Designated Players? Or does he tinker with the formation yet again to accommodate all four and risk unbalancing a system that at least displayed a semblance of coherence?
No doubt he will say this is a good problem to have. But it isn’t. It’s a potential problem for a squad that always seems to teeter on the cusp of discontent.
Some random thoughts about the Whitecaps because, you know, we don’t want to let the wound heal.
The odd thing about Marc Dos Santos is that he clearly knows what is going wrong with his team.
He isn’t some intransigent coach who refuses to accept the evidence of his own eyes. He knows the team don’t keep the ball, he knows they collapse the moment a game turns against them and he knows they sit too deep and don’t create enough attacking opportunities.
He just doesn’t seem able to translate that knowledge into the real world. Which is a shame.
Time for Hasal to step aside? He was the third choice keeper about two months ago and he’s had a great run in the team. But last night felt as though the trauma of keeping goal behind that defence finally caught up with him. Best not to destroy his confidence just because he has a good narrative.
The thing about Russell Teibert is that he hardly ever gives the ball away, but he almost always gives the ball to somebody in a position where they are likely to give it away. A backward pass to a central defender may keep the ball in the short term but, two passes later, that possession is almost always gone.
There should be a special passing stat for players who play this way.
Leonard Owusu has gone from the “I like the look of him” zone, to the “For the love of all that is holy just pass to one of your own players!” zone in quick fire time. So he’s settling in nicely.
Who are ya? Seriously, who are the Whitecaps? Or, more pertinently, who and what are they trying to be? Their formations change by the game and their tactics change by the minute. They”ll never be able to assemble a functioning squad if they don’t know what kind of system they are buying players for.
And what of Lucas Cavallini? He presses defenders, but the rest of the team give up on following suit after about twenty minutes.
No wonder his is frustrated. But he’s been no friend to himself since he arrived. If he could take a penalty kick he’d have a respectable three goals from seven games right now and, against Montreal, he was clearly fighting inner demons as much as anything else.
He looks like a man adrift in more ways than one.
Did the smoke affect the mood of the game? None of us have enjoyed living under the grey canvas of wildfire smoke. The unnatural chill, the hint of ash at the back of the throat, the sense that our lungs are working harder for less and less reward.
So how much more frustrating must it feel to be a professional athlete having to perform in such conditions?
A recipe for tetchiness and tantrums if ever there was one.
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.
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.
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.