Vancouver Whitecaps: Better at home

Well that was better.

The 1-0 won over Sporting Kansas City wasn’t perfect by any means but at least the Whitecaps looked as though they had practiced playing football together over the previous few days. Nobody was outstanding but, more importantly, nobody was terrible.

At first look the decision to pair Nerwinski and Raposo on the left seemed to be another case of Sartini being quirky for the sake of being quirky (and eventually every Vancouver coach is sacrificed on the altar of “looked good in training”) but it worked out fine.

That was helped somewhat by Kansas being surprisingly poor and the return of Brian White helping the side to keep their shape and for most of the game it was simply being unable to find the right final ball that prevented the home side finding the net.

Ironically that right final ball arrived with the departure of White and Gauld as Baldisimo jinked a chip shot over the Kansas defence for Raposo and Cavallini to fight over before Raposo stabbed home.

Cavallini certainly seems more engaged (or just fitter?) this season, but he still operates in his own private universe that tends to drag his teammates into places they don’t want to be.

Elsewhere, nobody needed a decent game more than Javain Brown and that’s what he had. He was never really troubled defensively and offered a threat going forward.

And Sebastian Berhalter seems to be an upgraded version of Russell Teibert; defensively minded but with more recognition of what’s happening ahead of him.

It still feels as though the coach is struggling to settle on the exact formation he wants his team to play and that he’s struggling to fit a few disparate pieces into a functioning whole, but this game was a foundation for acceptable competence.

Defend well and get the ball forward quickly.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Hasal-5, Brown-6, Blackmon-6, Veselinovic-6*, Nerwinski-6, Raposo-6, Teibert-5.5, Blackmon-6, Caicedo-5, Gauld-6, White-6 (Cavallini-6, Vite-5)

Vancouver Whitecaps: Exhuming McCarthy

We can safely sum up the start that the Vancouver Whitecaps have made to the new season as “not ideal”.

Sure the games have been against tough opponents and injuries to key players have taken their toll. But it’s never a good sign when excuses are being deployed this early in the campaign and the window for getting things right has been reduced greatly by the single point earned from the first four games.

So let’s take a look at where some of the the issues are and by “take a look at where some of the issues are” I mean “name names and throw individuals under the bus”.

Vanni Sartini- It’s possible that Sartini’s success last season was down to a combination of a change being as good as a rest for the players and a healthy dose of good fortune. But he also built that success on having a specific way of playing and sticking to it no matter who was available to fill the role.

This led to some odd decisions but it provided the Whitecaps with the degree of certainty they had lacked under Dos Santos. No more adapting to the opposition game in and game out. This is how we play and this how we will play.

Suddenly however the coach has been beset by the urge to switch things up. Inverted wing-backs to help bolster the midfield. One man or two men up front or one man and two men behind the striker.

The certainty is gone and the team are, once again, testing their tactics afresh in each new game.

The injuries to Gauld and White have no doubt had an impact on these decisions but Sartini now feels like a man who is over thinking things because he has a position to protect rather than a man who is doing what he believes in because there is nothing to lose.

Time to get back to what worked.

Cristian Dajome- It’s arguable that Dajome has been Vancouver’s most important player over the last two seasons. Always raising his game when the team were in trouble and chipping in with the occasional crucial goal.

This season though he feels like a man out of place.

Getting the best out of Dajome means giving him space to run into and the only way that’s possible right now is in the wing-back role. That lessens his impact even if he’s on the right, but the inverted wing-back role effectively kills it.

The long term solution to these positions should be Brown and Gutierrez which leaves Dajome looking like a stop gap even if he does prosper.

He probably works best as a wide player in a front three, but see above re Sartini avoiding moving things around to accommodate individual players. But playing Dajome as the lone forward when White isn’t available wouldn’t be a terrible idea.

Lucas Cavallini- It can’t be often that Cavallini is compared to Cristiano Ronaldo but he does pose a similar problem to the Whitecaps as Ronaldo poses to Manchester United.

A big name signing who is totally unsuitable to the tactical ethos the team are/were trying to build.

Cavallini can press the opposition defenders but not for a sustained period of time which effectively defeats the point.

He’s also proved himself incapable of sticking to any kind of tactical plan. Where Brian White works hard and “stays in his lane” Cavallini works hard and wanders over fields and meadows to chase the ball and, more often than not, finds himself in the ideal position to cross the ball to the place where he should have been all the time.

He’s a kind of Bizarro World goal poacher. A player who frequently places himself in the position where he is least likely to score while simultaneously getting in the way of everybody else.

Russell Teibert- The weird thing is that Teibert himself isn’t the problem. He’s a functional midfielder who should be doing a job as a useful player to bring off the bench or use in the games when the first choice midfield need a rest.

The problem is that the Whitecaps have somehow failed to find a better central midfielder than him despite having the whole world to search and over a decade to locate this seemingly enigmatic creature.

No team can win anything, or even just do okay, if the midfield offers nothing of value other than earnest looks and futile hustle.

If that problem isn’t solved then all else is in vain.

Vancouver Whitecaps in a whole wide world of pain

Thank goodness for the international break.

We all need time away from this Whitecaps team as their start to the season continued to be drenched in debilitating ennui as they lost 3-1 to LAFC on Sunday evening.

There are only so many times a human being can watch Jake Nerwinski be just off the pace or struggle to control a simple pass before the yearning for endless night envelopes them.

There are only so many times a human being can watch Russell Teibert receive the ball in space and simply play the ball back to a central defender thus putting the hapless colleague in a world of trouble before the very nature of existence itself becomes tenuous.

There are only so many times a human being can see Ryan Raposo be introduced for the last ten minutes of a game that is beyond repair before Good and Evil dissolve into a formless shadow and become one.

On a more mundane level, the Whitecaps may have been hit by injuries but there was nothing more injurious to them than their inability to execute the basics in all areas of the pitch. But mostly in defence.

They need to go away and have a good think about what they have done.

We all need to go away and not think about it at all.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Hasal-5, Brown-3, Godinho-3, Blackmon-5, Veselenovic-3, Nerwinski-2, Teibert-2, Berhalter-5*, Vite-4, Dajome-3, Cavallini-5

Vancouver Whitecaps are star-crossed in Houston

From yesterday but with additional musings.

Asterisms don’t exist.

There is no Big Dipper or Teapot or Crab collection of stars. They’re just random luminous balls of gas that human beings have assigned imaginary patterns to.

And yet these “patterns” have proved useful over the centuries, points of reference, navigational aids for the storm tossed sailor or water starved nomad.

Asterisms don’t exist but they do have a function.

The same cannot be said of the Vancouver Whitecaps midfield which, while also not existing, does not have any recognizable function.

And so it proved again in the 2-1 defeat to the Houston Dynamo on Saturday evening.

Vancouver were better when going forward and solid in defence, but the central pairing of Teibert and Owusu were neither Pisces nor fowl. Offering neither cover for the backline nor support for the forward line.

It can’t go on. Well, it can go on, but it shouldn’t.

Teibert is typically the player who attracts the ire after these performances because he’s a severely limited footballer who seems to play by pre-programmed algorithm rather than any intuitive understanding of the game.

But it’s hard to know why the Whitecaps still haven’t managed to acquire a midfielder to replace a player of such limitations and that’s a mystery worthy of it’s own QAnon style conspiracy theory. Genuinely baffling.

On another day maybe the Whitecaps would have got a point from this game? But it was all a bit if a struggle.

A good start faded into a closing twenty minutes where set-pieces were the only realistic hope of getting the equalizer that never came.

They weren’t helped by Ryan Gauld being terrible in both pass and touch and Lucas Cavallini having one of his better games and still not being the player the team need to lead the line.

Cavallini poses nothing but problems for Sartini. He’s a Designated Player on a high salary who doesn’t fit the way that Sartini wants to play. Nor does Cavallini seem capable of adapting his game in any meaningful way.

He found success yesterday by being in the centre of the goal and slotting home a cross and then proceeded to avoid that area of the pitch for as much as possible for the rest of the game.

It’s hard to know why he thinks he’s capable of dropping deep and linking up play or drifting wide and gliding past two or three defenders but he does. Genuinely baffling.

Neither have they been helped by the previous two games which they seem to have treated as a kind of pre-season warm up as they were “only” against Eastern Conference opponents.

Points are still points and I’m not sure how many times the Whitecaps need to suffer at the hands of that attitude before waking up to the reality of how numbers work.

On the positive side the back three of Blackmon, Veselinovic and Jungwirth look to be gelling and they will be even better once the wing-backs start to play as “backs” as well as “wings”.

But it’s been an inauspicious start to the season.

Not disastrous, but enough to make the optimism of the last season implode into the vast and empty nothingness of realism.

A major part of Sartini’s success last season was that he had a system of play and stuck to it regardless of the personnel available. That led to some odd selections but it did at least provide stability.

This season he has abandoned that philosophy and has been trying to find the system to suit the players available, making every game a learning curve that the players can’t climb.

It’s hard to know why he has departed from such a successful strategy but he has.

Genuinely baffling.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Hasal-5, Dajome-4, Gutierrez-4, Blackmon-6*, Veselinovic-5.5, Jungwirth-5, Teibert-2.5, Owusu-2.5, Gauld-2.5, Vite-5, Cavallini-4 (Brown-4)

Vancouver Whitecaps: Serenity Now!

The Ben Stiller directed TV series Severance is based on the premise that employees of Lumon Industries can opt to “sever” their work and personal selves.

When at work they are unaware of who they are in the outside world and, when at home, they are unaware of the work they perform.

It’s an intriguing premise and it sometimes feels as though if BC Place offered a similar service it would be most welcome.

Upon leaving the stadium all memories of what had just occurred were erased leaving us all to continue our lives in blissful ignorance of what had gone before.

Admittedly the subsequent return to BC Place and the mind being flooded with memories of the Whitecaps midfield would be the emotional equivalent of an ice bath on a cold January morning but everything is a trade off.

And the 0-0 tie with NYCFC was exactly the kind of game a person could do without using up valuable space in their neocortex.

It was all a much of a muchness with the visitors being the better team until they also seemed to lose the will to live as the second half progressed.

On the positive side the Whitecaps were at least more defensively solid than their last outing. Although a cynic may suggest that this wasn’t a difficult feat to achieve.

And these are still early days in the new season as the team search for some kind of rhythm. Although the same cynic may offer the view that, since there was only one player in the starting eleven who wasn’t with the squad last year, finding that rhythm shouldn’t be quite the challenge the Whitecaps seem to have made it.

Cavallini had one of his better games! The cynic wearily sighs about low bars and the striker having to be taken off because the coach feared he would pick up a second yellow card was indicative of a player who seems bafflingly unaware of how the disciplinary system in soccer works.

Hasal kept a confidence boosting clean sheet! Our cynic shrugs and accepts the pyrrhic defeat.

Onward then to series of tough road games before a tough home game against Kansas.

Major League Soccer is a forgiving league when it comes to slow starts, but that doesn’t mean that slow starts are a good thing.

Sartini needs to figure out how to get his team to play with the energy and confidence of the latter half of last season before it all becomes yet another uphill battle to scrape into the bottom end of the good part of the standings.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Hasal-6*, Dajome-3, Gutierrez-3, Blackmon-5, Veselinovic-5, Jungwirth-5, Teibert-3, Owusu-3, Gauld-4, Caicedo-3, Cavallini-4.5

Vancouver Whitecaps: It’s hump day again

The 4-0 defeat to the Columbus Crew was the day that Vanni Sartini finally became the coach of the Vancouver Whitecaps as the sunny ways of yesteryear were replaced by the harsh reality of first contact with the opening day of the MLS season.

The blame for that debacle lies partly with the coach himself and partly with something somewhat more ineffable.

Sartini got the team and the tactics wrong.

A central midfield of Teibert and Gauld did nothing to protect the defence and made Gauld a less effective attacking presence and the front two of Cavallini and Caicedo were left stranded as the wing-backs hovered in the liminal spaces that made them neither an attacking threat nor defensive shield.

But anyone who has tried to breed racing camels will understand Sartini’s dilemma.

If you focus on making the impressive beasts more aerodynamic then the humps will be too small to keep them alive in the merciless desert conditions. If the humps are too big then they lose the speed needed to win their races.

And so it goes with a football team. Solving the issue of trying to create chances can often mean that chances are conceded. Tighten the defence and the attack becomes arid.

And yet, last season, it seemed that Sartini had solved the puzzle.

Play Gauld behind the lone striker, get the wing-backs to attack and let the midfield do the heavy lifting while the team as whole pressed the opposition into mistakes.

There was no need to change that way of doing things, no need to try and breed a camel with wheels, especially as the starting eleven should improve once returnees and new arrivals are available to play.

Sticking to what works isn’t unimaginative, it’s how teams succeed.

But what of the ineffable?

The Columbus game and performance has been called a “wake up call” for the players, but this team has been hitting the snooze button with unthinking abandon for the last few years.

Watching the Whitecaps has become an eternal circle of a snake eating its own tail of deja vu. The team play badly, they do better in the next game then fall back to sleep again before the alarm sounds and they stir from their slumber one more time.

The only reason the current side gets praised for the ability to fight back from adversity is because it keeps allowing itself to be put in adverse situations.

Solving that issue will be no easy thing but, as they say in the CRPL, “aljamal yajib ‘an yurid dhalik

The camel has to want it.

Vancouver Whitecaps: When you gonna wake up?

On the positive side the Whitecaps 4-0 defeat to the Columbus Crew was only the first game of the season.

On the negative side all games are equal come the final reckoning so it’s still a terrible result.

Spoiler alert! It will be all negatives sides from this point forward.

Vanni Sartini decided that the best way to start the new season was to play Michael Baldisimo in the number six role with only Teibert and Gauld in the centre of midfield as any kind of barrier to protect him.

This didn’t work.

Teibert was anonymous and moving Gauld, the Whitecaps best attacking player by far, further away from the opposition goal also turned out to be not a good idea and Baldismo was faced with wave after wave of attacks swarming toward him with barely a moment to have the ball at his feet.

Also in the “not a good idea” file was playing a back three that hadn’t played together in a meaningful game before while leaving the experience of Jungwirth and Godoy on the bench.

Maybe the idea was to cure Thomas Hasal of any big game nerves with the use of some kind of innovative shock therapy? Survive this and you can survive anything kind of thing?

But even this cacophony of tactical calamities weren’t the worst aspect of the whole sorry affair.

Because the worst aspect of this performance was that it was an unnerving throwback to the Whitecaps biggest weakness last season.

The inability to perform consistently for ninety minutes.

Time and time again last year they got away with a sluggish first half by redeeming themselves in the second. But that’s a recipe for long term disaster and the hope was that the off season would be spent remedying that deficiency.

The hope was also that the off season would be spent working on how to play better football but seemingly neither of those options yet apply.

It may be only one game but there was enough awfulness to tip the pendulum of optimism firmly toward the pessimism side of the clock.

(Memo to self: That’s a terrible metaphor. Change it before you hit publish).

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Hasal-3, Brown-1, Dajome-4*, Nerwinski-3, Blackmon-2, Veselinovic-3, Baldsimo-2 Teibert-2, Gauld-4, Caicedo-2, Cavallini-4 (Berhalter-4)

Soccer Shorts: Brave New World

People often come up to me in the street and say “Russell, we’re all aware that Soccer Shorts gets better with each passing season, but surely it can’t improve on the fantastic work you did last year?”

I laugh manically at this question and scream all the ways that Soccer Shorts will once again improve as they slowly back away.

And now, for you the reader, I’ll take the time to list just some of the game changing improvements you will see in 2022.

The Soccer Shorts NFT- After each game I will be auctioning off my match report as an NFT (bids are expected to start in the low ten thousands).

For those few who are not yet aware what an NFT is, it is quite simply a Non Fungible Token. Or, to put it even more simply, it is a token that can’t be funged.

If demand proves high enough I also plan to release tokens that can be funged.

Watch this space!

The Soccer Shorts Substack- Tired of being told what to think about the Whitecaps by the lame stream media? Want to think for yourself and not let the tame stream media influence get in the way of that? Constantly angry at the way the meme stream media challenges your world view?

Then you sound like just the right sort of independent thinker who will love to subscribe to my Substack. Each week I will be delivering my newsletter in which I say all the things the game stream media don’t want to say.

Subscribe now!

Shortle- This terrific new puzzle game challenges you to guess the Soccer Shorts rating for a different player each week. But be warned! You only have six chances to get it right!

And for the puzzle aficionados out there, playing in “hard mode” means you won’t be able to use the same number twice.

Warning! Shortle may soon only be available to subscribers of The New York Times.

Shorttr- This innovative new social media app is for people who do their own research. If you’re tired of the so called “experts” with their stats and graphs and “facts” about a Whitecaps game, then head on over to Shortrr where like minded people have interesting things to say about how they felt about the game and nobody questions just what all those emojis in your profile are really alluding to.

Shortcoin- The soon to be launched Soccer Shorts crypto currency is a sure fire way to guarantee financial security in an ever changing world. Shortcoin’s value is exclusively linked to Russell Teibert’s Soccer Shorts player ratings (contractual agreement pending) thus ensuring a level of stability that other crypto currencies simply cannot match.

There will be more exciting innovations announced as the season progresses but you will undoubtedly think that this is already the greatest collection of ideas you have ever seen.

Stay tuned!

Vancouver Whitecaps Player Ratings 2021: The Forwards

Last time out we looked at the performances of the Whitecaps midfielders in 2021 and, before that the defence. Can you guess who we will be looking at today?

No, wrong! It’s not the admin staff, it’s the forwards. That was a terrible guess. Be better!

Cristian Dajome- There have been times when Dajome has been the essence of the Whitecaps team. If he was making an impact then the Whitecaps were making an impact. That changed with the arrival of both Sartini and Gauld, but Dajome remained a vital presence. However….it’s still not clear how he will fit into Sartini’s system over the long term. He’s an okay central forward slash deep lying forward but he’s so much better when given room to run in out wide and hit those powerful crosses that are essentially shots hit along the six yard line. It’s not impossible to envisage him as a wing back in the near future.

Season rating-6

Deiber Caicedo- Caicedo grew as the season went on and the hope is that a good pre-season will see him work on his final pass and his finishing to help shape him into a more complete player. He could be integral in 2022 or he could be an impact sub.

Season rating-6

Tossaint Ricketts- His contributions off the field were invaluable in making a connection with the supporters upon the return to BC Place. His contributions on the field were less successful. But he worked hard when given the chance and was hampered by injury for much of the year.

Season rating-3

Ryan Raposo- Another season where Raposo made little impact when given his limited chances. Needs to move to somewhere where he will play meaningful football.

Season rating-2

Ryan Gauld- The Platonic ideal of the kind of Designated Player that Vancouver should be signing. Gauld won’t amaze people with his trickery or elicit gasps of astonishment as he rakes a cross field pass to the feet of an on rushing wing-back. But he will always make the right run, make the right pass and be in the right place when a ball falls loose in the box and, in doing so, drag those around him into doing the same. Throw in his tireless work ethic and Gauld is already the best DP in Whitecaps history.

Season rating-7

Brian White- The Platonic ideal of the kind of intra-MLS player the Whitecaps should be signing. Seen as a back up to Lucas Cavallini when he first signed White’s profile went from “Who is he?” to “How is he doing that?” surprisingly quickly. But he did it by playing for the team, sticking to his role and being a better finisher than most of us expected him to be.

Season rating-6.5

Lucas Cavallini- There were time this season when Cavallini looked less like a professional footballer and more like an Avant Garde performance artist as his cameo appearances would feature what seemed to be an array of challenging takes on modern society. What was he trying to say as he watched another ball bounce haplessly off his shins? Why was he just trying to protect the ball in the middle of the pitch? Not move it forward or backwards, just protect it? Were his incessant yellow cards a damning indictment of the growing authoritarianism within the world? Were his arm waving complaints to his colleagues about their own failures a biting satire on the lack of self awareness within a privileged elite? Nobody knows. Cavallini may have been a functioning striker in the dim and distant past, but it’s rare to see a player fall of a metaphorical cliff quite so precipitously. He really needs to leave.

Season rating-1

Vancouver Whitecaps Player Ratings 2021: The Midfield

Last time out we took a look at the the multitude of defenders on the Whitecaps roster and awarded season ratings based on objectivity and science.

This time we take a look at the less crowded area of midfielders.

Russell Teibert- The official Whitecaps site archly lists Teibert as a forward. He’s not. This season however (or rather this half-season coinciding with the appointment of Sartini) Teibert demonstrated that he could do more than simply scamper back to receive the ball from a central defender, before returning the ball to the same central defender with unerring accuracy. He hit intelligent forward passes, got some assists and even scored a goal. Aside from the period where Martin Rennie tried to turn him into an MLS Arjen Robben it was Teibert’s most impressive run of form as a Whitecap. That was both pleasing to see and yet somehow tinged with the melancholy of the lingering shadows of all the seasons that might have been had his coaches asked more of him.

Season rating-6

Janio Bikel- There were those (me) who hoped that this season Bikel would show the quality to impose himself in the midfield role. Be an upgrade on Teibert and give the Whitecaps the combination of steel and guile they’ve been missing for so long. But it never happened or, if it did, it happened in fits and starts and Bikel was relegated to the bench without ever performing well enough to win his place back. A hugely disappointing season.

Season rating-3.5

Leonard Owusu- During pre-season Owusu earned rave reviews for his performances. Mar Dos Santos took this as unacceptable behaviour and barely played him for months on end. Vanni Sartini did play him and, while he could be fitful in his level of play, Owusu did offer at least some of the steel and some of the guile that the Whitecaps have been missing for so long.

Season rating-5.5

Michael Baldisimo– Sartini tried Baldisimo as a central defender and although the idea of turning him into a Koemanesque lynch pin of the defence seems appealing it didn’t work. Neither did Baldisimo work in midfield this season and it’s hard to see how he ever will while Sartini is in charge. Sartini needs his two central players to be water carriers and Baldisimo’s game is built on accepting the occasional leak in return for the possibility of jets of inspiration. Baldisimo needs to be somewhere where he will play football regularly.

Season rating-3

Patrick Metcalfe- There was no shame in Metcalfe failing when he was played in central defence and there was no shame when he failed when played as a wing-back (there was bafflement, but no shame). But on the few occasions when Metcalfe did get to play in central midfield he still remained an anonymous figure. A sadly failed audition.

Season rating-2

Caio Alexandre– Injury curtailed his season to make any genuine assessment impossible. But Alexandre showed glimpses of what he could do going forward and the possibility of him linking up with Gauld remains intriguing.

Season rating-4

Next time out we look at the forwards!