Whitecaps fail to make an impact (again)

Now with additional réflexions from the day after.

If a person were forced to select Carl Robinson’s least appealing trait as a coach than that fellow could do worse than select his propensity to view the limitations of his squad as a safety net rather than a challenge to be overcome.

After the game on Wednesday Robinson was of the opinion that his team “went after” the away goal in Montreal which we can accurately describe as more than a slight gilding of the lily. 

He also thought the team worked “extremely hard” which is basically covering the lily in molten gold until it crumples beneath the weight of its own sadness and withers and dies.

Robinson has never seen his team suffer a loss that couldn’t be put down to the lack of relative quality of the players he manages, or the travel or the squad rotation or something or something or something.

And he seems fine with that.

The post match shrugs and smiles befit the aura of a man comfortable in the knowledge that extracting more than the sum of said squad parts isn’t really within his remit.

And boy did we see that in full effect in the 1-0 loss to the Montreal Impact in the first leg of the Voyaguer’s Cup.

This time around it will no doubt be squad rotation that gets brought to the fore as the reason for yet another tepid display.

But here’s the thing.

If you’re going to keep rotating your first eleven then you’d better figure out a way to make that rotation work and not just use it as one more punchline at the end of another “You know me, I don’t make excuses but…” post game quote.

And sooner or later the coach is going to have to accept that the team needs somebody in front of the defence to protect them. Giving up goal after goal from the edge of the box isn’t a coincidence. It’s happens because the Whitecaps have nobody to close down the shooter because they’ve all either dropped too deep or haven’t tracked back. 

As things stand Vancouver would be better off planting a fence post at the outer edge of the “D” to at least give opposition players some obstruction to think about before lining up a shot.

So what were the standout features from the loss?

Anthony Blondell seemed set on trolling those of us who have argued he deserves a decent run in the team by giving a display shot though with appalling first touches and decision-making.

Maybe he just needs more minutes? Maybe he’s run out of hope? Maybe he was just trying too hard?

Whatever the reason he was fortunate to even appear for the second half (although he didn’t improve at all).

You know who will never be accused of working too hard?

Yes, spot on.

Whatever we may think of Shea’s salary in Vancouver to see a senior player display that level of disinterest and sheer carelessness speaks volumes as to why the team consistently fail in the character stakes.

It wasn’t just Shea who played badly of course and by the end of the second half most Whitecaps fans were probably reduced to exclaiming “Oh, is he still on the field?” whenever one of their players touched the ball.

Robinson tried to turn the game around by bringing on Hurtado, Franklin and Ibini but to no avail and………….

Wait! What?

Yes, the competition the club really, really care about was subjected to that level of tactical wizardry.

So it seems Robinson has thrown all his eggs into the playoff basket (probably because of an edict from on high?) so this Saturday’s game against Seattle gains even more importance than it did before.

The Sounders have been terrible for much of this season but they have shown the odd glimpse of life in recent weeks.

For those of us who already feel the post-season schedule is one that will be unencumbered by actual games of football for the Whitecaps it will be a game filled more with macabre curiosity than genuine hope.

But at least feeling macabre curiosity is better than the studied disinterest this team currently seems determined to engender into their fanbase.

In the end the Whitecaps were astonishingly lucky to escape with just a one goal defeat but let’s not pretend it was anything more than another nail to the heart of whatever hope any of us have of anything getting remotely better in either the short or long-term.

But why would it get better when the only net anybody seems genuinely interested in is that metaphorical safety net of just about acceptable mediocrity?

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Marinovic-5.5*, Nerwinski-5, Maund-4.5, Ghazal-5, Levis-5, Teibert-4.5, Norman-4.5, Techera-3.5, Shea-3, Mezquida-5, Blondell-2.5

 

 

Rooneymania wins the day

Now with updated “angry mutterings” from the day after.

Even on the next day it’s kind of hard to believe that the coach of a team fighting for a playoff spot and losing 1-0 thinks it’s okay to shake the hand of an opposition substitute.

But what else can we take away from that game?

The 4-4-2 system is no longer fit for purpose on the road. In the last two games away from BC Place the Whitecaps have conceded seven goals (against not particularly good teams) and while the openness it brings to their game is at least creating chances at home it’s killing the season when used anywhere else.

It’s also starting to feel as though the primary purpose of this season (Correction: the only purpose of this season) is for the club to hype up Alphonso Davies to a level that means they can sell him for the highest possible amount.

Nothing wrong that intention at all and yesterday he provided one more Giffable moment to add to the rest of the collection.

But from a supporter’s point of view what a waste of his young talent this season has been.

A team containing the talent of Davies and Reyna with the MLS experience of Kamara and Felipe around them could and should have been crafted into an exciting and coherent whole rather than the nebulous and ever-changing lineups we’ve been subjected to.

Heaven help us once the young phenom is gone.

So, after relying on having played more games to make the standings look respectable, the Whitecaps have sunk to their more or less correct level of eighth and it’s hard to see that improving in any meaningful manner given the schedule

But at least the coach should be able to snap up the autographs of some pretty good opposition players on the way.

Now back to your previous programming.

For most of the Vancouver Whitecaps 3-1 loss to DC United it felt like what it was.

A not very good Western Conference team visiting a not very good Eastern Conference team on the day they opened their new stadium.

Advantage Eastern Conference team for sure.

Then, at 1-0 in the second half, DC United brought on their new DP signing Wayne Rooney.

And what does Carl Robinson do?

He rushes to shake the hand of his opponent like a star struck fourteen year old grabbing at the hem of the clothes of the pop idol of the moment.

Our coach is so desperate to be accepted by somebody famous that he clearly doesn’t care about the result of the game anymore, he just wants to feel the glitter of the opposition.

It’s bad enough watching Robinson trying to ingratiate himself with opponents taking throw ins at BC Place (at least he can hide under the cover of “mind games” when that happens) but to see him fawn over the other team when the result is still in the balance is just flat-out embarrassing.

What’s the point in discussing tactics or formations when this is who is leading the Whitecaps?

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Rowe-5, Franklin-5, de Jong-5, Henry-5, Aja-5, Felipe-5, Juarez-5, Reyna-5, Mutch-5, Davies 5.5,  Kamara-5

Vancouver Whitecaps welcome Schadenfreude to BC Place

“Siri, show me a game that perfectly encapsulates the advantages and the disadvantages of the Vancouver Whitecaps playing the 4-4-2 system”

“Here is a list of cinemas in your area”

“Siri no, Whitecaps, 4-4-2, advantages and disadvantages”

“Plutonium is a radioactive chemical element with symbol Pu and atomic number 94”

“This isn’t really working is it?”

“You have to say ‘Siri’ first. I can’t hear you unless you say ‘Siri’ first”

“But I didn’t…..”

“Can’t hear you unless you say ‘Siri’ first”

Anyway the game that did encapsulate those advantages and disadvantages was the Whitecaps 3-2 win over the Chicago Fire at BC Place on Saturday evening.

The main advantage is they always look capable of creating some kind of scoring opportunity for themselves.

The main disadvantage is they always look capable of creating some kind of scoring opportunity for their opponents.

Back in the days when Carl Robinson was focussed on the defensive aspects of the game his philosophy was to turn every contest into a virtual coin toss by making the first goal more or less the game winner.

If the Whitecaps conceded first they found it hard to move out of their sit back and counter mode butif the Whitecaps scored first they were perfectly set up in their sit back and counter mode.

And strangely enough the games are still a virtual coin toss given how open this team is asnd how willing they are to trade chances with the oppoition.

Against Chicago we saw the experienced trio of Juarez, Felipe and Mutch start together for the first time and while none of them contributed consistently to the attacking play it was Juarez and Mutch who combined for the goal at the start of the second half which recalibrated the Whitecaps after they had squandered the advantage of being the better team in the first.

Mutch is clearly not a natural wide player and his presence out there reduces the opportunities for crosses in to Kamara (especially when the full backs gets forward as little as they did on Saturday) but his tendency to drift inside was one reason he got the opportunity to score his goal.

And it may be that having those three experienced players playing mostly conservative soccer and allowing Reyna and Davies to create chaos ahead of them is the best way to go from here on in.

That won’t solve the defensive issues however and it’s doubtful that even the return of Kendall Waston and Stefan Marinovic (remember him?) will fully paper over the cracks of a back line that has never really functioned correctly all season.

That may be partly due to the lack of a midfield shield in this current system or it may be due to the constant chopping and changing of personnel, but whatever the reason it will be the undoing of the team far more than all the chances they’ve missed going forward.

The schedule gets really tough from here on in and we will almosy certaily be looking back at the halcyon days of sitting in sixth place with affection come late August.

But the win over the Chicago Fire was an entertaining game of football and that was good enough for a pleasant summer evening.

“Summer is the period from the summer solstice to the autumn equinox”

“What?”

“You asked me about summer”

“No I didn’t. And I definitley didn’t say ‘Siri’ first”

“I thought you did”

“I didn’t”

“Can’t hear you unless you say ‘Siri’ first”

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Rowe-4.5, Nerwinski-5.5, Henry-5.5, Aja-5.5, de Jong-5.5, Felipe-5, Juarez-6, Mutch-5.5, Davies-6, Reyna-6*, Kamara-5.5

 

Whitecaps gotta go back to go forward?

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that the switch to 4-4-2 turned around the season for the Vancouver Whitecaps.

It certainly produced more exciting football and conveniently headed off at the pass the growing clamour of discontent swirling around the club.

But the reality is that in the nine games played this way the Whitecaps have won just two and haven’t kept a clean sheet in any of them.

It seems we’ve all been blinded by the superficial glitter and remained oblivious to the underlying flaws.

So does Carl Robinson stick with what isn’t working but kinda, sorta feels like it is or throw in his lot with another new formation?

It’s usually around this time in a season when Vancouver hit some kind of slump and that may well be because opposition coaches have worked out how the Whitecaps will play and have adapted to it.

So changing things around might not be that bad an idea no matter what the reason.

It’s still possible this squad could play three at the back very effectively but that would take time (and willingness) on the training field so it looks like our old friend 4-2-3-1 should probably raise its head again.

The benefits of this are many.

It allows the reintroduction of two holding midfielders to protect the back four (and if Felipe or Mutch fill one of those roles during games at BC Place it doesn’t have to be as defensive a system as was previously played).

It forces Kei Kamara to stay central and forward instead of somehow finding himself out wide and taking throw ins when the teams are attacking.

And it allows flexibility in the three behind the front man.

Davies, Reyna and Techera (when fit, not suspended etc.) look like the ideal players for the these slots but Mezquida, Felipe, Mutch or Shea could fill in when needed.

No mention of Anthony Blondell here because he’s starting to feel like another one of those signings that don’t get the field time they either deserve or need before being moved on having left barely a mark on our memories.

When he has played Blondell has looked raw but lively and effective and it’s odd to see just how little playing time he has had.

Chances are that Robinson will give 4-4-2 one last try for the upcoming home game to the Chicago Fire but it’s had a good run and soon needs to be replaced with something a little more substantial.

Vancouver Whitecaps: Canada D’oh

Now with added post Canada Day thought bombs.

So I’m calling it.

The Vancouver Whitecaps aren’t going to make the playoffs this year.

The 1-0 loss at home to the Colorado Rapids was the final nail in a coffin that’s been begging for the sweet release of death for weeks now.

You could certainly look at the standings and argue that the games in hand of other teams count for little but, to quote Schopenhauer, “Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world” and the world outside of the Whitecaps has moved on.

Carl Robinson has taken the best group of players he has had under his control and turned them into an amorphous mess where nobody could name what he thinks is the best eleven or even what he thinks the best way of playing is.

In a comment to the original post a commenter wonders if the plethora of  choice leaves Robinson in a position where he’s trying to please too many players to ever settle on a genuine starting eleven.

Robinson has never set himself up as a disciplinary coach but rather one who earns the trust of his players through man management and it may well be that this desire to keep everybody happy simply results in everybody being just a little bit dissatisfied.

In some ways it’s a fascinating metaphor for the inefficiencies of the modern Capitalist system and in other ways it would be nice if the coach just made his mind up.

It’s been tempting for some to be mollified by the recent series of games which produced great entertainment, if not great results, but nobody could honestly have looked at those matches and concluded this was a coherent team operating under a coherent philosophy.

And before we get on to the substance of the Colorado game can we acknowledge that the decision to start Kendall Waston was indicative of everything that’s wrong right now?

Of course the Captain wanted to play after his World Cup exploits, but of course somebody within the club should have been strong enough to say that clearly wasn’t a good idea given that he’d just flown in from Russia!

But it seems either nobody wanted to make that decision or convey that decision to him so we get a lacklustre Waston and a wasted substitution at half-time.

It also turns out that Waston left the game with a groin strain making the decision to start him even more foolhardy (see above re wanting to keep players happy rather than manage them).

Ironically the Whitecaps didn’t play all that badly against Colorado, they just couldn’t finish their chances.

And part of that has to be down to how poorly Kei Kamara has been playing.

He constantly seems to want to drop deep to be the hold up man but his first touch (and his second and third) aren’t good enough for the role so Vancouver either lose the ball or (on the odd occasion when he succeeds) don’t have anybody in the box to cross to.

Ironically (again) Robinson finally has a player who is suited to receiving high balls punted into the box and yet he’s never there to receive them.

Ironically (again) Robinson mentioned this very fact in his post game interview but this isn’t a new thing.

It’s been mentioned on the AFTN preview podcast on more than one occasion and even I wondered a few weeks ago if this was a deliberate tactic to create space for other players.

So the coach of the team has either failed to notice this until now or has noticed it but hasn’t taken any action about it.

Neither of those options are hugely inspiring.

The only real bright spot was Alphonso Davies who continues to cause havoc among the opposition whenever he has the ball at his feet.

But how frustrating is it to see that talent being wasted in a team that has become less than the sum of its parts?

So what now?

Almost certainly the slow descent into a seventh or eighth place with the club desperately trying to keep the tension of the possibility of postseason play alive until the very last cross is headed away or the very last shot is hammered over the bar.

But sooner or later somebody is going to have to “look beyond the limits of their own field of vision” and make a brave decision.

Unfortunately every indication is that brave decisions won’t happen and if they do they will certainly be too late.

Let’s hope that prevarication only destroys this season and not those to come.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Rowe-6.5, Franklin-6, Waston-5, Henry-6, de Jong-6, Felipe-6, Juarez-5.5, Shea-5, Davies-7*, Mezquida-5.5, Kamara-4 (Mutch-5.5)

This blog is not available in your location

It’s Canada Day!

And, like you, I will celebrating by watching soccer for almost all of the day.

And is there any bigger game than the visit of the Colorado Rapids to BC Place?

Congratulations! You gave the correct answer and therefore win the chance to read the following “Things to look out for in this game”.

Discipline- The 4-0 loss to the Philadelphia Union cost the Vancouver Whitecaps the services of Jose Aja (red card), Yordy Reyna (red card) and as we discovered on news dump Friday, Cristian Techera (three game ban for offensive language).

So will the lessons be learned from that debacle of indiscipline? Well, lack of control isn’t a new thing for this squad so we should probably take Carl Robinson’s assertion that this will be addressed with a pinch of salt.

The litmus test will be if the coaching staff can somehow bring themselves to concentrate on the actual game rather than frequently throwing tantrums at the officials.

If the supposed leaders in the locker room can’t control their behaviour then don’t expect the players to.

Formation- The switch to the more attacking 4-4-2 was a response to a series of poor results rather than a change of Robinson’s tactical heart.

So will all those goals conceded give him the urge to switch to something more comforting?

It’s hard to believe that will be the case against one of the worst teams in MLS but the next road trip may well see the return of two defensive midfielders and a more protected back four.

Canadian content- It would be madness for anybody to pressure the coach into playing players just because the club was promoting a certain theme.

But Alphonso Davies is a shoe in to start and one of de Jong or Levis has to be preferred to Brek Shea after his performance at left back last weekend.

So that just leaves Russell Teibert hanging around to take a look at the team sheet.

Teibert’s play this season means he has a pretty good case to be in the starting eleven but he’s fallen out of favour for some reason so chances are he’ll be riding the pine (fake leatherette).

Kendall Waston- Will the captain get a start? That seems highly unlikely given the emotions of playing and scoring in a World Cup game (and is there any team less “World Cuppy” than the Rapids?) so that means Henry and Maund should start in the centre of defence.

Safe to say that if Maund doesn’t start in this game then his exclusion becomes stranger and stranger given how decent he’s been when he has played.

Not stellar, but definitely decent.

Bounce back game- The Whitecaps really need this. As things stand the best they can realistically hope for is a fifth place finish in the Western Conference and they won’t achieve even that if they drop points at home to the likes of Colorado.

So this is yet another chance to make amends for a previous failure.

Try and match that kind of drama FIFA!

Vancouver Whitecaps: Too much time at Club Tropicana?

Now with italicised hindsight from the day after.

There are times when the whole world can seem slightly off kilter. After a particularly vivid fever dream perhaps, the sudden death of a loved one that throws clarity on what was previously blurred or maybe the ingestion of industrial amounts of hallucinogenic drugs.

One other such time is when watching a game of Major League Soccer immediately after a World Cup game.

And this isn’t a “Hey! The MLS is bad” take. Every league in the world would lose some of its lustre when compared to the behemoth that is the World Cup. For where is the vibrancy? Whither the national narratives being shaped in the moment and the sheer heartbreak and joy with almost every goal?

But still, watching the Whitecaps lumber their way around the field against Philadelphia was unedifying to say the least.

After the game Carl Robinson had this to say 

“We looked two miles off. We did not look like we were fit enough. I know that is a little bit harsh, but we looked like we were tired.”

Hard to say if this is just another example of the coach throwing shade at his players in an attempt to deflect from his own failings, but whatever the interpretation it’s a somewhat shocking admission.

His contention seems to be that the Whitecaps, as a group, came back from a two-week break in too poor a physical condition to compete.

No point in saying that lessons need to be learned from this because we’ll hear that same familiar refrain again and again from within the club for the next week.

And now back to the original post.

If you follow the Vancouver Whitecaps on Social Media you’ll be well aware they went into the game against the Philadelphia Union looking to extend a six game unbeaten run.

If you follow the actual results of the team you’ll know those six games included some pretty poor ties at home and two wins against teams who were in disastrous form.

So a loss in Philadelphia wasn’t that unexpected an outcome.

What was slightly more alarming was the manner of the loss.

The Whitecaps began as though they were still on vacation, or maybe still watching the World Cup, as they stood back to admire the Union’s baffling ability to pass the ball to each other and occasionally make the effort to win it back when they didn’t have it.

Somehow though Vancouver went into the break only one goal down and, for a brief spell, the introduction of Mezquida and Mutch looked to inject some life into the team.

Then it all fell apart again.

Three more goals conceded including two penalties and two red cards are surely indicative of something far more rotten in the state of the team than simply not being able to get back up to speed after a two-week lay off or the trauma of a cross-country flight.

The whole performance stank of a group who either felt the recent decent run of form meant the pressure was off or didn’t have the will to step up to the plate after a relaxing break.

And the decision to name an unchanged eleven for the first time this season was certainly interesting since that eleven was previously being held to a 1-1 tie at home by ten men Orlando until changes were made.

It’s almost as though Carl Robinson had looked at the result of that game rather than the reason for the result and watching the way his side played in Philadelphia certainly upped the irony factor of having spent the last week observing him dole out advice to World Cup managers on the need for early substitutions and the importance of going for the win and not sitting back.

Given the chance of reciprocity some of those managers may well have offered him the advice that continuing to play Brek Shea as a left back was inviting this kind of result and perhaps they would also have wondered why he continues to oversee a group of players who lose their heads (both tactically and emotionally) as soon as things go against them?

On to the Canada Day game at BC Place against Colorado.

But the Whitecaps are going to have to do more than beat the likes of the Rapids to convince anybody they are genuine playoff contenders and any pre World Cup break optimism has been well and truly discarded.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Rowe-4, Nerwisnki-4, Shea-3, Aja-4, Henry-5*, Felipe-4, Ghazal-4, Davies-4, Techera-4, Reyna-3, Kamara-3.5 (Mutch-5, Mezquida-5)