Vancouver Whitecaps have just enough sting to shoot down the Rapids

Let’s get one thing straight.

The Vancouver Whitecaps were fairly terrible in the first half of their 2-1 win over the Colorado Rapids at BC Place on Saturday evening.

Taking a fourth minute lead against the worst road team in Major League Soccer should have been an invitation to build on that goal and then coast through the rest of the game and thus  save legs and minds for the Wednesday trip to Seattle.

Instead the Whitecaps decided the best option was to immediately concede possession and hang on for dear life in the hope that the visitors wouldn’t be able to breach their defence.

But they did.

And what should have been a comfortable game of football was transposed into an edgy encounter for those both on and off the pitch.

We all know that Carl Robinson likes to play the game in a certain kind of way but there are times when the fine line between tactical pragmatism and tactical pusillanimity become somewhat blurred.

And the first half of the game against Colorado was one of those times.

Thankfully Vancouver were a little better in the second half but still failed to increase their tally once Jordy Reyna had restored the lead in the fifty-fourth minute and we were subjected to watching Colorado lump high balls into the box for much of the rest of the time.

Yet for all the underwhelming nature of the victory the Whitecaps now sit four points clear at the top of the Western Conference and the much coveted home playoff game seems to be a more likely occurrence than not.

Watching this team one can’t help but be reminded of Mary Kay Ash’s famous quote about the humble bumble bee

“Aerodynamically, the bumble bee shouldn’t be able to fly, but the bumble bee doesn’t know it so it goes on flying anyway.”

I mean, logically this team shouldn’t be able to win so many games, but they don’t seem to know that and so they go on winning them anyway.

Anything else we can take from the match?

Well, Fredy Montero and Jordy Reyna are clearly vital to any success since they provided the only attacking threats of any note with both goals set up by sublime assists.

Brek Shea is still yet to prove he is deserving of a regular first team place.

Nerwinski and de Jong both offered something going forward, although probably not as much as they either could or should have done given the opposition they were facing.

And just maybe Tim Parker isn’t captain material? He got the nod again given the absence of Kendall Waston but he was badly at fault for the Colorado goal and on a number of occasions took options that were atypical of the way he normally plays the game.

That might just be the result of not having the comfort of Waston alongside him, but it may also be that the burden of captaincy clouds his mind rather than clears it.

It’s now on to two tough games in Seattle and Kansas this week and they will go a long way to deciding which of the top four playoff spot the Whitecaps are really battling for.

But don’t bet against this team continuing to fly no matter what the science may tell you.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Ousted-6, Nerwinski-6, de Jong-6, Parker-5, Jacobson-6, Ghazal-6.5, Tchani-5.5, Techera, Shea-5.5, Reyna- 7*, Montero-6.5

 

 

We need to talk about Alphonso

But which Alphonso Davies do we need to talk about?

Because right now there are two; the sixteen year old phenom who is massively overachieving by being anywhere near an MLS squad and the MLS player whose form has dipped dramatically since a successful Gold Cup tournament

For those of us watching from the outside it’s fairly easy to blur the lines between the two. We know when Davies makes an appearance that he isn’t the finished article, but we also know that every time he steps on to the field he’s getting closer to that goal.

And, added to that, there’s the thrill of simply being there at the start of what will hopefully become a stellar career because, for all the hype around big name signings, there’s nothing quite like watching a player develop right from the get go.

But for Carl Robinson those two separate iterations of the same player present his biggest coaching dilemma right now.

It’s clear that Robinson is trying to develop Davies as a player by giving him minutes when he’s ready for them and resting him when he needs rest.

And it’s fair to say that at times those decisions have been made at the expense of the immediate needs of the team.

Giving Davies time on the field may not always have been the best tactical option but the coach has been savvy enough to know that immediate needs should sometimes be sacrificed for the longer term good.

After all, if on the field experience means an improved Alphonso Davies in 2018 then that’s worth far more than closing down the centre of the field by introducing a Jacobson or a Teibert.

But parameters change.

And the Whitecaps are now atop the Western Conference with an immediate home game with which to solidify their position before a tough run of four road games from five to end the season.

Suddenly the ratio of what’s gained and what’s lost by using Davies becomes a different equation and, while every game is of equal importance from an objective point of view, the finishing line concentrates all minds alike and suddenly that objective point of view begins to see points from a far more subjective angle.

None of this would matter if Davies was in good form of course but, unfortunately, he isn’t.

He was partly at fault for the second Real Salt Lake goal in the 3-2 win, anonymous in a starting role against Minnesota on Wednesday and ineffective as a substitute in the tie with Columbus.

The Whitecaps took seven points from those games but Robinson can’t have failed to notice how out of sorts the youngster was and while Davies will always put in a shift from a defensive point of view and will always have a burst of speed to unnerve a defender, it’s his inability to successfully link up with teammates that is the most pressing concern right now.

It’s hard to say why that is.

Maybe growing up so far ahead of your age cohort means a few too many mistakes can be glossed over by pure ability?

Maybe he isn’t getting enough minutes playing with the regular first teamers?

But what it really looks like is that Davies is trying too hard and thinking too much.

And that tends to manifest itself in what we’ve seen from him of late.

Attempting to beat that one extra opponent when a simple pass is the better option, wanting an extra touch in front of goal when a first time shot is the obvious call.

And, yes, all players go through such moments in their careers and the good ones all come through them.

Thankfully Davies is one of the good ones and will power through this rough patch but the question for Robinson is how much of chance he grants the youngster in the coming weeks.

The coach’s instinct is clearly to let the player play his way out of bad form (Davies’ recent appearances may even have been Robinson’s way of doing just that) but if his form doesn’t turn around in the next couple of games does the coach continue with that philosophy if it means points being dropped?

It’s a tough call.

But while every fibre of Robinson’s being may be screaming that he simply “let the kid play”, the wiser counsels of his nature may be softly whispering that he may never be this close to catching the lightning in a bottle of a good run to the post season ever again.

Only time will tell which internal advice he considers the most sage.

But, one way or another, the coach and the kid will learn a lot about each other in the next few weeks.

 

Whitecaps get their Manneh back

The problem with playing a system that actively allows the opposition to have more possession of the ball is that from time to time you are going to run into a team that actually know how to use that possession effectively.

And that’s what happened to the Vancouver Whitecaps in their 2-2 tie at BC Place with the Columbus Crew on Saturday afternoon.

By the end the Whitecaps were more than happy to come away with a point after seeing Kekuta Manneh return bearing gifts of an assist and a goal to cancel out Fredy Montero’s early strike.

What we saw from Manneh was exactly why he was both exciting and frustrating to watch in a Whitecaps uniform.

Two fantastic moments that turned the game and two moments (a wildly hit shot from twelve yards out in the first half and an errant pass that would have set a teammate free in the second) that probably mean he will never achieve the highest level.

Still, it was nice that he got a round of applause at the start and when being substituted but it was a tad too much for some Whitecaps fans to actually applaud his goal.

I mean, come on!

Overall Carl Robinson will perhaps feel that this game wasn’t so much a case of his system not working as it was a case of his players not playing the system correctly because Tchani and Aly Ghazal frequently left too much space open in the centre of the field and Fredy Montero and Jordy Reyna were often two isolated islands desperately hoping others would join them to form an attacking archipelago.

It wasn’t that Shea and Techera offered nothing going forward, it was just their inability to consistently support the front two created the disconnect we’ve seen so often in the past.

It was still pretty entertaining stuff though and Jordy Reyna was twice denied by the woodwork as he put in a particularly lively second half shift.

But if this game foreshadows the playoffs then there are areas for concern.

Columbus had clearly worked out that closing down the Whitecaps central defenders can disrupt the whole game and that playing between the lines of the midfield and the attack asks questions that Vancouver aren’t always able to answer.

No doubt more than a few MLS coaches will be taking notes on those particular points of interest.

On the positive side the Whitecaps once again demonstrated that almost no game is a lost cause and even though Robinson reverted to the tactical long shots of throwing Erik Hurtado up front and playing Alphonso Davies at left back they somehow managed to eke out the kind of point that could prove vital come season end.

Neither will it do them any harm to carry around the idea that finding a last minute goal is something they are always capable of achieving.

The Whitecaps remain top of the Western Conference and at the start of this run of home games most of us would have taken ten points from the four as a decent haul.

That can be achieved with a victory over the Colorado Rapids next Saturday but they are a team who will happily bunker down and let the Whitecaps come onto them and that’s a different challenge entirely.

Right now it’s all good but it’s still too early to say whether those few clouds on the horizon will dissipate to reveal the sun or begin to accumulate to bring rain.

Stay tuned for the traffic report.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Ousted-6, Nerwinski-6, Parker-5.5, Waston-6, Harvey-6, Ghazal-5.5, Tchani-5.5, Techera-5, Shea-6, Reyna-6.5, Montero-6.5* 

 

Vancouver Whitecaps: Top of the World Ma!

The Vancouver Whitecaps 3-0 win over Minnesota United at BC Place on Wednesday evening wasn’t the kind of game to convince any neutral about the magic of soccer.

A very poor road team that wasn’t really interested in attacking was comfortably beaten by a largely ‘B’ squad home team who weren’t that interested in attacking either but had easily enough quality on the break to cruise to victory.

But if it wasn’t a game for the uncommitted at least the committed will know that this is exactly the sort of contest a serious contender for any title needs to win.

And it was exactly the kind of game the Whitecaps have messed up time after time in recent memory.

Fortunately Carl Robinson learned from recent missteps in team selection and avoided the trap of sending out an unchanged eleven after a good win only to seem them fall flat on their faces in their much anticipated sequel.

This time there were abundant changes and although the bit part players played their role well enough it was a previous star, Jordy Reyna, who lit up the stage.

In the first half Reyna was the only Whitecap who looked capable of injecting either pace or imagination into the game and, after calmly finishing a Marcel de Jong through ball in the early minutes, he tormented Minnesota just enough to push more than a few of them to the brink of seeing red.

Elsewhere both Brek Shea and Alphonso Davies were poor in the wide positions (although Shea somewhat redeemed himself with an assist and a goal) and Erik Hurtado was Erik Hurtado, which was enough against the worst team to have played at BC Place this season.

Tchani and Teibert were workmanlike and uninspiring in the centre of midfield but both de Jong and Nerwinski offered something going forward without ever being troubled in their defensive duties.

All in all it was all a bit “meh”, but Vancouver have enough quality in depth now that “meh” is easily enough against an MLS team who seem to have based their expansion year on the theory that the league hasn’t progressed since 2014.

Six points from the first two home games of a four game stretch is perfect and if the Whitecaps can pick up at least four (maybe three would be enough?) from the remaining two then a top four spot at the end of the season seems a more than likely prospect.

For now though we should all just simply enjoy being top of the Western Conference.

Seriously, top of the Western Conference. Who would have thought it?

Time for the Soccer Shorts Player Ratings.Ousted-6, de Jong-6.5, Parker-6, Waston-6, Nerwinski-6.5, Teibert-6, Tchani-5.5, Reyna-7*, Shea-5.5, davies-5.5, Hurtado-5.5

 

 

Vancouver Whitecaps: (Insert catchy headline here!)

It’s not often a game in which neither team really look like scoring ends in a 3-2 result but that’s what happened at BC Place on Saturday evening.

Fortunately for the Vancouver Whitecaps the 3 goals were for them and the 2 were for Real Salt Lake and one of those “this would be a great game to win” games that has constantly tripped this team up over the past few seasons was in the bag.

With other results also going their way on Saturday the Whitecaps are now third in the Western Conference standings, still with games in hand.

There’s will no doubt be a few twists and turns along the way but, unless the team completely implode, it’s more of a case of where they finish in the top six than if they finish in the top six right now.

So what can we say about the slightly strange game against Real Salt Lake?

Well, we can string a few random observations together in the desperate hope they coalesce into a coherent whole (same as always then I guess).

Steady debut for Aly Ghazal- It was something of a surprise to see the Egyptian starting but he slotted into the Laba role fairly comfortably. He’s nowhere near as frenetic as Laba, but he broke up a few plays and exuded an overall air of calmness.

His distribution was pretty poor however and neither him nor Tony Tchani offered anything of note going forward so the “Why are we playing two defensive midfielders at home?’ debate hasn’t run out of steam just yet.

Is Fredy Montero underrated?- Even the people who rate Montero may be giving him a little less than his due.

Against Salt Lake he never once came close to even a sniff of a taste of goal but still led the line in the way that Carl Robinson likes; holding up the ball and gaining those extra few seconds to allow his teammates to either get forward to join him or to rearrange themselves defensively.

Given the depth in other positions Montero is the key player for this team right now.

Not even a debate at right back-  Has any player ever taken an opportunity as well as Jake Nerwinski?

Almost certainly they have, but the youngster has moved on from challenging for the role to completely owning it.

On Saturday he was defensively solid at the back and directly involved in two of the Whitecaps three goals going forward and in a team that mostly struggles to create chances having a  right back who is an offensive threat is a huge plus.

Reyna barely involved-But he did score the winning goal which, in the end, is kind of the important thing.

But it was indicative of how little opportunities Vancouver were creating that Reyna was dropping deeper and deeper to get the ball as the game progressed.

Of course, the deeper he drops the more isolated Montero becomes and the more isolated Montero becomes the fewer opportunities are created and so the more Reyna feels he has to drop deep to get the ball and so on and so on and so on forever and ever and ever.

The Peruvian needs to be running at defenders in the final third rather than picking up two yard passes from Kendall Waston near the centre circle.

Alphonso Davies has an uncanny ability- We all know this of course but, unfortunately, he currently has an uncanny ability to make exactly the wrong decision at the crucial moment going forward.

Shoot when he should pass, pass when he should shoot, blast it when he can place it, place it when power is required.

He probably just needs the ball to ricochet off a defender and go in to settle him down (and it probably doesn’t help his thinking process that the crowd get so amped whenever he gets the ball) but he’s currently more effective in road games where he has the luxury of more space and comfort of less pressure to produce every time he touches the ball.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Ousted-6, Nerwinski-7*, Waston-6., Parker-6, Harvey-6, Ghazal-5.5, Tchani-5.5, Techera-6, Reyna-5.5, Ibini-5.5, Montero-6.5 (Davies-5, Shea-5)

 

Can the bad boy of Canadian soccer be tamed?

It’s Labour Day Weekend and those of us not distracted by having to play international soccer are no doubt using the time to pretend that summer isn’t really nearly over and that the days aren’t really getting shorter.

And it was probably such concerns that led to Alphonso Davies collecting his first red card as a professional when he was dismissed for an errant boot after just six minutes of his cameo appearance for Canada against Jamaica in Toronto.

But what sixteen year old isn’t distracted by the imminent onset of Autumnal hues?

Was the red mist Davies glimpsed nought but the mists of Fall?

When he covered his face as he walked to the touch-line was he contemplating the barred clouds blooming on a soft-dying day as they touched the stubble-plains with a rosy hue?

No he wasn’t.

He was thinking that he definitely shouldn’t have lashed out with his cleats in such a petulant manner.

But timing is everything in sport and if Davies had to pick up his first red card then an international friendly in which Canada are leading 2-0 is about the best time possible.

No doubt Carl Robinson was watching the action with mixed feelings.

A feeling of concern that his young star displayed a hitherto unseen lack of temperament, but also a feeling of arriving at a “teachable moment” where the youngster can learn one more lesson on his path to maturity.

Mostly though Robinson’s heart will have sunk with the realisation that the Davies red card is literally the only thing he will be asked about by the media for the next seven days.

Safe to say that future MLS opponents will have been watching and taking note and will be trying to wind Davies up for the remainder of this season at least.

One player who doesn’t really need to get wound up is Kendall Waston and he nearly did just that in Costa Rica’s 2-0 win over the USA on Friday evening when he clashed with the always loveable Clint Dempsey.

But much like the rest of this season Waston dialled it back enough to stay on the field and stay on just the right side of the referee.

Much of Waston’s improved disciplinary record has been put down to Robinson’s decision to name him captain for the season.

But I wonder if it isn’t just something more fundamental?

As we saw in the win in Orlando the Whitecaps are once again very proficient at blocking teams from attacking through the centre of the field, thus forcing them out wide, thus forcing them to cross the ball.

That’s meat and drink to Waston and it must be so much easier to keep his head when using his head than it was last year when a seemingly endless supply of pacey players were running toward him with the ball at their feet.

Somewhat bizarrely there were some MLS games played on this international weekend and the FC Dallas home tie with the Red Bulls leaves the Whitecaps still in fourth and a point ahead of Dallas with a game in hand (and who would have predicted that a few short weeks ago?).

And if Vancouver can beat Real Salt Lake in the upcoming game at BC Place that should effectively kill off the visitors chance of catching the Whitecaps given that they have played three games more.

Such a win would also push Vancouver somehwere near the top of the standings given the nature of the other match ups.

So much to play for, so much to lose!

 

Whitecaps box clever in Orlando

Many visitors to an English country garden can get somewhat confused between which buildings are gazebos and which are follies.

And that’s not just because they are idiots.

It’s also because it can often be a fine line between the two. One small change in the parameters and they blend and shape before our eyes becoming both each other and each other’s opposite.

It’s like a really crap version of “Dr Strange”.

But, for the sake of clarity, a gazebo is a pavilion or summerhouse designed for a specific purpose; either to entertain guests, to provide shade or even just offer a well positioned viewing area to take in the majesty of the blooms upon display.

A folly on the other hand is a structure designed to appear to be something it isn’t.

The facade of a castle turret perhaps, the front of a Greek temple.

But when a folly resembles a gazebo and is subsequently used in the manner of a gazebo then all bets are off.

Then you can call it what you want and nobody will really care.

Time then for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Just kidding, because we still have the Vancouver Whitecaps incredibly useful 2-1 win in Orlando to consider.

These are the main facts.

The Whitecaps were out possessed, out shot and out passed and, on another day, could have lost by two or three goals.

Yet on another day again they could have finished a couple of their break away chances and won by two or three goals themselves.

There’s just no logic in it.

Kudos though to Carl Robinson for making a number of changes almost all of which paid off in one way or another.

Aaron Maund was solid in place of the injured Tim Parker, Marcel de Jong was excellent in a central midfield role, Jake Nerwinski was a significant upgrade on Sheannon Williams at right back and Stefan Marinovic was a more than adequate David Ousted replacement.

And while Hurtado, Shea and Ibini mostly offered little of substance going forward the former pair linked up well for Shea’s decisive goal in the second half.

And this was just the kind of game that Nicolas Mezquida is in the squad for; sixty minutes of harrying and closing down the opposition with the bonus of a quality free-kick that earned the first goal from an Orlando head.

The subsequent arrival of Davies, Montero and Reyna seemed set to guarantee Vancouver the comfort of a third goal given how open the hosts were at the back as they pressed for the equalizer but time and time again the wrong final option was chosen.

A shot that needed a pass, a blast that needed a calmer head.

But they hung on and suddenly Wednesday’s near debacle against Seattle seems a far more distant memory.

Carl Robinson now has two weeks to figure out how to get the best out of his players when they play at BC Place.

The lessons from the season so far seem to indicate that rewarding players for the previous game isn’t really working. Not sure why that is but that’s what the evidence points to.

But neither do we want to see change purely for the sake of change.

So maybe the coach needs to approach the selection for every game based on which eleven starters will line up best against the opponent that week?

There’s a danger in constantly shaping a side to fit the opposition but this Whitecaps team seems to function better when reacting to events rather than instigating them.

Or maybe Robinson should just draw all the names out of a hat and see what happens?

That could work too.

Safe to say though that while the three points in Florida are huge (and makes the playoffs a far, far more likely scenario than it was this time yesterday) we still don’t really know if what we’ve got with this team is a fully functioning gazebo or an empty and functionless folly that, from certain angles, can look very convincing indeed.

Now it really is time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Marinovic-6.5, Nerwinski-6.5, Harvey-6.5, Waston-7*, Maund-6.5, Teibert-6, de Jong-6.5, Ibini-6, Shea-6, Mezquida-6.5, Hurtado-6 (Davies-6.5, Montero-6, Reyna-6)