Vancouver Whitecaps in Familiar Territory

So the Vancouver Whitecaps played reasonably well in Dallas to earn their third 2-2 tie in a row.

Sure the defence still looked capable of conceding whenever they were put under any pressure and Brek Shea and Bernie Ibini offered virtually nothing in the wide areas and both Brett Levis and Jake Nerwinski showed the folly of leaving them out of the side for too long a period.

But Teibert and Felipe were neat in  the centre of the field on a day when keeping possession was essential given the Texan heat and Yordy Reyna once again demonstrated that his sudden bursts of pace can unsettle any team.

All the good looked to be for nought however once Dallas took a two goal lead with just over ten minutes to go but an own goal and a penalty kick (with the last kick of the game) were enough to earn the Whitecaps an unlikely but deserved point.

Can this result be a turning point for the season?

That depends on how coach Carl Robinson approaches the rest of the campaign. He was brave to stick with 4-4-2 at such a difficult place to visit and it ultimately paid off.

But from the limited evidence of this game it may be that the movement of Anthony Blondell is better suited to that formation than the back to goal style of Kei Kamara.

There’s no way that will happen of course but it would be interesting to see Blondell and Reyna get a run of games playing together as the front two because they both do the one thing the rest of the Whitecaps seem to find it so hard to accomplish; move off the ball.

It’s also clear that the best midfield two right now are Teibert and Felipe but, once again, that requires the coach to leave a shed load of salary sitting on the bench and that brings all kind of problems in terms of squad harmony as well as questioning the way this team was built in the off season.

What can’t continue to happen is the kind of mix and match team selection we’ve had all season where players are given no real chance to get to know each other in a competitive game.

It’s hard to know if we should be cautiously optimistic or optimistically cautious after that game but if the coach can settle on a starting eleven, stick with it bar one or two necessary changes and give them the okay to play football then the season may not be the right off it so clearly seemed to be.

Time for the Soccer Shorts Player Ratings.

Rowe-5, Nerwinski-5, Levis-5, Waston-5, Aja-5, Teibert-6*, Felipe-6, Ibini-3.5, Shea-3.5, Reyna-6, Kamara-5 (Davies, 5 Blondell-6)

Vancouver Whitecaps: Ball of Confusion

So where we are now is that we have a defensively minded coach who hasn’t been able to effectively organize his defence this season and is now forced to play an attack minded team (he almost certainly doesn’t believe in) in a desperate attempt to salvage something from the wreckage of what has gone before.

Oh and he hasn’t fielded the same starting eleven once this season.

Is it any wonder the Vancouver Whitecaps still haven’t got a definitive identity even though the World Cup is just around the corner?

Fittingly they followed up the 2-2 tie with Houston (a very poor road team) with another 2-2 tie against San Jose (another very poor road team) and no doubt we’ll get to hear the same blah, blah, blah about chances missed and lessons learned over the next few days while the season continues to ebb away with all the certainty of Carl Robinson making the wrong substitution at the wrong time.

At least the starting line up this time around was promising and the team did play some decent one touch football, created two goals from open play and mostly looked like they wanted to win the game rather than not lose it.

But a defensive lapse just before half-time allowed San Jose to equalize and then the home coach got to give his team talk.

It’s hard to imagine just what it is Robinson does say to his players in the interval but time after time after time the Whitecaps begin the second period flatter than a pancake that is the victim of a hit and run steamroller .

As per usual it took the opposition doing something (this time scoring a  goal) to wake them back to life and Yordy Reyna leveled it up with a nice header to set up the by now customary hustle to try and get something more from a game that should have been a fairly routine outing for a team of substance.

We interrupt this blog to bring you some ponderings from the next day.

It’s becoming increasingly clear the Whitecaps really messed up in how they used the salary cap this season.

It’s hard to imagine an effective lineup in which Ghazal ($700,000) and Juarez ($620,000) both get to start in the centre of midfield or what Bernie Ibini ($300,000) gives the team more than Erik Hurtado ($150,000).

And of course there’s Brek Shea on $745,000.

What more could have been done if just two of those deals had been turned into a player of genuine quality?

Perhaps not much given Carl Robinson’s rather odd selection policy this year.

The coach has always emphasised that he’ll judge a player on performances yet Russell Teibert had his best start to an MLS season and has been rewarded by being frozen out of the side completely.

Even when he does come back (probably in Dallas) it will be tough to pick up where he left off in terms of form.

And the same can be said of Jake Nerwinski and Brett Levis to an extent. Two young full backs who have done nothing worse than any other member of the back line but have been relegated to the sidelines in favour of experienced players who still can’t help the team to keep a clean sheet.

And can we please stop defining “character” as having the ability to come back from a  deficit?

A team full of character would have built on that early lead against San Jose and cruised to a three or four goal victory.

But, like everything else about this team, their moral fibre is reactive not proactive.

We now return you to your regular blog.

Random thoughts?

Reyna finally found some spark to his game so it was baffling to see him substituted with less than ten minutes to go.

Sean Franklin offered virtually nothing going forward and Jake Nerwinski would have been a far better option in this game at least.

Both Davies and Kamara were really poor when it came to the final pass/shot.

Felipe looked good again as the one player who can find a decent pass from anywhere on the field.

Waston and Aja were terrible in their distribution.

And it’s hard to know what Brek Shea did in the previous game to convince Robinson he could turn this game around.

So it’s on to Dallas in an attempt to keep the fatally injured season alive for just a little bit longer.

Time for the Soccer Shorts Player Ratings.

Rowe-5.5, Franklin-5, de Jong-6, Waston-5, Aja-5, Juarez-5, Felipe-6, Davies-5, Techera-5.5, Reyna-6*, Kamara-5

 

 

 

Vancouver Whitecaps: Assessing the Newbies

A third of the way into a new season should be a pretty good time to take a look at the players the Vancouver Whitecaps added to the roster for 2018 and see just how they are fitting into the team and the system.

One small problem with that however is that right now the Whitecaps don’t so much have a “team” as they do a random collection of players who trot out on to the field from one game to the next.

Another small problem is that more than one of those players didn’t really seem to be acquired to fit into the system at all.

Nevertheless it says in The Bible that “judge not lest ye be judged” doesn’t apply to professional athletes so let’s go ahead and condemn or condone our fellow human beings with impunity.

Sean Franklin (Guaranteed Compensation-$150,000)- The veteran MLS defender was probably acquired as experienced back up to Jake Nerwinski at right back. But in the last few games he’s earned the starting spot and has shown a nice blend of defensive solidity and attacking prowess.

It’s a shame the presence of the old American prevents the young American from getting in to the team but overall Franklin is a slightly better defender than Nerwinski and a slightly less effective attacking presence and Carl Robinson can’t really be faulted for preferring the former over the latter in this instance.

Worth the money? Yes so far

José Aja- ($240,000)- Aja has become the de facto replacement for Tim Parker as Kendall Waston’s central defensive partner, quickly moving ahead of Aaron Maund in the pecking order.

Aja is nowhere near as reliable a defender as Parker was but he is also nowhere near as bad on the ball as Parker was.

Ostensibly he’s the ideal partner for Waston given their combination of brute force and passing ability but they’ve still to really settle as a consistently effective defensive pairing with every game bringing at least one moment to give the opposition hope.

Whether that’s something that can be fixed with time and familiarity or whether it’s just a feature of the way the two will always play together remains to be seen, but Waston’s departure for the World Cup will make Aja the senior man in whoever his new work buddy turns out to be.

That should tell us a lot more about how good a signing he was.

Worth the money? Yes so far

Efraín Juárez-$620,000- This is where it gets complicated. Juarez arrived in Vancouver after playing as a right back for much of his career but was touted as a central midfielder.

Juarez can play in the midfield of course, it’s just not his best position and its hard to know if Robinson chooses to play him there because he thinks he can add to the team or if he plays him there because that’s where the player wants to play.

Safe to say that whatever the reason the Mexican has yet to show anything other than glimpses of talent and flashes of petulance.

Yet Juarez definitely has the talent and experience to prosper in Major League Soccer and it’s not inconceivable he could turn out to be a pivotal player for the remainder of the season given a fair wind and the right mix of players around him.

But we will probably end up chalking this signing down to another example of the club forlornly hoping their coach could get something out of a player that previous coaches couldn’t.

Worth the money? Not yet no

Jordon Mutch- $285,000-  It’s tempting just to type “see previous entry” for this one. Mutch arrived on loan from Crystal palace having barely played a game for the EPL side and with no obvious role in the way the Whitecaps play.

Yet when he has seen the pitch both his strength and quality have shone through and it was as frustrating for fans to see him pick up another injury as it was for the player.

The pessimist that lives inside every football fan will have looked at that moment and shrugged and thought “that’s going to be his season in a nutshell” but the optimist who keeps hammering the pessimist over the head with inflatable unicorns will be hoping the Englishman can find full fitness and form during the latter half of the season.

Worth the money? At that price yes

Felipe Martins- ($425,000)  I doubt Carl Robisnon has ever seen a player who is comfortable on the ball and not thought “he would make a good deep-lying defensive midfielder”.

For much of this season the Brazilian has been an expensive version of Russell Teibert and, to be fair, he’s done the job just as well as Teibert does the job.

Except THAT’S NOT WHERE HE SHOULD BE PLAYING!!!

Felipe may not have been stellar when he has played further forward but he has at least offered some degree of guile in an attack that desperately needs it and some service of genuine quality in a team that prefers to play the ball to “areas” than to feet.

Whether the way the team played at the end of the Houston game will convince/force Robinson to be more adventurous is anybody’s guess but it would be frustrating to watch the team’s best passer of the ball tootling ineffectively around in his own half for another ninety minutes.

Worth the money? Depends where he is playing

Vancouver Whitecaps: Shea Stadium

The release of the MLS Player’s Salary details this week provided a perfect storm of confirmation bias for fans of the Whitecaps.

For they now knew they had an ownership group who weren’t interested in keeping up with the new spending levels in MLS and a coach who was more than happy to use that lack of ambition as an excuse for the unimaginative way his team played week after week.

And, for the majority of the game, the visit of the Houston Dynamo did nothing other than confirm the arrival of said storm.

The Whitecaps struggled to play any kind of coherent football, missed any half chances that came their way and conceded to a nicely constructed move only to grab a scrappy goal in return just before half-time.

Those of us who wondered if Vancouver would build on that late goal were left disappointed as we simply got more of the same disjointed attacks and half-hearted flurries forward.

But then, without about twenty minutes to go, Juarez and Reyna came on to the field and out of nowhere the Whitecaps looked as though they were actually interested in playing some decent football and actually wanted to score a goal.

A previously lifeless Davies suddenly looked a threat and a previously frustrated Felipe suddenly started playing passes in dangerous areas.

For for the first time in a long time the Vancouver Whitecaps were almost fun to watch.

Obviously they missed all of their gilt-edged chances and conceded a late goal and even a very, very late Waston equalizer couldn’t hide the fact that a home tie against Houston isn’t going to turn around any kind of slump.

But let’s hope those twenty minutes somehow convince the coach that actively trying to score goals isn’t that bad an idea at home and that playing some kind of football along the turf isn’t really the highfalutin madness he sometimes seems to think it is.

Will he send out a more attacking lineup against San Jose on Wednesday evening?

We interrupt this blog to bring you some thoughts from the following morning.

In his post-game presser Robinson spoke of how he asked his team to player quicker at half-time and how he was pleased with the way in which the fans got behind the team.

Let’s assume he realizes (or somebody tells him) that those two events are not unrelated and that playing on the front foot at home can often be a very effective strategy (especially against a very poor road team).

Imagine a world where the Whitecaps try to win a game from the get go at BC Place? Can such a wondrous place exist?

Perhaps the most perplexing thing about the aftermath of that game though is that we are still nowhere close to knowing what the best eleven for this team is.

There are those within the Whitecaps organization who will opine that it really doesn’t make any difference who is on the field, such is the flatly balanced ability of all in the squad, but it really does.

A team can’t find coherence if it’s constantly being switched around to keep everybody happy or if the coach is far too frequently reacting to the last game or the last game but one.

From a supporter’s point of view the best case scenario right now is that the players who can somehow break out of Robinson’s tactical passivity all get to start and that means the likes of Davies, Reyna and Felipe.

Those tantalizing glimpses of pleasant football we saw on Friday evening need to be converted in to something so much more from here on in.

Will Robinson encourage that kind of play against San Jose on Wednesday evening?

We now return you to your previous blog.

Almost certainly not, but we can at least dream.

Finally a special shout out to Brek Shea (a Designated Player and the second highest earner on the Whitecaps) who produced a startling cameo in which he missed the easiest chance to score a goal in the history of humanity before cleverly setting up Houston for their second goal with a nice cross field pass.

That’s efficiency right there.

Time for your Soccer Shorts Player Ratings.

Rowe-6, de Jong-5.5, Franklin-6, Aja-5.5, Waston-6*, Felipe-5.5, Ghazal-5, Ibini-4, Davies-5.5, Blondell-5, Kamara-5 (Jaurez-6, Reyna-6, Shea-2)

Vancouver Whitecaps: Can’t See the Wood

Shinrinyoku is a Japanese phrase meaning “taking in the forest atmosphere” or, if you want to charge people an exorbitant amount of money for a one day experience, “Forest Bathing”.

It’s really just referring to the restorative qualities of being in nature. That combined sense of permanence and impermanence, growth and decay that in some inexplicable way is strangely reassuring.

And it might not be a bad idea for the next Whitecaps in-game promotion to offer fans a free Shinrinyoku experience for every time a cross in to the box finds a solitary striker being marked by at least four defenders given how frustrating that sight has become.

Better still, they could plant a tree for every errant pass and solve the problem of climate change in ninety minutes.

It’s not just that the 1-0 defeat to ten men Minnesota was bad (I’m even willing to listen to arguments that it was fair to mediocre) it’s simply that it reaffirmed everything we know to be wrong with this team.

Can’t break down a deep-lying defence? Check.

A coach who can’t react to a change in the game state? Check.

Mental indiscipline? Check.

Inability to pass and move? Check.

Post-game interviews speaking of “regrouping”? Check.

One of the more bizarre aspects of Carl Robinson’s media appearances has become that before a game he’s all too willing to talk down his team whereas after a game he’s all too willing to say how well they played.

This week’s iteration began with him asserting they were at the same level as Minnesota (an injury ravaged expansion side from last season) and ended with him opining that his team were “excellent” (while simultaneously throwing individual players under the bus).

Without being in the locker room it’s hard to know how the players feel about this plethora of mixed messages but they’re infuriating to hear as a fan of the team.

On the pitch Nicolas Mezquida once again confirmed he’s a valuable substitute rather than a starter, Anthony Blondell showed enough to indicate he can offer a lot more than simply being a big presence up front and Yordy Reyna at least displayed some liveliness even if he was hardly ever given the option of a teammate showing for him or creating space.

And then we have Felipe.

Robinson seems to like him as a defensive midfielder but in the second half the Brazilian did move forward more and yet still created little of value with seven passes in to the Minnesota penalty area of which only one landed successfully.

Not for the first time we see a player with the ability to create something being hampered by tactics purposefully designed to limit creativity.

Oh well.

The Whitecaps now have two home games in which they will probably do just enough to prevent the level of criticism reaching an unbearable level but the depressing reality is that they won’t play well in those games because that’s not what they are set up to do.

At the start of this campaign Robinson said this was the best squad of players he has had at the club and he’s right.

There’s so much more potential contained there than being reduced to scratching around for half-chances and knock downs against one of the worst teams in MLS.

Maybe we should all just go hug a tree?

Vancouver Whitecaps: Looney Tunes

Was that better or worse than the 6-0 loss in Kansas City?

I’m going to say that losing 1-0 to poor team who were injury ridden and reduced to ten men is worse.

Ironically the Whitecaps started the game quite well with Blondell showing good movement and Davies and Levis looking a twin threat on the left.

But then they settled back down to the familiar pattern of sitting deep and not really being able to pass the ball.

The second-half began sluggishly but Vancouver were thrown an unexpected lifeline thanks to a deserved red card for Toye after a monumentally stupid elbow on Waston.

Those of us who watch the Whitecaps regularly soon became a little concerned that Minnesota would sit deep and our heroes would be unable to break them down resulting in a tedious goalless stalemate.

But it turned out we had set our sights too high!

The whole of the back-line mentally switched off to allow the home team to take the lead and that was that (and it was reminder that lack of mental discipline isn’t just related to red cards).

There were a couple of decent efforts from Reyna and Shea that could have gone in on another day but “could” and “should” really shouldn’t apply in a game like that.

The real problem was that the Whitecaps can’t break down any kind of deep-lying defence because they can’t pass and move effectively.

Worse than that, they can’t even just move effectively.

It’s one thing to set a team up as a counterattacking low possession side but it’s quite another to produce a team simply incapable of one of the most basic facets of the game.

Particularly when that issue has lingered for years.

But we did at least get to see Kamara and Waston both standing together up front as they watched cross after cross sail over their heads.

No doubt we’ll now be subjected to a week of media appearances where everybody at the club very seriously asserts that lessons will be learned from this and the team will come back stronger and that the boys have responded really well in training.

Then we have to go through the hell of watching them play again.

Time for the Soccer Shorts Player Ratings-

Marinovic-5, Franklin-5, Waston-5, Aja-5, Levis-5, Ghazal-4, Felipe-4, Davies-5*, Ibini-4, Mezquida-5, Blondell-5, (Reyna-5, Kamara-4, Shea-4)

 

Vancouver Whitecaps: Health and Efficiency

The thing about some words and phrases is that context can be everything.

“Tough on crime” could mean safety to one group and oppression to another. “Open borders” could mean freedom to some and anarchy to others and “Freedom of Speech” is imbued with so many different interpretations these days it’s become almost meaningless.

So when the Vancouver Whitecaps responded to a Sports Illustrated question in regards to their Designated Player spending that-

“Our ambition is to be the most efficient and best managed club in MLS”

It set off the kind of alarm bells the literal meaning of the words shouldn’t really trigger.

And let’s be fair and say the comment wasn’t intended as the defining mission statement of the club, simply an internal answer to a question which hit the internet at the exact moment the club were having their worst run of the MLS era.

But the reason it caused such an online kerfuffle is because it pushed so many buttons.

Whether it be true or not the Whitecaps are perceived as a club which favours parsimony over profligacy and one that sees itself as a business more than a sporting dream factory.

And while “efficiency” isn’t in and of itself a bad thing how many of us would greet the news that our own bosses planned to make it their priority?

“Great news! The company wants to be more efficient!” is a phrase never heard in offices and factories up and down the land because we all know that “efficiencies” are just enforced cutbacks in cheap party dresses.

Yet, perhaps surprisingly, the Whitecaps have been rather good at picking up good players without breaking the bank.

A person could even argue they have one of the best squads in the whole of MLS. Take a look at the Whitecaps bench on any given day and chances are it has more difference makers warming the pine than the opposition.

There are two things to say about this.

The first is that maybe having a deep squad doesn’t lead to genuine success in MLS and what’s really needed is a very good  top thirteen or fourteen players. So perhaps the Whitecaps way is an inefficent way to build an MLS roster?

But the more pertinent point is that Vancouver may have been very good at building a squad but they haven’t been very good at building the right squad.

Every year it seems the players they assemble are a mish-mash of who is available and who is affordable rather than who is needed.

If they had a different coach this might just work but Carl Robinson knows how he wants to play and really isn’t going to change his ways so it’s somewhat baffling the same issue of square pegs and round holes crops up again and again each season.

Too late to change that this year but something that really needs adressing going forward (insert cheap joke about how the Whitecaps hardly ever “go forward” here).

As a somewhat illuminating post script to all this the Sounders GM Garth Lagerwey also spoke about efficiency at the weekend and was then forced to backtrack immediately given the outcry from fans of the club.

You can read the details here but it’s yet one more indication that MLS is changing from a League in which a good number of the fans are simply happy to have it exist at all to one in which a good number of the fans are demanding better than simply seeing their club running to stand still.