Is it me or are the post season post mortems getting earlier every year?
It is just me because they aren’t, but let’s hope that 2016 is an outlier and that it’s a long time before the Whitecaps season is over again with still two games of the regular season to play.
But a season that leaves us all wounded does at least give us the chance to constantly pick over the scars of that wound until it just won’t stop bleeding (and that’s a good thing right?).
So time for the first part of the Soccer Shorts Season Review which looks at the defence.
Just to note that I won’t be looking at the financial impact of each player because
a) I can’t be bothered to delve into the deliberately opaque intricacies of the MLS rules
b) The moment I see more than one number in a paragraph I immediately revert to my high school math(s) self and feel an uncontrollable urge to carve obscure band names into the nearest wooden surface.
Let’s kick off part one with a look at the defence.
That should probably have read “defence” though given how poor it was this year with almost every major player guilty of one or more egregious errors.
But there comes a time when so many individual errors add up to a collective problem.
Organization? Preparation? Collaboration? Afforestation? Hard to say for sure but it definitely seems to have ended in “tion” and it’s one of the major areas that needs to be addressed in the off season (the others being the midfield and the forward line).
So how did it go position by position?
Goalkeeper- David Ousted had a mixed year alternating between brilliant saves and inexplicable errors but is still considered the de facto number one and is almost worth that designation for his willingness to call out the team when it plays badly (a trait he had to employ on far too many occasions this year)
Paolo Tornaghi is almost the Platonic Ideal of a backup keeper; content to sit enthusiastically on the sidelines and capable of competence when called into action.
The biggest shadow hanging over this position though is Spencer Richey.
The twenty-four year old has done well for WFC2 this year and has looked more than comfortable when called up to the CONCACAF Champion’s League.
If (and it’s a huge and almost impossible to imagine “if’) the Whitecaps did feel they needed to offload Ousted then Richey offers a tantalizing replacement option.
In many ways it would be a disappointment if he wasn’t the number one keeper in 2018.
Right back- Other wise known as the “Yikes! What was he doing there!” position.
The role has essentially been switched between Jordan Smith and Fraser Aird for the majority of the season and it’s been an exercise in hope over expectation for much of that time.
Except that, as the season wore on, Smith wasn’t that terrible.
He still got caught out of position too often and his ability to get forward was mitigated by his inability to hit a genuinely dangerous cross and also the phrase “wasn’t that terrible” isn’t going on anybody’s résumé.
But for all that I’m not sure Smith made many more mess ups than many of his colleagues and having Bolaños in front of you is hardly a recipe for solid defensive cover.
As for Fraser Aird it’s hard to say if he flattered to deceive or deceived to flatter as the season wore on but it was a curiously stop/start campaign for the Canadian youngster.
He definitely looked better in a more forward role where his pace probably wasn’t used as effectively as it might have been and it will be interesting to see how he develops if given another year with the team.
In summary, if Vancouver can find a better right back (and they probably can) they should sign him but a combination of Smith and Aird is something that can just about be lived with.
A ringing endorsement if ever there was one!
Central defence- This was, without doubt, the Whitecaps strongest area in 2015. So imagine our surprise when it turned out to be the weakest in 2016.
The previously solid partnership of Kendall Waston and Tim Parker melted into a formless gloop of nothingness and the arrival of David Edgar merely served to preserve the formless gloop but with more shouting.
There’s a huge decision to be made about this position in the coming weeks and months.
It seems as though Edgar is here to stay (partly due to said “shouting”) and that leaves one of Parker and Waston out of the loop (and out of the gloop as well I guess).
Both will want to be playing regularly and both have some kind of value as trade bait.
A pairing of Parker and Edgar feels like the right move; an experienced player alongside a quicker youngster.
But the concern is that Carl Robinson will continue to favour Waston over Parker and leave the Whitecaps stuck in the continual hinterland of suspensions and retro-suspensions.
Maybe Parker will decide to stay if that’s the case? But it’s hard to see how that would be good for his overall development.
The back ups for this role are refreshingly competent. Cole Seiler has been steady when called on and hopefully Christian Dean will be ready to go after recovering from injury.
There may be need of extra cover if one of Parker or Waston do leave but Sem de Wit could make the transition from WFC2 (maybe more faith in more WFC2 players might not be a bad mantra for 2017 as a whole?).
Left back- Jordan Harvey hasn’t been perfect this year but he has been far and away the most dependable of the regular defensive core.
Somewhat ironic then that his position may be the most tenuous of all the back line.
The arrival of Marcel de Jong immediately offered a legitimate rival to Harvey and the impressive play of Brett Levis when called up to the first team poses another threat to Harvey (has any Whitecap looked as consistently comfortable on the ball as Levis has this year?).
Similar to the Parker and Waston situation both de Jong and Harvey have some kind of trade value and there really is no right or wrong decision concerning who to let go (obviously we will all call out the decision as right or wrong but there you go).
Harvey offers reliability and experience in MLS and would be a great mentor for Levis and possibly another candidate in the “turning experienced players into coaches” that is clearly a part of the Whitecaps model.
While de Jong is younger, slightly better at getting forward and can also play in Robinson’s much loved defensive midfield role.
Whatever happens if Levis isn’t the starting left back come the tail end of the season then I vow to spend at least one hour a day studying the MLS salary structure.
Next time out it’s the midfield!