Darkness before noon for the Whitecaps?

In one of his surprisingly numerous interviews Bob Dylan once referred to great songs as being “like the shadow of a church”.

Now what he meant by that was either “I’m just going to say something randomly enigmatic and hope I get away with it” or he meant that songs don’t create the concrete (in both the literal and metaphorical sense) emotions that an actual church, with all its history and implications, does but rather that the shadow of a church is both more ephemeral and less imposing.

More open to individual interpretation and changing moods.

The same can probably be said of preseason games and they are often barely even a shadow of a football match and they can certainly never be considered great art but the Whitecaps’ 1-1 tie with Minnesota United in Portland on Thursday evening could at least be described as the kind of biting satire the world so desperately needs right now.

Unfortunately, the satire was aimed firmly at the Whitecaps themselves as the game almost perfectly encapsulated all that was wrong with the team last year.

A very bright start failed to produce a goal and after about twenty-five minutes Vancouver suddenly seemed to run out of ideas.

That was mostly due to the lack of link play between the midfield and the forward line and a continued over-reliance on pace over guile.

They then began the second-half with the old familiar torpour of last year until Erik Hurtado produced a startling header.

It was largely startling because he was actually defending a corner and somehow managed, with literally no Minnesota player with six yards of him, to glance the ball perfectly passed a startled David Ousted (See, I told you it was startling).

At least that sparked the Whitecaps back to life and a Russell Teibert laser levelled the score to earn his team a share of the spoils that don’t really exist.

Despite all that negativity though there were still a number of reasons to be a little more positive about the prospects for 2017.

Yordy Reyna looked to be a bright prospect going forward and Matias Laba already looks way ahead of where he was this time last year (Which was actually still in Argentina now that I think about it).

There was also the absences of Nicolas Mezquida and Christian Bolaños to consider with the latter being the only current player capable of providing the guile to make all that pace effective.

We’ll know more as the preseason unfolds with each game becoming more significant than this one.

But nothing means nothing and the main something we can take away from a rain-sodden Portland is that things haven’t yet changed all that much from 2016.

Vancouver Whitecaps: Five milestones to consider

There are only two things I know to be undeniably true.

The first is that any character in a historical drama on TV who starts coughing in Episode One will be dead of tuberculosis by Episode Three at the latest.

The second is that anybody looking at a new Major League Soccer schedule will utter the phrase “Well, that could have been better”.

But I’m a firm believer in the philosophy that if life gives you lemons then you take those lemons and throw them really hard at somebody else until they at least feel even worse than you do.

So with that in mind let’s throw five lemons at the schedule and see if we can’t bruise at least a few of those dates into submission.

The first two home games- Normally it would be ridiculous hyperbole to claim that a Champions League game against the Red Bulls and a League opener against the Union were crucial but the Whitecaps were so bad at BC Place last season that they almost can’t afford to maintain that negative momentum.

If they tumble out of the Champions League and also fail to pick up three points the rot could set in before the clocks have even sprang forward.

Four road games in a row- MLS loves to send teams on expanded road trips and Vancouver get their first taste of this in April when they face Portland, Montreal, Colorado and Houston.

By this time we’ll at least know more about how the team is being set up and although the playoff structure makes it tough to find yourself behind the eight ball this early in the season a bad run of results in these games could at least see them approaching the eight ball with a hint of trepidation.

Four home games in a row- It really is feast or famine with MLS isn’t it? That road trip is then followed by home games against Kansas, D.C United, Atlanta and Dallas.

One of the main flaws with the team in 2016 was that they always seemed to fail to capitalize on their successes, so if they do manage to get a decent amount of points from those road games they need to build on that at B.C. Place.

In short they need to play with far more intensity over ninety minutes than they ever managed to do last year.

August and September- It’s become traditional for the Whitecaps to view these months in the same way a wounded tuna fish views a hungry shark.

Why that is the case is one of the great mysteries of the modern world but it may just be as simple as other teams working out Vancouver and Vancouver being unable to adapt to that problem.

Thus far Carl Robinson hasn’t shown himself to be a master tactician within games so let’s hope he’s used the off season polish his coaching skills.

The final run in- Four of the last fives games are away from BC Place so we could be left looking at a team that is slightly worse off than it appears to be.

If the Whitecaps are hovering around the red playoff line come the end of September then they are more likely to sneak into the post-season than they are to steam into it (and even more likely to miss out altogether).

Again it will come down to how hard Robinson pushes his team before this spell of games and whether he and they refuse to settle for less than they could actually get as they seemed to do far too often in 2016.

So that’s just a few periods of the season that could/might/won’t be crucial to how we feel at the end of the campaign.

But at least we’re nearly at the start now!



Across the borderline

In an ideal world I’d be writing some half thought through nonsense about the Whitecaps pre-season games and why they still haven’t signed a proven goal scorer but (Spoiler Alert!)  this isn’t an ideal world and it seems to be moving at a rapid rate in the wrong direction right now.

That means we all have to think about moral choices (both big and small) with regard to how we deal with what is happening and one of those choices (that is both big and small depending on your own personal context) is whether to travel to the USA to support the Whitecaps given the capriciously cruel nature of the current travel ban.

Unfortunately (Spoiler Alert!)  there is no right answer to this question because, unless you are on the extreme end of the political spectrum, the world is a complicated place and actions and inactions have diverse and varied consequences.

And (Spoiler Alert!) if you agree with the current immigration ban then this really isn’t for you.

I guess the first question to ask is “Do boycotts actually work?”

Well that depends on what you mean by “work” and what you mean by “boycott” (Wait! Don’t go away! It gets even vaguer as we go on!).

A cursory glance through a few academic studies indicates that individual boycotts rarely make a difference against nation states unless they are accompanied by more robust measures such as divestment of stocks and shares by institutions and trade sanctions at the government level.

We are a very long way away from such a scenario no matter how quickly the Trump administration is moving so we have to accept that any boycott is really about individual preference rather than the belief that something will genuinely be changed.

If you are on the boycott side of the fence however make sure that you don’t just not travel to the USA, make sure you contact a hotel, car rental, airline etc. to let them know why you won’t be using their services.

Money talks to this President more than any other I suspect.

The real irony for fans of the Whitecaps is that any boycott would almost certainly be directly damaging to States that (on the whole) vehemently oppose Trump and it’s a reasonable bet that such States will miraculously find their federal funding cut as the months go by.

And let’s not forget that every hotel cancelled and every restaurant not visited almost certainly hits many of the immigrants the protest is designed to support given the low wage economy many exist within.

Short term pain for long term gain is much easier to bear when the brunt of it doesn’t hit you.

Yet not visiting the USA isn’t just about changing policy, it’s also about a certain moral repugnance to the current situation that transcends the confines of practicality.

After all our absence may not project any kind of effective condemnation but our presence tacitly condones.

One solution to the squaring of the circle that I’ve seen is that every visit be marked by a donation to a group that is pushing back against the Administration (the ACLU for example) and though there are ways in which that feels a little like buying off one’s own conscience it does at least have the merits of being a concretely practical measure.

But following the Whitecaps to Seattle and Portland isn’t really about individual choices because (almost by definition) supporters are travelling as a group and if it turns out that one of that group is not permitted to travel to a game based solely on the current ban then it seems almost impossible to argue that others should.

No doubt fans of both the Sounders and the Timbers (and others) are wrestling with the same conundrums and, as mentioned earlier, the situation is moving so quickly to reduce all of this to a mere snapshot of a few thoughts at a particular moment in time and is as much a way of finding out what I think than it is offering advice or instruction to anybody else.

Obviously I didn’t come up with an actual answer (That would be madness!) but maybe the questions are a little bit clearer?

Next time out some actual half though through nonsense about soccer!  .


Yordy Reyna: Perusing what we know

Being a fan of the Whitecaps in this particular off season has been a little like being a truffle pig in a world without truffles.

But now at least we have something with Marc Weber reporting that the club have signed Yordy Reyna from the Austrian side FC Red Bull Salzburg.

It’s  true that all that most of us have to go on is Reyna’s Wikipedia page and some YouTube highlights but that feels like a whole plethora of truffles compared to what we had before (Yes I’m aware that the correct collective noun for truffles is “heap” but Plethora of Truffles sounds like a Prog Rock band who would have released an eponymous album in 1973 before splitting up following a particularly poorly received set at the Oxford Real Ale Festival).

So what can we learn and, more importantly what can we speculate on, given the meagre fare available?

Here are a x scenarios (Memo to self: come back and edit this when you run out of ideas, but definitely try to get passed one).

Giles Barnes is on the way out- Reyna looks to be a very similar style of player and will definitely mean less of a hit on the salary cap. And anyway, how many  “Is he really a forward or a winger” players do the team actually need?

The team needs another “Is he really a forward or a winger?” player- If the plan is to switch to a 4-3-3/4-2-1-3 in 2017 then a front three of Reyna, Barnes and Manneh could be a nightmare to defend against given that each is capable of playing anywhere  along the front line.

Position Bolaños centrally with Laba and Jacobson/Teibert as holding cover and it’s suddenly not inconceivable that the Whitecaps could score some goals and, with Hurtado, Davies and Techera all capable of playing in that forward position, Carl Robinson won’t be too hampered by the inevitable injuries and suspensions that will come along.

The system stays the same but with Bolaños as the number ten- The tried and trusted (by Robinson anyway) 4-2-3-1 could simply be tweaked to push Reyna or Barnes on to the right and allow Bolaños to become the main creative hub of the team.

Any other scenarios though would feel like wild speculation rather than distinct possibilities.

4-4-2? It could work but it’s hard to see the coach wanting his team to be that open (especially on the road).

3-5-2/5-3-2? Playing three central defenders is the fashionable tactic right now but any chance of that happening probably went out of the window with the long term injury to David Edgar.

It’s hard to imagine there won’t be at least one more signing (though at least two are probably needed) but as things stand the current starting eleven can at least be graded as “promising”.

Definitely not “great” and it’s open to question if it could actually deliver on any promises made but at least it wouldn’t be absolutely terrible.



Vancouver Whitecaps: From “meh” to Decemberists

“So when your bridal processional
Is a televised confessional
To the benefits of Axe shampoo
You know we did it for you
We did it all for you”

“A Singer Addresses His Audience” by  The Decemberists is the band’s take on the complex relationship that exists between themselves and their audience.

The ever raging conflict between devotion and disdain that seems to be an almost necessary aspect of the fan experience.

And as for music then so for football.

Let’s face it, if the way supporters of a club and the actual club itself feel about and behave towards each other were an actual human relationship it would be as twisted as a twisted fork.

One party shows nothing but studied disinterest in the other right up until the moment they need to take yet more money from them and the other party endlessly searches the internet for any news of how the other was behaving and then reacting to everything like a jealous spouse from the planet Paranoid.

“Look at what they are doing! Why aren’t you doing that?! Maybe you were planning to do that but just didn’t tell me?! Maybe you’re going to do something even better?! Maybe you aren’t going to do anything?!” etc. etc. etc.

The real problem though is that they both want different things or (to be more accurate) they both want the same things but almost always violently disagree about how to attain them.

With the main tug of war being between the concepts of time and money.

Yet this isn’t the long-awaited smack down between Immanuel Kant and Adam Smith but rather a seemingly impossible circle to square between the notion of spending money and developing talent.

When one party wants money spent the other preaches the virtues of patience and youth.

When one party spends money the other bemoans the loss of what was once personal and special.

And don’t forget all the fuss about behaviour with one party spending half their time telling everybody about how great their partner is to be around and the rest of the time trying to get them to “maybe rein it in a little bit”.

Yet through all this seeming incompatibility the relationship somehow tends to survive (although at times that seems to be out of spite as much as it is out of love) and I guess it ultimately survives because the game of football matters to both parties.

It matters in different ways and for different reasons to be sure, but it very definitely matters.

And deep down they both know they need each other in a weird kind of symbiotic/parasitic kind of way.

It’s sort of beautiful (if the light isn’t all that great and you really, really squint very hard).

Vancouver Whitecaps: Five to look for in 2017

With the off-season awash with new signings and exciting transfer speculation for the Vancouver Whitecaps it’s been tempting to forget the players who will still be here from the last campaign.

So who will be the 2016 players who need to make an impact in 2017?

Christian Bolaños- It’s arguable that Bolaños was the best player for the Whitecaps last year but it’s also arguable that he slightly disappointed.

That says a lot about the season but it does also offer genuine hope for the coming year.

Bolaños is a smart enough player to have figured out where he (individually) went wrong and it’s just possible that he will have the measure of MLS in 2017.

How good he could be is hard to quantify but, given a fair wind and the right tactics, it’s not inconceivable that he could hit double figures in both goals and assists.

That’s a huge ask and even one of those figures would make a huge difference to the team but (as things currently stand) the Costa Rican is the most likely candidate to be the catalyst to kick-start the campaign.

Kendall Waston- Waston spent much of 2016 in a state of flux between failing to accept there was any issue with the way he was playing and walking to the locker room with yet another red card being waved in his direction.

If he’s learned that he needs to adjust his game at least somewhat (and if the Whitecaps can figure out a way to give him the protection from midfield he was lacking last year) then the loss of David Edgar won’t be felt as keenly.

But if Waston carries on diving into tackles regardless of the consequences then both he and us could face another long season of shortened matches for the big central defender.

Kekuta Manneh- If anybody’s stock rose at all in 2016 then it was Manneh’s as his absence made the heart grow fonder for his ability to run with the ball at pace.

If Manneh is back (and fully fit) then it will at least help to fill any tactical shortcomings which may still be lingering.

That’s probably not a good thing in the long run but Vancouver need a good start to the season to quell the overall sense of anxiety they all seem to experience when things don’t go their way.

Having Manneh in the starting eleven makes that good start at least a little bit more likely.

Alphonso Davies-  I’m not in the “Davies is the footballing Messiah” group of people but neither am I in the “He’s just a very naughty boy” group either.

He’s a good young player who needs to play as much football as possible at this stage of his career.

Whether he will get that as a member of the first team squad is open for debate but the concern is that a mixture of searching for the feel good factor and marketing clout will mean more of Davies sitting on the first team bench than being out on the field for WFC2.

Player X- Okay this doesn’t fit the remit of “players who were here in 2016” but his phantom presence hung around BC Place almost as strongly as the sense of futility felt by the forwards that were there.

And it’s almost unimaginable that the Whitecaps won’t announce the signing of a striker in the next couple of weeks (not completely unimaginable but almost) so let’s hope that he’s prepared for the level of scrutiny he will face because if there’s one area of the field that has been the bugbear of the MLS Whitecaps then it’s this position.

They’ve only found one consistent and reliable goal scorer in that time and he fled down south in a typically bizarre circumstance.

The next man on the chopping block doesn’t have to equal Camillo’s Golden Boot winning season but he does have to be somebody who fits the style of play and who can take the occasional half chance.

Get it right and the club will have found a poster boy for the city to love.

Get it wrong and we’re left with another season of watching balls being kicked squarely and firmly into the upper decks and we’ve all had quite enough of the experience thank you very much.



It’s All Coming Up Whitecaps!

Well I guess that depends on what your definition of “up” actually is but safe to say that the off-season so far seems to have been an exercise in proving the maxim “no news is good news” to be bang on the money.

As if losing Brett Levis until the Summer wasn’t enough we now discover that David Edgar is out until the Fall with a knee injury caused by a hit and run driver in Arizona.

And it’s the latter news that really leaves Carl Robinson behind the proverbial eight ball (although if he was behind the literal eight ball that would just be weird).

Edgar was brought into the club last season for two reasons; to shore up a malfunctioning central defence and to provide some much-needed locker room leadership.

Now Robinson finds himself back with the central defensive partnership of Waston and Parker and no substantive change in locker room presence.

Thankfully there are two ways of looking at this.

The first way is burst into tears, run outside and bury our heads in the freezing snow until the City starts to raid local restaurants and bars for salt and the second way is to see every problem as simply an opportunity in disguise.

The first way definitely doesn’t work because I’ve tried it and while the second way may well be the kind of vapid life advice normally heard on morning TV it’s literally all we’ve got so let’s run with it.

For starters (in both senses of the phrase) Waston and Parker aren’t a bad central defensive partnership and maybe the best course of action would be to work on eradicating the errors of 2016 rather than simply trying to fix the problem with new faces.

And if the locker room needs a revamp then, once again, that could just as easily come from within the club as it could from importing “character”.

If Robinson learned anything from last season then it’s surely that he needs to challenge his players more and forgive them a little less.

And if the players learned anything from last season then it’s surely that they can’t just coast through a number of games no matter how generous the MLS playoff structure happens to be.

We are still awaiting news of fresh signings of course but the club will have known the extent of Edgar’s injury long before we did so we can assume that has been a factor in any scouting trips or negotiations thus far.

But if Edgar’s terrible luck does mean something then it surely means that minds need to be even more focused than they were before.

That might not be a bad thing in the long run (or it might be horrendously terrible).

Hard to say really.