Whitecaps face the final curtain

So that’s just about it then.

After the 2-1 loss to the Seattle Sounders at BC Place on Saturday evening the Whitecaps sit four points off the playoff places with only six games left to play and a remaining schedule leaning very much to the “Yikes!” end of the spectrum.

But at least this time Vancouver lost to Seattle displaying some ambition and heart and, on another day, they might have won the game, could have won the game and probably should have won the game.

If anything the Whitecaps were trying too hard.

Mezquida snatched at almost every chance that came his way (including a golden opportunity when the score was still tied), Nerwinski over hit every cross, Davies tried to win the game single-handed instead of using his threat to create space for others and just about everybody took the wrong option when getting anywhere near the Seattle net; an extra touch here, a misplaced pass there.

Thoughts will inevitably turn to what difference the presence of the suspended Yordy Reyna would have made.

The Peruvian would certainly have given the opposition less time and manpower to concentrate on Davies and he would also have injected the elements of quality and pace that neither Mezquida nor Techera bring to the frontline.

And there still remains the frustrating sight of the Whitecaps failing to get enough men in the box to be on the end of the inevitable cross no matter how desperately they need a goal but that’s a result of only being able to function effectively with two defensive midfielders on the pitch

So this game didn’t exist in isolation.

If the disciplinary issues had been dealt with effectively earlier in the year then maybe Reyna wouldn’t have been suspended for his fifth yellow card?

And if the team had worked more on passing and moving over the last few seasons then maybe they would have finally figured out how to break down a deep lying defence beyond relying on set-pieces and a lucky drop of the ball here and there?

And let’s not even think about how much of the salary cap was sitting on the bench last night (You’re thinking about it right now aren’t you!) or how long it took Carl Robinson to find a starting eleven that worked instead of sticking with square pegs in round holes for far too long.

But if the game on Saturday proved anything it’s that BC Place can be a decent place to watch football if the fans have a team they can believe in, a team that wants to win games no matter who they are playing and doesn’t treat the opposition (any opposition) with too much respect.

Hopefully that knowledge can be built upon for next season but for now it’s down to hoping against hope that this team can string together four or five wins and that either Portland or Real Salt Lake fall off a metaphorical cliff (or an actual cliff too I guess).

That’s not going to happen but at least the Whitecaps look like they will go down fighting..

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Marinovic-5, Nerwinski-5.5, Levis-4, Waston-5, Henry-4.5, Teibert-5, Ghazal-5.5, Techera-4, Mezquida-4.5, Davies-5, Kamara-6* (Shea-5, Mutch-5)

 

Vancouver Whitecaps still on root to the playoffs (just)

Now with additional “tremors” from the following day.

The Vancouver Whitecaps beat San Jose 2-1 at BC Place on Saturday evening to earn the much needed (absolutely essential ) six points from their consecutive meetings with the worst team in MLS.

And it was a game they both completely dominated while simultaneously hanging on by the skin of their teeth at the end.

Weird.

At least Carl Robinson seems to have finally solved the mystery of what his best starting eleven actually is (not that it was much of a mystery for many who have watched the team this year).

Put Ghazal and Teibert in front of the back four and compensate for their lack of attacking threat by having Nerwinski and Levis move forward from the full back positions.

It worked perfectly in the first half and the Whitecaps should have led by more than one going in at the break.

There’s going to be an awful lot to dissect and discuss once this season finally fades away but one of the main points of contention will be Robinson’s use of his squad.

His persistence in playing Felipe in a defensive midfield role (a role which negates his offensive output and emphasises his defensive frailty) has led to a number of points being dropped (particularly at home) and that’s inevitably linked to his refusal to play Russell Teibert when the Canadian was clearly having the best season of his career.

It’s fairly clear that, in his heart of hearts, Robinson wants his team to set up with two genuine defensive midfielders but for much of this year he has half-heartedly turned that into just one and a half and so much has been lost.

But then we got the trademark flat start to the second half which allowed the Earthquakes to find a semblance of a footing in the game and for the longest time it looked as though Vancouver were going to blow a crucial three points.

It even got to the stage where Kendall Waston made a marauding run forward just to give his team and the crowd the lift they needed (and it says something about just how little import this coaching staff put in the value of the home crowd getting behind the team that Assistant Coach Martyn Pert was screaming at Waston to get back in defence while that run was being made).

The next home game sees the visit of the Seattle Sounders and many of us will still be traumatized by having to watch “that” playoff game at BC Place where the Whitecaps set out to kill the game from the first whistle and almost immediately negated a home crowd of 27,000.

From his many comments about the quality of his players it’s clear the coach doesn’t see them as a match for the Sounders (or anybody much at all really) but he must know that one of the most potent weapons an inferior side can have is to get the home crowd roaring them on.

He must know that right?

Yet it’s not inconceivable that Vancouver will follow another morale boosting (and supporter energizing) win against San Jose with a another performance that shows Seattle the kind of respect they can’t afford to be shown.

In the end it took the introduction of Nicolas Mezquida to find the second goal the Whitecaps so desperately needed and all seemed to be fair sailing until they conceded the obligatory scrappy goal at the death and somehow found themselves putting life and limb on the line to prevent the lacklustre Earthquakes from ruining the season for good.

It’s a two week break now before facing the ridiculously in form Seattle Sounders at BC Place in another “must win” game.

Another narrative that will be thoroughly dissected once this season finally fades away is the disciplinary issues the team have faced all year.

And that came back to bite them in a much more subtle way on Saturday evening as Yordy Reyna picked up a yellow card that means he is suspended for the Sounders game.

Reyna has been the best Whitecap during this good run of form (he may even be the reason for this good run of form) and he will be missed an awful lot in two weeks time.

Robinson could just go for a straight swap and start Mezquida, but the Uruguayan has always been at his best using his energy to wear out tired defenders later in the game.

So that means either a change of formation (which isn’t really Robinson’s forte) or probably playing Felipe in the number ten role.

He’s a very different kind of player to Reyna but his passing should at least enable him to link up with Kamara, Davies and Techera without having to worry too much about his defensive duties.

In truth the other results from the weekend mean the Whitecaps are going to have to pull up both their socks and trees to squeak into sixth place which, when it’s written down like that, is a sad indictment of what might have been for the whole year.

But at least we might finally have some fun on the way to the inevitable despair.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Marinovic-5, Nerwinski-5.5, Waston-5.5, Maund-5, Levis-6*, Ghazal-5.5, Teibert-5.5, Reyna-6, Davies-5, Techera-4.5, Kamara-5 (Mezquida-5)

Vancouver Whitecaps: Happy Days

The big question following on from the Alphonso Davies transfer to Bayern Munich was how the player himself would react to the move.

Would the excitement of joining one of the biggest clubs in the world weigh heavy on his shoulders?

Would the remainder of his time in Vancouver feel somewhat anti-climactic?

No.

Davies was subdued in the first half, but in the second he took the game by the scruff of the net and former Whitecap Michael Boxall must still be spinning in circles half expecting Davies to appear on his blind side.

Davies won’t face defenders of the calibre of Boxall in Germany but you can only beat what’s in front of you and that he did.

The rest of the game was a fairly neat summary of the issues still facing the Whitecaps.

In the first half they had Russell Teibert and Aly Ghazal as defensive midfielders and looked fairly comfortable when Minnesota pushed forward.

Then a Ghazal injury saw Felipe replace him and the defence suddenly felt much more vulnerable.

It’s hard to see what Felipe brings to the team when he is played so deep. He doesn’t have the defensive instinct of Ghazal or the hustle of Teibert, so a player who is best suited to finding the right pass to a forward becomes an amalgam of nothingness.

But at least Carl Robinson now seems to have settled on a regular back four with de Jong and Nerwinski both playing their best football of the season.

Nerwinski in particular is back to providing the attacking threat he did so often last year (and he may well be the best crosser of a ball in the squad) and that improvement is likely down to the fact those two defensive midfielders provide the cover he needs to make his forays.

Another good game for Yordy Reyna too.

The Peruvian has discovered the little bit of arrogance that’s been missing from his game all year and, for the first time in a long time, it feels as though he both wants the ball and wants to do something with it.

The lone forward position remains an issue however (this could be the new club motto given how perennial a problem it is).

Anthony Blondell stood in for Kei Kamara and was poor.

His hold up play was horrendous, his passing not much better and his connections with the rest of the team pretty much nonexistent.

That wouldn’t be such a huge problem if Kamara was firing on all cylinders but he’s been nowhere near that of late.

Perhaps his goal from open play last night will kick-start his form again?

Or it could be that the chances created by Davies will be all he really needs but the Whitecaps face two tough road games in New York and Portland (parenthesised by Voyageur’s Cup games against Toronto) and if the illusion of still being in the playoff hunt is going to be maintained they need more than they will probably get from their travels.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Marinovic-5.5, Nerwinski-6, de Jong-6, Waston-5.5, Henry-5.5, Ghazal-5.5, Teibert-6, Davies-7.5, Reyna-6.6, Techera-5, Blondell-4 (Felipe-5)

Vancouver Whitecaps: You say you want an evolution

Life must have been so much more simple back when Pangaea was the single super-continent on earth.

Everybody spoke the same language and there was no need for planes because you could just drive to wherever you wanted to get to (and the road trips must have been amazing).

Plus Netflix worked everywhere with none of that pesky regional blocking.

Then the decision was made to split Pangaea into separate smaller continents (possibly for tax reasons) and many historians now believe the first planet wide war was caused by people disagreeing over whether there should be five, six or seven of these.

But at first everybody seemed happy with this move.

Kangaroos flourished, tortoises frollicked and even the simple minded Dodo lived a life of uninterrupted bliss.

But gradually, over the course of dozens and dozens of years, people lost touch with all continents but their own and eventually new languages and subscription VPNs began to emerge.

But then, thanks to the invention of Duty Free alcohol and fragrances, humanity cast off their blinkers and began to explore their world anew.

Unfortunately this new found adventurousness coincided with the rise of the airline companies allowing Service Animals to fly free of charge and the introduction of several invasive species caused mayhem among the native population.

Sure, the kangaroos were fine; they can punch a hole in the side of a Buick.

But the tortoises were too slow for the newly arrived hares and the Dodos too stupid for their natural predator the owl.

It turned out that “Evolution and Unintended Consequences” wasn’t just the name of a new Vegan restaurant in Kitsilano, it also had real world implications.

Which inevitably brings us to the Vancouver Whitecaps.

When they first joined MLS the League was approaching the end of its Pangaea stage, but there was still enough uniformity and harmony to allow the lesser species to survive and even occasionally flourish.

But in the League of today the rifts and shake ups of the last few years have led to tectonic plate shifts of massive proportion.

The likes of Atlanta, NYCFC and Toronto bestride this new world with little fear of predators (Not even the Lethal Zone version).

And things remain fine for the species of team who have adapted well to this new reality; Kansas, Columbus, Portland and NYRB have all evolved to find a niche to keep them functioning and relevant.

But with each passing season some teams find themselves edging more and more toward the Dodo end of the spectrum.

Not necessarily because they aren’t spending money at all but because they aren’t spending money in the right way.

A big name signing to play among duds, a player beyond his prime to withstand the rigours of MLS travel, a badly scouted central American here, a converted inverted winger there.

And the Whitecaps have gradually been slipping down to the Dodo level with each passing season and with each badly thought through move.

But suddenly! Miracle of miracles!

They’ve been given the chance to turbo charge their own evolution, to upgrade their gene sequence and add lots of fancy new features to their defensive and offensive mechanisms.

The money arriving from the Alphonso Davies transfer is a “once in a species” opportunity to get things back on track.

And that means not rushing into moves just because a player is available (Jordon Mutch) or bringing in players in the hope they can be converted into something they are not (Efrain Juarez) or play in a role they are not suited to (Fredy Montero) or sign them just for the sake of signing them (Giles Barnes who subsequently evolved into Brek Shea).

But what it really really means is not allowing the people who made all of those decisions to now go on and make the next, all important, ones.

If a scientist recreated a killing machine of a dinosaur from prehistoric DNA leading to the deaths of hundreds of tourists and causing all round chaos you wouldn’t “give them another go” in the hope they would get it right next time (although that would be a good idea for a movie now I come to think about it. I’d call it Dinosaur Island!)

So if the Whitecaps think the Davies sale is convincing proof they are doing everything right and there is no need to change their ways at all then they are doomed to extinction.

But if they see it as the metaphorical equivalent of Peter Parker being bitten by a radioactive spider then they can use that insight to use their powers for good.

It just needs somebody at the club to have the humility to understand they need the advice and wisdom of their very own May and Ben Parker to prevent them from firing their web at the first available overpriced defensive midfielder they see.

Spiderman or Dodo? The choice is theirs.

Vancouver Whitecaps take their chances

Now with additional points de vue from the day after.

Well that was better.

For what feels like the first time since the introduction of the steam engine the Vancouver Whitecaps played like an actual team who wanted to win an actual game of football rather than a disparate collection of ne’er do wells happy to collect the mercenary coin of an employer they neither cared for nor held in high regard.

The 2-0 victory over the Montreal Impact at BC Place on Wednesday evening felt more like the release of a pressure valve than a sporting achievement but it does lead us to ask a question that hasn’t been asked about this team for the longest time.

What went right?

Well, Aly Ghazal and Russell Teibert provided the defensive midfield coverage that has so obviously been missing.

It’s a fairly damning indictment of Carl Robinson that he still can’t figure out how to successfully set up a team without the presence of two defensive midfielders (particularly at home) but we are where we are and what works is what works.

Marcel de Jong and Jake Nerwinski both took the opportunity to get forward from the full back position whenever they could (and helped to create both of the goals).

Brek Shea and Cristian Techera were both involved in the game from the get go and Yordy Reyna was a menace whenever he was on the ball.

Could we play amateur psychologist and wonder if the departure of Alphonso Davies has set Reyna back to being the creative hub of the team and that being the centre of such attention suits his on filed personality?

We could. But only time will tell if we are right.

Time will also tell how the reintroduction of Davies for the remainder of the season affects the rest of the team.

There are already signs the club will be making a push to turn the whole thing into a farewell tour for the kid and while all who have followed him for the last couple of years are thrilled there are still competitive games to play and there has to be some kind of limit set on how much a team should be celebrating the departure of their best player.

The Davies to Bayern Munich story must be like catnip to the marketing arm of the Whitecaps of course but the footballing appendage of the club needs to keep focused.

Time will also tell how the Whitecaps build on this performance as a whole.

The last thing they need to do, the very last thing, is to consider this game as proving the naysayers wrong and simply assuming that all is now well.

At the time of writing this performance sits as an outlier rather than the norm and they need to go out and do it again and again and again before anybody will really be convinced by their coherence.

We can probably give Carl Robinson some leeway when he suggested in his post game interview that the character of his players has never been in doubt given how relieved he must have felt with the win but the character of his players has very much been in doubt and remains very much in doubt given the appalling run of results and lack of discipline they’ve exhibited in recent weeks.

That character will continue to be tested and assessed over the course of the rest of the season and only then will anybody be able to make a definitive claim to its worth.

That gives Carl Robinson some tough choices.

Neither Ghazal nor Teibert should be left out after the way they played against Montreal but that would mean confining Felipe to the bench.

He should leave Felipe on the bench if only to hammer the home the idea that what the players do on the field is more important than what they earn in their paycheck but the smart money would bet against that.

But hopefully this performance will put paid to the line of thinking which argues this group of players is incapable of competing in MLS.

Sure, they were only playing a second string Impact side but they created chances, worked for each other and defended as a unit.

Any team consistently doing all of those thing will be difficult to beat and will certainly be edging much closer to the playoff line than Vancouver currently are.

Maybe we’ll never find out why the season up to now has been such a shambles (and let’s not bet against the shambles returning before too long) but we’ve at least seen a template for how this side can function successfully.

Robinson would be unwise not to follow that template for what’s left of the campaign.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Marinovic-6, de Jong-6, Waston-5, Henry-6, Nerwinski-6, Teibert-6.5, Ghazal-6, Shea-6, Techera-5.5, Reyna-6.5*, Kamara-5

Vancouver Whitecaps do what they’ve done before

“Sometimes it gets so hard to care, it can’t be this way everywhere”

Bob Dylan-Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine

So this is where we are now.

The Vancouver Whitecaps will sell Alphonso Davies for north of ten million dollars and we have no idea if that money will be spent on players or on some other chunk of club expenditure (New filing cabinets perhaps? Upgrading from Windows XP?).

And even if the money is spent on players the person in charge of selecting them and coaching them will be Carl Robinson. A man who has consistently proven himself incapable of dealing with or getting the best out of players with more experience of football than the confines of MLS.

And even if Robinson is let go the people in charge of selecting his replacement will be the people who selected Martin Rennie and then Martin Rennie’s assistant to lead the team.

For this whole scenario to end in any good way for the supporters of the team it either needs a complete clear out or a once in a generation bout of good luck.

It’s not looking great.

The latest debacle in an ever growing catalogue was a 2-0 loss to the Seattle Sounders at Century Link Field, a game in which the Whitecaps barely looked like creating a meaningful chance of any kind and gave up two goals which were the product of their own failings.

In the absence of Davies, a quick and strong wide player who is ideally suited to a 4-3-3 system, Robinson switched away from 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3 with the slow and not strong Techera slotting into the Davies role.

It didn’t work.

There’s a wonderfully rich irony in having watched the likes of Rivero and Montero be bombarded with high balls only to find the arrival of Kei Kamara result in the tall, lanky forward sending in crosses to the not tall or lanky Techera.

And if we can reasonably conclude from all this that the team is not being coached effectively we can definitely conclude it isn’t being managed correctly.

In another timeline Efrain Juarez would be the experienced leader this team needs but in this timeline his petulance is his defining feature and there are some coaches who wouldn’t let him start for the team again this year.

“I’m sick of it” Robinson said after the game (speaking of the general lack of discipline within the team) although many of us were sick of it much earlier than now and maybe some of us even believed him earlier in the season when he said the matter of poor discipline had been dealt with internally.

Three red cards and an additional three game suspension in the last five games certainly hints at a locker room that isn’t really listening to their coach anymore.

Did anybody emerge with credit from that game in Seattle?

Marcel de Jong had the will to keep making forays down the left hand side no matter how little support he received and Nicolas Mezquida added his typical energy and willingness to actually try when arriving as substitute.

But the rest of the players either looked like they didn’t want to be there at all or, at best, didn’t really care about losing a Cascadia Derby game.

Things need to change in a hurry before nobody cares anymore.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Marinovic-3, Nerwinski-4.5, Waston-4.5, Henry-4, de Jong-5.5*, Felipe-4, Juarez-3, Mutch-4, Techera-3.5, Kamara-4, Reyna-5.

 

 

Vancouver Whitecaps: Turning Point or Turning in Circles?

Well that was better.

It was still not great and there are probably more questions than answers to come but the 2-0 win over Real Salt Lake at BC Place on Friday evening takes at least some of the pressure off the Vancouver Whitecaps.

You could see how much it meant to the players at the end of the game and it probably meant even more to the coaching staff.

The first half was a poor quality but open and even moderately entertaining game where both teams looked capable of breaching the opposition defence.

But in the second half the Whitecaps recovered from a tentative opening ten minutes to gradually grow into being the most dangerous team.

It still took a penalty from Cristian Techera (who, somewhat hilariously, then got sent off for a second yellow card after removing his shirt to celebrate) but a burst of pace from Alphonso Davies gave Anthony Blondell a tap in for his first goal as a Whitecap and from then on Salt Lake never really looked like getting back in to the game.

So what questions remain?

Well, Blondell missed chances and got caught offside way too often but his style of play meant Vancouver weren’t reliant on the long ball to the big man up front.

True it was strange that Salt Lake persisted with a high line given how often they were breached but the return of Kamara could well lure the Whitecaps back to the security of the punt forward.

Felipe was left out of the team and the Whitecaps didn’t miss him.

Jordon Mutch was good in the number ten role in the first half, always looking for the right pass even if it didn’t always come off and Nicolas Mezquida provided energy as his replacement and won the crucial penalty.

It looked like the Mutch injury was fairly serious so does Robinson just slot Felipe into that attacking midfield role rather than the defensive position he seems to have preferred him in?

Felipe hasn’t been that effective an attacking threat when played further forward.

And what does he do with the returning Juarez and Reyna? They don’t deserve to start given their form and their red cards but how long can they be left on the sidelines before they become restless?

But the big question is what does Carl Robinson take from this.

Is this his road to Damascus moment when he suddenly realizes that getting the BC Place crowd behind the team is better than playing a style of football that kills the atmosphere stone dead?

All the indications from his tenure so far is that he’ll simply see this win as vindication of his coaching style and that nothing of any substance will change in the long run.

That would be a shame for so many reasons and not least because enjoying a game of football is a much better way to spend the evening than not enjoying one.

It really is that simple.

Time for Soccer Shorts Player Ratings.

Marinovic-6, Franklin-6, Waston-5.5, Aja-5.5, Levis-5.5, Ghazal-6*, Teibert-5.5, Mutch-6, Shea-5, Techera-4, Blondell-5.5 (Mezquida-6, Davies-6)