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.

 

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) 

 

Gone Laba Gone?

Any good therapist will tell you that when faced with an unpleasant situation the best thing to do is to ignore it completely until it goes away.

And that’s how we must all deal with the Whitecaps 1-0 defeat to New England at the weekend.

We must never speak of it again.

But what will we speak of?

Well, let’s just shoot the breeze on a few different topics should we?

Yes.

Here we go then.

Now?

Yes, now.

Laba leaving?- Rumours are a-swirling that offers are a-brewing for midfielder Matias Laba.

There was a time when losing Laba would feel like a hole being blown right through the heart of the team but now his salary hit and the acquisitions of Tchani and Ghazal would make his loss feel a lot less painful.

And, like quite a few others, Laba hasn’t really grown as a player during his time in Vancouver so it’s yet another move that might be best for all parties.

And not just Laba? The signing of Stefan Marinovic is clearly a move made to deal with the expected departure of David Ousted and with Jordan Harvey in the last year of his contract and Christian Bolaños failing to turn back the hands of time (and with a World Cup year coming up) it’s tempting to think that their recent omissions are as much to do with positioning for their leaving as it is to rest them.

All speculation of course but there does seem to be the odd sense that the Whitecaps are a team in transition just as the business end of the season kicks into gear.

It will be interesting to see how Carl Robinson manages such a situation.

VAR has a bad weekend-  This is a great summary of just what went wrong with the Video Assistant Referee program over the recent games.

I was innately sceptical of the move when it was announced but the first weekend reassured me somewhat given how effectively it was used.

There was always the fear of unintended consequences however and they have reared their ugly head(s) with a vengeance.

One of the skills of a referee is that he has to manage a game and that means that certain calls are made differently during different games (and even during the same game should the situation require it).

VAR offers no such subtlety and places the already pressurised ref under even more pressure by forcing him to make a decision he doesn’t really want to make.

Maybe a solution would be to always pair the same ref and  VAR together to allow them to build up some kind of working relationship?

But whatever the solution it needs to be addressed to prevent the somewhat ironic outcome of the man in the middle losing even more of his authority in the eyes of the players and the fans.

Doing the business at home- We’ve all spent countless hours wondering just why the Whitecaps are so bad at breaking down teams at BC Place but one obvious reason is that they are incapable of forcing the opponent to lose their defensive shape.

In theory the arrival of Jordy Reyna should help that.

His willingness to drop deep to pick up the ball offers far more of a challenge than the tried and tested low percentage long ball over the top of the defence.

And if he and Tchani and Jacobson can somehow find a way to link up the defence with the midfield and the midfield with the forward line then we may not be faced with the frustrating sight of Vancouver desperately hoping for a last minute set-piece to solve their inability to score goals in their own stadium.

Is that  it?

Yes, that’s it.

You sure?

Yes, I’m positive. You can go now.

You’re not going to carry on when I leave?

No.

Okay. Bye.

Bye.

 

Good Times Bad Times for the Vancouver Whitecaps

Given that the Vancouver whitecaps were without three of their more impressive players of the season thus far in Waston, Bolaños and Williams the 1-1 tie with FC Dallas on Saturday evening was a satisfactory result.

It was even more satisfactory given how the game played out on the night as the Whitecaps created virtually nothing from open play and were once again forced  to rely on a set-piece to get them out of trouble.

Given all the absences Carl Robinson opted to move Andrew Jacobson into central defence and make Russell Teibert Jacobson’s replacement in the middle.

That was the most logical move in theory but in practice it didn’t really work out.

Jacobson was at least partly responsible for the Dallas goal and the team’s attacking options were effectively neutered as Teibert barely approached the opposition penalty area and when Tony Tchani did get an opportunity to play a dangerous pass he failed miserably.

It’s hard to know if that failure was down to technique or a mental block but either way Tchani’s progress in that role took a step back this week.

Things only really changed with the introduction of Alphonso Davies for Teibert as the youngster at least displayed a willingness to run at Dallas through the centre of the field.

It was only a cameo appearance for Davies but it could be that the central midfield suits him best in a team with a surplus of wide players. The Whitecaps certainly need somebody in there whose first thought is to get forward rather than to turn back.

Elsewhere Brek Shea filled in well for Bolaños without getting near his creativity and Jake Nerwinski did a steady job at right back without offering the attacking threat his pace can provide.

Vancouver now move on to two road games in struggling Minnesota and not struggling Chicago and it could be that the coach liked what he saw from that lineup when it came to defensive solidity.

Let’s hope not though.

The Whitecaps have prospered this season when they have shown initiative and a willingness to take the game to the opposition, but in times of trouble we all tend to revert to whatever our personal default position happens to be and there’s little doubt that Robinson’s is “safety first”.

Although “safety first” when it comes to players getting injured might not be a bad mantra for the rest of the season.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Ousted-6, Newinski-6, Parker-6.5, Jacobson-6, Harvey-6, Laba-7*, Teibert-5.5, Tchani-5.5, techera-6, Shea-6.5, Montero-6 (Davies 6.5)

 

 

The Vancouver Whitecaps stop making sense

So I was sitting in a Vancouver coffee shop on a Sunday morning a few weeks ago when I noticed a cop car pull up and park outside the door.

After about five minutes of waiting the uniformed policeman got out of the car, walked into the coffee shop and (Without checking or glancing at any other customer) came directly up to my table and said

“Excuse me. Are you Mister Collier by any chance?”

I said

“No” (Because I wasn’t).

And then he simply turned and walked out of the coffee shop (Again, without glancing at any other customer or table) got into his car and drove immediately away.

It made no sense.

You know what else didn’t make any sense?

The Vancouver Whitecaps 4-2 (5-4 on aggregate) defeat to the Montreal Impact in the Canadian Championship on Tuesday evening.

The Whitecaps were mostly terrible, gave away two rightly called penalty kicks, were 3-0 down at half time and yet somehow managed to make the last ten minutes tense for Montreal given the vicissitudes of the away goals rule.

Ultimately Vancouver were undone by the Impact fielding a far stronger team than the Whitecaps had done in either leg so best to avoid the pointless tactical analysis in such a situation and see if we can’t glean a few bullet points of truth from a game of scattershot passing and shooting.

Brek Shea failed to impress in his preferred wide role- If this was an audition for Shea to be moved from the bench or the central striker position then he didn’t fare well. He rarely influenced the game and posed little or no threat to the Montreal defence.

Kyle Greig could do a job for the first team- Not much of a job to be fair because he lacks the pace and touch of a top class forward. But in the closing minutes he not only scored with a well taken header but looked dangerous every time the ball came into the box in the air.

In certain game situations and with the right service he could well be a useful option off the bench.

Russell Teibert is still a very limited player- We knew this already I suppose but the Canadian offered no attacking threat in a game when his team desperately needed something from the midfield. At least Ben McKendry displayed a degree of neatness about his passing in the central area.

Jake Nerwinski continues to impress- Nobody fared well in the Whitecaps back line but at least Nerwinski (And de Jong to a lesser extent) offered something going forward.

Mauro Rosales is no longer a starter– He probably won’t be anyway now that the Canadian Championship is done but Rosales looked gassed well before he was removed.

He could well go on to be a great coaching asset for the team, but his days of influencing the game from on the field look to be over.

Best if you tell him that to his face though and not me.

Carl Robinson can take some solace and some distress from the game- Solace because his team kept battling to the end and even came away with some credit when it could so easily have been a good old fashioned hammering.

Distress because all his eggs are now in the league table basket and that means making the playoffs (And only making the playoffs) will be good enough by season end.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Richey-5.5, Nerwinski-6*, Parker-5.5, Seiler-5, de Jong-6, Teibert-5, McKendry-5.5-Mezquida-5, Shea-4.5, Rosales-5, Greig-5.5 (Davies-6)

 

Vancouver Whitecaps Win Again

Carl Robinson’s “Year of Great Experimentation” continued in the Canadian Championship on Wednesday evening as the Whitecaps beat the Montreal Impact 2-1 in the first leg of the tie.

This time around Robinson went with three at the back (de Jong, de Wit and Seiler)and then “something else” for the rest of the positions.

Jake Nerwinski was playing right wing back, Alphonso Davies was a midfielder with defensive responsibilities on the left, Teibert and McKendry were sitting in the middle and Rosales and Mezquida were constantly switching positions behind Brek Shea.

For the sake of simplicity let’s call it a 3-1.25-1.25-1-1.25-0.5-1.75-1 formation.

Whatever it was though it certainly worked well in the first half as the Whitecaps cruised to a 2-0 lead thanks to goals from Davies and Mezquida.

Nerwinski was a constant danger on the right, Teibert and McKendry were busy and neat (In that order) in the centre and the front three/four always looked capable of unlocking the Montreal backline.

Things changed for the worst in the second half however and that was down to one of three, two of three or three of three things.

Maybe the Impact worked out how to get behind that back three by playing diagonal balls out wide, maybe Mezquida, Rosales, Shea and Davies all tired quite suddenly or maybe the youngsters at the heart of the defensive effort suddenly found themselves lacking a little big game experience?

By the final whistle Spencer Richey (Who often looked a little reticent when coming out to meet the ball) had saved a penalty and made a last-ditch last-minute save with his feet to keep the lead alive.

Retrospect may tell Robinson that having one or two experienced players on the bench may have been a better move than completely filling it with youngsters and hopefully retrospect will also mention that Brek Shea definitely isn’t a lone target man.

The American was often caught offside when there was no need to be and just doesn’t possess the physicality or skill set to play that role.

In the end though it’s another win at BC Place in a largely entertaining game and though the second leg still hangs precariously in the balance the weight of that balance is just about tipped to the side of the good guys.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Richey-6.5, Nerwisnki-7*, de Wit-6, Seiler-6, de Jong-6.5, Teibert-6, McKendry-6, Rosales-6.5, Davies-7, Mezquida-6, Shea-5.5