Vancouver Whitecaps and the fine art of surfacing

I was going to open this with a bit about how krill spend their whole lives constantly treading water and therefore their two main roles within the ecosystem were to act as food for predators and as metaphors for people desperately trying to find an original introduction to their blog.

But it turns out they actually have inflatable air sacs in their bodies which act as flotation devices, thus rendering them metaphorically useless.

Lazy bastards.

Anyway, for much of last season and at the beginning of this it felt as though the Vancouver Whitecaps were treading water when it came to the progress of the team.

The system had grown stale, the coach seemed unaware that the system had grown stale and the players had the disinterested demeanour of a teenager at a family wedding.

But then, seemingly out of nowhere, Carl Robinson began to make tactical changes; three at the back, Bolaños as the number ten and finally the 4-1-4-1 formation that played well in Portland but lost and then played well in Montreal on Saturday afternoon and won 2-1.

Robinson is often keen to point out that formations don’t matter, players do. And in this particular case he’s both right and wrong.

Because the real strength of this system appears to be how wholeheartedly the players have bought into it.

Listen to any interview with any one of them recently and they will all enthuse about how they are now determined to adopt a more attacking style when playing on the road.

And we can probably conclude one of three things from this.

The coach has thoroughly convinced them of the benefits of this way of playing, they’ve been briefed by the club to say this to drum up interest in the games or the players themselves were partly instrumental in instituting the change.

Whatever the reasons behind it though the win in Montreal will only strengthen the belief in that particular way of playing.

There are still issues though.

Fredy Montero barely gets a look at goal and is used more as the hold up man than the striker and, somewhat bizarrely, two of the goals conceded in the last two games have come about because a Montero pass was hit slightly behind Bolaños causing the Whitecaps to lose possession.

That doesn’t mean that the errant Montero pass was the sole cause of the concession (there were many other factors involved) , but it does indicate a weakness in the formation because Vancouver are now much more vulnerable to conceding once they lose the ball

That’s because the defensive “double shield” is no longer there and though few will mourn the passing of that tactical trait work needs to be done at either getting Laba to stay deeper and more central or for Tchani and Jacobson to not over commit too early in a move (I can’t believe I’m complaining that the Whitecaps midfielders are being too attack minded!).

Another issue is that neither Jacobson or Tchani are true goal scoring midfielders.

Jacobson at least has some of the instincts to play in that way (even if his finishing leaves something to be desired) but Tchani has shown little going forward and that’s going to be an issue as the games go on because a team set up like this can’t afford to spurn chances on a regular basis.

But these are relatively minor gripes given how much things have improved with Bolaños, Techera and Montero beginning to find some kind of understanding and Sheanon Williams looking like the answer to all the right back woes of last season.

The question now is whether Robinson will stick with what he’s got or continue to experiment with systems and lineups.

It would be brave of him to try the latter given how well his side have played in the last two weeks but it’s tough to see how a player like Brek Shea will fit into this lineup and even harder to see a fit again Yordy Reyna playing any of these roles.

So maybe there is room for more tactical tweaks as the weeks and the games go on and that’s no bad thing as long as the core philosophy leans toward going forward more than dropping back.

Because while it may not be true that teams that try to win games always fare better than teams that try not to lose them it is true that fans will forgive the former far more easily than they will the latter.

And the Whitecaps have become almost likeable again.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings-

Ousted-6, Williams-7, Parker-6.5, Waston-6.5, Harvey-6.5, Laba-6.5, Tchani-5.5, Jacobson-7*, Bolaños- 6.5, Techera-7, Montero-6