Vancouver Whitecaps: Everybody’s Happy Nowadays

Perhaps the most pleasing aspect of the Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 defeat to Real Salt Lake on Saturday evening was that there was something in it for everybody.

If you think the Whitecaps are on the right track with their new signings you can point to a first half in which they were easily the better team.

If you think there are core issues that still need to be resolved you can point to another failure to break down a defensive opponent.

It’s hard to convey just how poor Real Salt Lake were (particularly in the first half) but there were times when Vancouver looked to be at least a division above them in terms of quality and organization.

But the Whitecaps couldn’t turn that dominance into goals (or even any clear-cut chances) and a late defensive lack of concentration in the first half and a late breakaway goal in the second half were enough to stave off a very, very late goal from Brek Shea.

In hindsight (and probably with some foresight too) it’s hard to know why Shea didn’t get the start given his road form and aside from one surging run Bernie Ibini offered little attacking threat.

And the same went for Alphonso Davies on the left as he reverted to consistently taking the wrong option with his final pass. It looks like it’s going to be two steps forward and one step back for the kid this season.

It certainly hampers a team built on the importance of the cross to have two wide players who aren’t actually all that good at crossing and the two best deliverers of the ball on the team (de Jong and Nerwinski) aren’t getting forward enough to make their presence genuinely felt.

And that can be the only reason why Kei Kamara felt the need to drift wide so often.

As the second half progressed Salt Lake were content to turn the whole affair into a de facto home game for the Whitecaps and so sat deep content in the knowledge they wouldn’t be broken down.

It’s not hard to see why they would do that given their form and it’s not hard to see why Vancouver failed to breach their back line but it is kind of baffling why Carl Robinson isn’t prepared to throw the dice on something new when things aren’t working out in that way.

Felipe does a decent job of neat passing and the occasional through ball when sitting deep but to have your best passer of the ball closer to your own penalty area than your opponent’s when trying to find an elusive goal doesn’t really make much sense.

And can we now consign “moving Alphonso Davies to left back” to the dustbin of tactical history?

It doesn’t create more offensive chances and it just makes the defence weaker, as outlined by Davies losing his man on the second Salt Lake goal.

Next week the Whitecaps face LAFC, a team who seem determined to play every game in the most open manner possible so the chances are there will be chances and goals galore at BC Place on Friday.

But following the rather impressive performance in Columbus the Whitecaps regressed to their traditional mean in Salt Lake.

A well organized team who don’t really know how to break down a well organized team.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Marinovic-5.5, Nerwinski-6*, de Jong-5.5, Waston-5.5, Aja-5.5, Juarez-4.5, Felipe-5, Ibini-4.5, Davies-5, Mezquida-4, Kamara-6

Whitecaps find a fair wind in Columbus

Can the Whitecaps just play every game away from BC Place?

The 2-1 win against the Columbus Crew looked like being a case of the all too familiar “Meh” in the first half as Vancouver were easily outplayed by the home team and trailed 1-0 thanks to a Stefan Marinovic error.

But in the second half it all changed.

Jordon Mutch began to play as a kind of hybrid defensive/offensive number ten and suddenly it was the Crew who looked the team bereft of ideas.

Brek Shea scored his customary goal on the road and Kei Kamara got the obligatory “player facing his old club” goal to win the game.

The Whitecaps even brushed aside a glorious Alphonso Davies strike that was (correctly) disallowed following a video review.

For most of the game Felipe continued his penchant for playing deep and offering little of creative value other than from set-pieces but when he moved forward to take up the Mutch role once the Englishman had been taken off it was he who delivered the cross for Kamara to head home.

We’re still in the baby steps period of the season right now but if Mutch and Felipe were both played in more advanced positions,with Ghazal sitting deep, then Vancouver may be able to find a way to consistently threaten opponents beyond the tried and trusted counter-attack or set-piece options.

On an individual basis Shea once again showed that he is a useful player when he has space to run into and Bernie Ibini showed why he will only really be a starter in games played on the East Coast.

But Jose Aja had another good game at the back and is easily the Whitecaps most accomplished defender when in possession, capable as he is of bringing the ball forward as well as being genuinely two footed.

But while Jake Nerwinski did nothing spectacularly wrong from a defensive point of view he remains far too anxious with the ball at his feet and really needs to gain some composure in possession if his game is going to reach another level.

And even with Columbus struggling to find any kind of form in the second forty-five there was still a huge imbalance in the way each team passed the ball but if (and this is a really big “if”) the midfield can find some kind of consistency of personnel and if Carl Robinson allows the likes of Mutch and Felipe a little bit more free rein in home games there is definitely the foundations of the making of a decent team hidden away in there somewhere.

It’s all too often one step forward and one step back with the Whitecaps however and next week’s game against Real Salt Lake probably won’t tell us much more than anything we know already.

But the return to BC Place feels like it will help define the season in some ways.

Can the Whitecaps somehow find a way to be creative and proactive at home?

That doesn’t feel like it’s too big of an ask given the players at Robinson’s disposal but it’s been the one question to have hindered this team for longer than has really been necessary.

For now though Robinson can tuck a well-earned three points underneath his scarf satisfied that his team produced what was easily the best forty-five minutes of their season so far.

We now interrupt this blog for some thoughts from the following day.

That Davies goal may have been disallowed but it demonstrated just how much he has developed as a player this season.

There’s no way he shows that level of composure last year and he’s now gone from a promising prospect who hoped things would happen when the ball was at his feet to a player who knows he can make those things happen.

He is, as they say, “like a new signing”.

Over the years Carl Robinson has been somewhat fascinated by the idea of how much difference any new signing could make to the locker room.

But this season more than one of those signings seem capable of making a difference on the field.

Kamara, Juarez and Felipe all bring a level of, let’s be kind and call it “experience”, that will make the Whitecaps a nightmare to both play against and to referee.

There’s still the potential for so many “Type A” personalities to spontaneously combust given the wrong conditions but for now it’s a heady mix of arrogance and know how.

It always looked as though the opening half-dozen games could be the toughest spell of the whole season for Vancouver given the travel and the opposition so to have picked up ten points with one of those games still to play is a significant achievement.

Let`s hope that achievement can be built on rather than used as a cushion for a poor run of form at the business end of the campaign.

We now return you to your regular blog.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Marinovic-4.5, Nerwinski-5, Waston-6, Aja-6, de Jong5.5, Felipe-5.5, Teibert-5, Mutch-6*, Ibini-5, Shea-5.5, Kamara-5.5 (Davies-6)

Vancouver Whitecaps: Before this river becomes an ocean

The best thing about the Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 road win against the Houston Dynamo was that it garnered our heroes a valuable three points from one of the toughest trips in Major League Soccer.

The second best thing is that it helped allay any of those “the Whitecaps will be a more possession based team this season” theories that sprung up after last week’s game against Montreal.

Nope.

Vancouver were back in their familiar territory of conceding chance after chance while somehow managing to win the game thanks to a penalty kick and a breakaway goal.

At this point I’m not sure who the universe is really playing the long con on; the Whitecaps fans who think that this time around Carl Robinson has figured it all out and it will be different in the playoffs this year or Robinson himself who must surely feel that he’s cracked the secret of road success in MLS.

The results may make a convincing argument that he’s done just that but, like a faith healer who strikes lucky with a cancer remission or two, causation and correlation can make convincing bedfellows even when they live in separate cities.

There were times in Houston when the Whitecaps could barely string two passes together. There were even times when they weren’t even interested in stringing two passes together but somehow every Houston foray except one either found a Whitecaps boot or head, a Marinovic glove or the wrong side of the goalpost.

Good defending to be sure but good last-ditch defending and certainly not, in any way shape or form, a composed away performance.

But for all this complaining there were some standout showings.

Alphonso Davies was forced to drop back to cover the left back position when Marcel de Jong was forced to leave the field in the first half and when the youngster did get caught out of position his pace allowed him the opportunity to recover.

Stefan Marinovic produced at least two saves he only had half a right to make and Brek Shea once again proved that when he’s given the chance to break beyond the opposition defence he’s as cool a finisher as the club has.

Less impressive was another display of listless anonymity from Yordy Reyna which must have left Cristian Techera watching from the bench and wondering why the Peruvian got the nod over him.

Aaron Maund still looks capable of getting caught hopelessly out of position and Felipe was the victim of tactics that are in no way designed to get the best out of his particular style of play.

No matter.

Six points from the first two games gives the team a decent cushion for what is actually a pretty tough opening schedule and there’s always the chance that Robinson will integrate the newcomers to the squad in a manner that improves the overall quality of play.

He probably won’t do that of course and come season end we’ll all once again be wondering why the Whitecaps couldn’t break down a stubborn opponent at BC Place.

For now though let’s just enjoy the sense that the plan is working.

We interrupt this blog for five bonus thoughts from the day after

Felipe was advertised as a box to box midfielder (and is) but didn’t get anywhere near the Houston penalty area unless it was to trot over to take a corner kick.

The Whitecaps didn’t complete a single pass inside the Houston penalty area

Robinson got his substitutes spot on. Moving Davies to left back, introducing Blondell for Kamara when the latter looked in danger of picking up a second yellow and giving Mutch the opportunity to wrest a semblance of control back to the game all worked perfectly.

It’s to Kamara’s huge credit that he somehow got a goal and an assist from that game but even a natural number nine can only do so much in isolation.

The rest of MLS is already producing results that are so batshit crazy it kind of makes any attempt at rationalization superfluous.

And now back to your regular blog.

Time for you Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Marinovic-6.5*, Nerwinski-6, de Jong-5, Waston-6, Maund-5, Teibert 5.5, Juarez-5.5, Davies-6.5, Reyna-4, Felipe-5, Kamara-5.5 (Shea-6)

 

 

 

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) 

 

Vancouver Whitecaps: Hot takes! Get your hot takes here!

Grab them quick because they are selling like hot takes!

Why football is so great- For the first sixty minutes the game on Wednesday was just terrible if you were a fan of the Whitecaps.

The team were lacklustre, the tactics were wrong and Seattle were passing the ball around like they actually practiced that kind of thing.

Then a red card, a goal created out of almost nothing and suddenly the final thirty minutes were a heart pounding mix of agony, hope and hastily thought through bargains with the gods of the sport.

Spinning dramatic silk from a sow’s ear of a game is what football does best.

Mystery solved- We don’t want to delve too much more on Carl Robinson’s decision making (we do really) but there’s always been some debate about whether his reluctance to make early changes is down to an inability to see what is wrong with the team or simply his footballing philosophy.

Well, after the Seattle game he said “I knew straight away after about ten minutes, I probably would have made two subs after about ten minutes” when speaking about how poor his team were.

Why he then waited another forty minutes to make any change at all speaks volumes about his willingness to sacrifice the present performance over the possibility of future player unrest.

The remainder of the season will determine if that is the right strategy.

BC Place is not Shea stadium The Brek Shea for Giles Barnes deal is beginning to look more and more like a like for like swap (that’s more likes than this blog has ever had!).

Because, like Barnes, Shea seems to be a player who doesn’t quite fit into the way the team want to play.

He will almost certainly start in Orlando so maybe that will be the breakthrough performance that kickstarts his career in Vancouver, but when your benched DP (no matter how tenuous that designation is) isn’t one of the three changes you make in a big game at home you’ve got a square peg/round hole scenario for sure.

So what now? Predicting MLS in general is folly and predicting this Whitecaps team is folly cubed.

We will get what we will get.

One thing for sure though is that if their “character” only stretches to playing well at home when there backs are against the wall it’s going to be tough haul for the rest of the year.

Sooner or later that “character” will have to demonstrate that it can take control of a game before it gets away from them if they are to genuinely prosper

 

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)

 

 

Vancouver Whitecaps: Road Warriors

Well, well, well.

The four game road trip that many of us thought could be the breaking of the Vancouver Whitecaps season may well turn out to be the making of it.

For the third straight game Carl Robinson trotted out the same starting eleven and the same formation and although the performance wasn’t up to the level of the win in Montreal (or even the defeat in Portland) it was still good enough to beat a very poor Colorado Rapids team by a late Brek Shea goal to nil.

Once again it was heartening to see Robinson introduce attacking substitutions into a veritable stalemate of a game and (from a purely subjective perspective) the more often that change works then the better it is for those of us who watch the team week in and week out.

And it worked particularly well this time around with Nicolas Mezquida setting up the well taken Shea goal with a good crossfield pass.

On the night the standout performers were probably Williams, Waston and Parker with additional nods to Laba and Techera, but we still haven’t seen a great deal from Tony Tchani.

It could be that Tchani is a victim of  NPCBS (New Player Confirmation Bias Syndrome) in which the initial impressions of a player become magnified over the first few games with the result that every time that initial impression is confirmed it becomes embedded deeper into the spectator’s subconscious (I recommend reading Dr. Marta Johansson’s ground breaking paper on NPCBS  “ArsenalFanTV and the Robert Pires Problem- A Thought Experiment” for a genuinely fascinating insight into the phenomenon) but I’m not sure that’s the case with Tchani.

There was though at least one brief spell in the second half where he acted as a kind of midfield wall for the rest of the team to play off that perhaps offered a foreshadowing of his future value to the team but “foreshadowing” isn’t yet a recognized and measurable statistic and it will be interesting to see how the coach fits Tchani into the eleven as other players return to fitness.

What else is there to say?

This was exactly the kind of game the Whitecaps were losing last season and although that change of outcome is as much down to the vagaries of chance as it is to the variation of tactics they already have six points in the bank from a series of games where four would have been perfectly satisfactory.

Building on those points at home is the next big task but first it’s on to Houston and lots of analysis based around the word “problem”.

Time for the Soccer Shorts Player Ratings!

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