Whitecaps still have no particular place to go

The first priority of a football coach is to win games. The second priority is to entertain the home fans.

Take care of both and you’re a god. Take care of the first and nothing else matters. Take care of the second and you’ll be given some leeway before the axe finally falls.

Right now Carl Robinson is taking care of neither and for the second consecutive home MLS game the Whitecaps failed to score and failed to even threaten against an Eastern Conference opponent as they went down 2-0 to Toronto FC at BC Place.

The only thing that really worked out for Robinson on the day was the red card to Brek Shea (actually a second yellow for dissent) because that will no doubt move the narrative away from just how poor his team were.

Everybody knows how to play the Whitecaps at BC Place by now; sit back and let them come at you because they never really do come at you anyway.

Never has a team been able to turn an attacking corner into a back pass to their own goalkeeper with the alacrity of the Whitecaps and there can’t be many home teams who are so unwilling to use the home crowd to their advantage.

Quietening the supporters with dull football is a great idea if you’re on the road but not so great when you need those fans to be the twelfth man.

Vancouver did get better in the second half with the introduction of Christian Bolaños and, for a brief fifteen minute spell, it even seemed as though they were intent on scoring a goal.

That all fell apart once Shea got that red however and while we can argue all day about the rights and wrongs of the call it’s tough to criticize a player for doing the exact same thing his coach does for almost the entirety the game.

There was a moment in the first half when Robinson was making an unnecessarily petulant point about where a throw in should be taken and if I’m officiating that game I know which team I’m going to be happy to make a big decision against when the time comes.

Even MLS referees are human.

If Robinson spent as much time telling his players where they were going wrong as he does the match officials the results might actually improve.

Hopefully the coming two week break will prompt a little bit of introspection about how the team is being set up because (Soccer Shorts bingo cards at hand!) those two defensive midfielders are killing the team and Fredy Montero looked a figure of despair as he left the field because once again not one chance had been created for him from open play.

That’s partly because almost every other player on the team is being asked to prioritize their defensive duties over any notion of attack and that turned both Shea and Alphonso Davies into meaninglessly insignificant figures going forward.

It’s great that Davies does the defensive duties so well but the kid needs to be allowed to play and to enjoy his football, otherwise he’s going to be transformed from a phenomenon into a journeyman before our very eyes.

On the plus side the weather seems to have got much better!.

Time for Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Richey-6, Williams- 5, Parker-6.5*, Waston-6, Harvey-6, Laba-5.5, Teibert-5, Davies-5, Shea-4.5, Mezquida-5.5, Montero-5.5, Bolaños-6.5

 

 

Aim not true enough for the Whitecaps

“If there’s anything that you want

If there’s anything that you need

There’s no need to be evasive

Money talks and it’s persuasive

Possession”

Elvis Costello is right of course.

If you do want good possession stats in soccer then money really is a persuasive talker because good players pass the ball better than bad players and good players command a higher salary than bad players do.

We shouldn’t get over obsessed with possession stats however because although they do tell a story about how a game has played out they don’t always tell the true back story.

Some teams (Whitecaps included) are happy to concede control of the ball knowing full well that the opposition is often at its most vulnerable while in an attacking formation and a swift and sudden breakaway can be their undoing.

The problem for the Whitecaps is that their possession stats in the last two games have been so bad they restore the intuition to any counter intuitive arguments to be made about counter attacks.

Against both San Jose and Tigres the Whitecaps were south of thirty percent when it came to being in control of the ball and even the provisos of being a man and a level of class down can’t hide the fact that those numbers can be brutally damaging to a team.

So what’s the cause?

Function mostly follows formation in this case because the two deep-lying midfielders offer little in terms of receiving the ball from the back four and even when they do they offer equally little in terms of distribution.

None of Laba, Jacobson or Teibert are consistently capable of quality passes and the result is that either one of those three or one of the back four hits a hopeful long ball to the designated lone striker of the day.

In a perfect world said striker would either hold up the ball or flick it on to a marauding team mate but now that opponents have figured out that particular plan any such play is almost always shut down at birth.

That leaves Erik Hurtado charging valiantly across the forward line, Brek Shea wondering why yet another coach isn’t playing him in his best position or Fredy Montero perplexed at the prospect of constantly craning his neck upwards in an attempt to find the ball.

But it doesn’t have to be this way and there is at least hope that the style of play will become easier on the eye as the season develops.

Getting Christian Bolaños back into the first eleven is crucial because even in his brief cameo in Mexico he demonstrated the ability to actually stop and think about what he wanted to do with the ball while it was at his feet.

Combine that with the quality of Alphonso Davies and some combination of Brek Shea, Nicolas Mezquida and (when fit) Jordy Reyna and it’s not inconceivable that Montero may one day get the kind of service he wants.

That’s dependant on Carl Robinson showing a degree of tactical flexibility so let’s not get too over excited but, for home games at least, the team is crying out to be released from the shackles of those two defensive midfielders (And then maybe I can write something about the Whitecaps without having to use the dreaded “two defensive midfielders” phrase?).

This coming Saturday the Whitecaps face a Giovincoless Toronto and while Robinson is never afraid to give his players an excuse for underperforming both he and they need to put thoughts of physical and mental weariness out of their minds.

Firstly, it’s only the sixth game of the season and secondly there’s a two-week break to come following this game, giving everybody a chance to fully recover.

People mostly felt good about the team after the defeat to Tigres but much of that good will was due to tempered expectations and another uninspiring performance at BC Place would undo much of the good work from Tuesday evening.

Has Robinson got the will to unleash his team at least a little bit?

Let’s hope so.

Whitecaps versus Union: What did we learn?

Mostly we learned that the world is a strange and terrible place and that although we may try to avoid staring into the void there will be times when the void stares straight into us with it’s unblinking and uncaring gaze.

Okay the goalless tie with the Philadelphia Union wasn’t quite that bad for the Vancouver Whitecaps but it certainly felt like it at times.

Once again Vancouver were faced with an opponent content to sit back at BC Place and once again the home team had little idea of how to break through such a tactic.

Long balls to a fast forward line are inevitably less effective if the opposition are sitting deep yet that remained the go to move for the Whitecaps for much of the game.

That way of playing is inevitable when a team has no central midfielder who is either willing or able to get forward and, the odd scrambled clearance from a set piece aside, the Union were left largely untroubled at the back and will no doubt be delighted to take away a point from such a long road trip.

The main positive on the night for the Whitecaps was the play of Christian Dean who was both solid in defence and displayed a degree of quality distribution that neither Waston or Parker is capable of.

That leaves Carl Robinson with an interesting choice; if his team largely relies on the long ball from the back then much better to have a player back there who can play those passes with aplomb.

It’s hard to see him dropping either Waston or Parker so early in the year but that may prove to be the right move to make as the season progresses.

Otherwise Kekuta Manneh looked lost in the centre and clearly needs the space to run into that the wider role provides and Brek Shea looked like a drunken gazelle on ice as he repeatedly failed to find either his feet or the ball.

We’ll put that down to the early days of playing on turf.

We shouldn’t get carried away with how bad the performance was I suppose because there were the mitigating factors of it being early in the season, injuries and players just starting to get to know each other on the field.

Yet there have been mitigating factors for this team for the last eighteen months; “they are young”, “the schedule”, “fine lines” etc.

So we are probably just going to have to accept that Carl Robinson is a coach who wants to play in this limited style and that he will never produce an aesthetically pleasing brand of football.

The good news is that this can still be effective (especially in MLS) but the bad news is that when it doesn’t work it can be brutally uninspiring to watch.

And Sunday’s game was brutally uninspiring to watch.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Ousted-6, Williams, 6- Dean-6.5*, Parker-6, Harvey-6, Laba-5.5, Jacobson-5.5, Techera-5, Manneh-4.5, Davies-6.5, Hurtado-5.5 (Montero-5.5, Shea-4.5)

 

Whitecaps trade Barnes for Shea (or Shea for Barnes)

I think we can place this in the “I did not see it coming” file.

The arrival of Brek Shea doesn’t make a ton of sense from a squad construction point of view but it’s been clear for a while that the Whitecaps have been keen to get Giles Barnes (or at least his salary) away from Vancouver and Shea was likely the best, or only, option.

So where will he play for the Whitecaps??

Well, Carl Robinson is quoted as saying that Shea will “bring a different dimension to our attack” which rules out him carrying on in the left back position he played in Orlando and the Whitecaps are just fine for left backs anyway.

So that leaves two possible options.

Either Shea fills the same role that Cristian Techera does within the squad, playing either wide left or wide right depending on who else is in the lineup and Robinson will no doubt like the more defensive aspect that Shea will bring to that role.

The problem with that though is that Techera won’t be a first choice starter once everybody else is fit anyway so he either drops even further down the depth chart or becomes virtually superfluous to requirements.

If the Whitecaps can handle that level of salary warming the bench for most of the year then fine, but it’s not a great idea in a league where every dollar (both real and imagined) counts.

The other possibility is that Robinson envisions converting Shea to a central midfield role so that he can play alongside Matias Laba.

This makes a kind of sense given that he has both defensive experience, the ability to get forward and a track record of being able to change positions at the whim of a coach.

And maybe Shea will indeed turn out to be the box to box midfielder the side so desperately need.

The reality though is that this probably wasn’t a trade made with a specific purpose in mind but one driven by a “needs must” agenda and only now will Robinson begin to think about how best to utilize his new signing.

One more versatile player isn’t necessarily a bad thing but there’s the danger that an awful lot of squareish pegs are going to be forced uncomfortably into roundish holes this season.

And that doesn’t sound pleasant for anybody!