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 

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)