Vancouver Whitecaps play badly

So the “Fire Carl Robinson and hope we get a new coach bounce and sneak into the playoffs” gambit didn’t really work did it?

The Vancouver Whitecaps lost 3-0 to the LA Galaxy while playing in a manner which suggested they were more interested in the beaches of California than the opposition net.

But perhaps that’s a little unfair?

Maybe the whole performance was the team paying a heartfelt farewell homage to their former coach?

Two needlessly conceded penalties, a stunning lack of ambition and a blatant inability to master even the basic fundamentals of the game were certainly nice call backs to Robinson.

It’s hard to know by now whether these players are incapable of mastering those fundamentals or whether those fundamentals have been systematically eradicated from their arsenal over the last few years.

Whatever the answer to that riddle is the new coach’s first job will be to reintroduce (introduce?) his squad to the concept of passing and moving and somehow persuade them that the ball isn’t something to be quite so terrified of.

Hopefully his second job will be to place a moratorium on any talk of “rising to the challenge”, “never giving up” or some similar nonsense until the team prove they can actually rise to challenges and not give up during the time period between the referee’s first and last whistle.

Any bright spots from that game?

Well at least we are all a step closer to being definitively put out of our misery regarding the playoffs and Alphonso Davies was lively at times and Russell Teibert hustled.

But most of the time it felt as if the Whitecaps were approaching the game in much the same way as most of us watching; drifting in and out of concentration depending on the game state.

I don’t think any of them were actually checking their social media timeline but they may as well have been.

Poor Craig Dalrymple must have woken up in a cold sweat this morning (if he slept at all) because he now has to take this team to Toronto next week before bringing them home to what will surely be a less than full and less than enthusiastic BC Place.

Oh and then back down to Los Angeles just to relive the nightmare.

Playing Teibert alongside Mezquida to press the Galaxy back line was at least an interesting idea but whenever that press was bypassed (and it was bypassed a lot) the Whitecaps were outnumbered to an alarming degree.

It’s tempting to suggest he should mix things up even more when it comes to team selection for the remaining games but “mixing things up” when it comes to team selection is exactly how we got to where we are now.

So the best we can hope for is a moderately quiet and somewhat dignified end to it all.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Marinovic-4, de Jong-3, Nerwinski-4.5, Waston-3.5, Henry-3, Teibert-5, Ghazal-4, Shea-3, Mezquida-3, Davies-5.5*, Kamara-4 (Felipe 3.5)

Taxi for Carl Robinson

So farewell then Carl Robinson.

The Vancouver Whitecaps coach was “Released” today by the Vancouver Whitecaps just five games before the end of the season and there must be a sense of “release” in more than a few hearts given how flat out strange this season has been.

But Robinson started his time with Vancouver well and gave the club the steadying hand and defensive rigidity it so desperately needed.

But since that first campaign there’s never really been the sense that any significant progress would ever be made under his watch.

When players of genuine quality were brought in they could never quite find a role, leaving the coach tinkering with formations and systems until, with grim inevitability, he would head back to the comfort of two defensive midfielders and the familiar steadying hand and defensive rigidity would return.

And perhaps that really is all his time here ever was?

A constant ebb and flow of chaos followed by order and then order followed by chaos and so on and so on. At best Robinson turned out to be the solution to problems of his own creation and at worst he allowed the constant churn of players to cover up the stasis that had enveloped the club for at least the last two years.

Because Robinson wasn’t just hamstrung by the limitations of the players at his disposal, he was also hamstrung by his absolute belief in those limitations. The comfort of their failings was clung to like unassailable catechisms to become an overarching “Get Out of Jail Free” card for his own tactical timidity.

And that timidity really came to the fore in two defining playoff series.

In the first the Whitecaps travelled to a Timbers team playing on two days rest after a physically demanding ninety minutes, plus extra time, plus penalties against Kansas and, instead of going for the jugular, Robinson settled for a stalemate and was undone by a quick away goal in the second leg.

A braver or more ambitious club would have looked at those games and decided that he just wasn’t the man for the job.

But the Whitecaps didn’t do that. They stuck with their man and we all got to sit through those two playoff games against the Seattle Sounders where Vancouver were barely interested in scoring a goal let alone wining the tie.

Once again Robinson had retreated into a sense of inferiority when the chips were down.

That really, really should have been that but, once again, the Front Office crossed their fingers and hoped for the best and that’s how we got to this debacle of a season.

Players signed for no apparent reason, players played with no regard to form or position and Robinson and his coaching staff becoming more and more embittered with every passing failure.

Firing him now isn’t a brave act at all, it’s the act of desperate people and nobody comes out of the situation looking good.

But what could/should Robinson have done differently? Or even do differently in his next appointment?

Well for one thing he should start coaching like the young coach he is.

More often than not his whole approach to the game is more akin to a sixty-eight year old grizzled veteran of one too many lower league relegation scraps than a man in his first lead coaching role.

Talk of pragmatism and effort and the “boys wanting it” aren’t really the done thing now and the best coaches in the world manage to convey a kind of joy about the game.

Imagine how great that would be?

Not only working in the game he loves but putting across that love through the way his team play on the field.

Trusting gifted players to use their gifts and encouraging limited players to move beyond their limitations.

He might even have fun.

And you know what else might be fun? Engaging with the fans.

I can’t think of a time where Robinson has celebrated a Whitecaps goal with the whole stadium. Losing himself in the collective joy of the moment.

Instead he celebrates within the insular world of the bench. All boys together proving all the world wrong.

True that sense of resentment can be put to good effect in the right circumstance but fans notice these things. They notice the half-hearted applause in their direction on the walk to the bench, they notice how little mention or thanks or acknowledgment they get in interviews and that absence costs a deal of goodwill at the times when a coach might really need it.

Only time will tell where Robinson goes from here and whether he prospers or falters but we need to remember to always keep the distinction between the human being and the job.

By all accounts Robinson was popular with the players, popular with the media who cover the Whitecaps and popular with opponents.

Why that popularity failed to translate in his public persona is hard to say but what we can say is that while we can happily bid “good riddance” to Carl Robinson the coach we can at least wish “good luck” to Carl Robinson the man.

 

 

 

Vancouver Whitecaps making history

In his book “1491” Charles C. Mann paints a picture of an American continent already utterly transformed by the human hand.

Long before Columbus and his crew touched land people had been shaping the surface of their home to fit their needs; forest fires to create vast clearings to make hunting easier, redirecting rivers and changing the very fabric of the world that grew around them.

But the myth of the continent being an untouched Eden inhabited by the “noble savage” before 1492 has served so many people so well it’s somehow endured in the collective memory.

After all, history is nothing but the recording of change and if a People can be portrayed as never-changing then they don’t really have a history and if they don’t have a history then they are a blank canvas upon which any social or political point of view can be painted.

But even Mann’s book is replete with assumptions and self-projection. Because that’s what history is.

Just as all good Science Fiction is about trying to understand the present then so is all good history. Who were these people? In what ways were they like us? In what ways did they differ? Why are we making the exact same mistakes as they did?

The tragedy of it all though is that we remain incapable of examining our own societies in the same kind of forensic and detached detail. We seem condemned to be forever wise about the past and forever stupid about the present.

Which brings us to the Vancouver Whitecaps.

We can’t know what future historians will say about the 2018 iteration of the team but from the contemporary point of view it’s a difficult narrative to get your head around.

The team have a player with the most “Big Chances created” in the League (Reyna) and a player with the most successful dribbles in the League (Davies) and yet many at the club seem to think they are overachieving by even being within sniffing distance of the playoffs (and that scent is getting fainter by the day).

The status of Carl Robinson and his coaches also remains shrouded in weirdness. The main man still has time to run on his contract but his assistants have yet to have their contracts renewed leading to speculation that this will be his final year in charge no matter what the results from here on in.

It certainly feels as though it should be his final few games because there’s an air of weariness and rancour permeating through everything right now.

The weekly fines for Cristian Techera are one thing, but goalkeeping coach Stewart Kerr has taken to Twitter after he last few games berating naysayers and insisting that everybody at the club is “UNITED”.

Hard to say if this is a genuine expression of solidarity or some kind of Trumpian attempt at proving what can never be proved.

It certainly hints at the kind of edgy malaise behind the scenes and in the locker room that we see reproduced on the field with regularity.

Yet we remain too close to the whole thing to make any kind of objective assessment of the season. That will come later.

But if we were forced to form a coherent narrative of what we have seen we would perhaps say that the whole thing has been a foreshadowing of collapse and change.

Just as there must have been at least one Inca who looked at yet another mountainside eroding and thought to themselves “I don’t know, this seems like really bad news to me” then so some Whitecaps fan must see the inability to keep a clean sheet, the discipline issues, the controversy over how players are attained and the seeming sense of isolation that is engulfing the coaching staff as portents of seismic events that are too late to stop now.

Vancouver Whitecaps win the battle in Portland

Anyone who has seen the Bard on the Beach production of Macbeth this summer will no doubt have left the performance with the eternal question about the play circling through their mind.

Is the unfolding tragedy the unstoppable result of the will of malevolent supernatural spirits or is it the result of all too natural human beings latching on to the supernatural to justify their lust for power and glory?

Whatever answer you choose to that conundrum the inevitably of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth destroying themselves and others with every attempt to undo their own destruction makes for compulsive viewing.

And you know what else made for compulsive viewing?

The Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 victory over the Portland Timbers at Providence Park on Saturday evening.

For weeks now the Whitecaps have seemed to be slowly drifting out of playoff contention and prior to this game it felt as though it may well be the one to make the demise be done quickly but, for the first half at least, Vancouver produced some of their best football of the season.

They were a constant threat on the break against a Timbers team who lacked any real coherence going forward and goals from Kei Kamara and Cristian Techera either side of a Diego Valeri penalty miss gave the Whitecaps a surprisingly deserved two goal cushion to defend in the second half.

There were a number of standout performances in that first forty-five but Aly Ghazal stood out in particular. The Egyptian can be far too erratic with his passing at times but when he is on his game he is exactly the kind of defensive midfielder the team needs; breaking up play and providing the cover the back four has been lacking so often this year.

Praise too for Aaron Maund and Brett Levis who used their appearances as understudies to impress.

The second half though was less impressive.

Carl Robinson pulled his team back further toward their own goal with every substitution, eventually switching to five at the back in a move which only served to upset the solidity of the back four and invite more pressure and when the Timbers were awarded another penalty (“Out damn spot” indeed) which Valeri converted the remainder of the game was the kind of “backs to the wall”, “kick it anywhere”, “what is fair and what is foul?” defending that isn’t sustainable over the long term.

And while there’s something Shakespearean about Robinson finding short term success with the very tactic that is constantly his long term downfall nobody can deny that he is capable of sending out a team that is both bold and resolute when given something to hang on to although they still required something of a charmed life to come away with the three points that keep their regular season still relevant.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of this win however was that it was achieved without their two most potent attacking threats.

Neither Alphonso Davies nor Yordy Reyna featured which only serves to emphasise just how deep the squad really can be and the late season renaissance of Brek Shea has offered Robinson an option that wasn’t really there before.

Shea is capable of turning a renaissance into a new Dark Age faster than he can buy a new hat of course and he will no doubt once again become a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the field

The same can be said about the Whitecaps as a whole and it’s impossible to say just who they will be when they play Toronto in the second leg of the Voyageur’s Cup on Wednesday and at home to the New York Red Bulls next Saturday.

Before the Portland game it was clear that Robinson was targeting the cup as the main focus but that Cascadia derby victory may skew his thinking once more.

A win at BC Place followed by two games against the fairly terrible San Jose could make those post-season hopes more corporeal than they have been since it last rained in Vancouver.

For now though what’s done is done and only time will tell if that win in Oregon signifies anything at all.

Time for the Soccer Shorts Player Ratings.

Marinovic-6, Franklin-5, Waston-6, Maund-6, Levis-6, Ghazal-7*, Felipe-5.5, Shea-6, Techera-5.5, Mezquida-6, Kamara-6.5 (Nerwisnki-6, de Jong-5.5)

Vancouver Whitecaps take their chances

Now with additional points de vue from the day after.

Well that was better.

For what feels like the first time since the introduction of the steam engine the Vancouver Whitecaps played like an actual team who wanted to win an actual game of football rather than a disparate collection of ne’er do wells happy to collect the mercenary coin of an employer they neither cared for nor held in high regard.

The 2-0 victory over the Montreal Impact at BC Place on Wednesday evening felt more like the release of a pressure valve than a sporting achievement but it does lead us to ask a question that hasn’t been asked about this team for the longest time.

What went right?

Well, Aly Ghazal and Russell Teibert provided the defensive midfield coverage that has so obviously been missing.

It’s a fairly damning indictment of Carl Robinson that he still can’t figure out how to successfully set up a team without the presence of two defensive midfielders (particularly at home) but we are where we are and what works is what works.

Marcel de Jong and Jake Nerwinski both took the opportunity to get forward from the full back position whenever they could (and helped to create both of the goals).

Brek Shea and Cristian Techera were both involved in the game from the get go and Yordy Reyna was a menace whenever he was on the ball.

Could we play amateur psychologist and wonder if the departure of Alphonso Davies has set Reyna back to being the creative hub of the team and that being the centre of such attention suits his on filed personality?

We could. But only time will tell if we are right.

Time will also tell how the reintroduction of Davies for the remainder of the season affects the rest of the team.

There are already signs the club will be making a push to turn the whole thing into a farewell tour for the kid and while all who have followed him for the last couple of years are thrilled there are still competitive games to play and there has to be some kind of limit set on how much a team should be celebrating the departure of their best player.

The Davies to Bayern Munich story must be like catnip to the marketing arm of the Whitecaps of course but the footballing appendage of the club needs to keep focused.

Time will also tell how the Whitecaps build on this performance as a whole.

The last thing they need to do, the very last thing, is to consider this game as proving the naysayers wrong and simply assuming that all is now well.

At the time of writing this performance sits as an outlier rather than the norm and they need to go out and do it again and again and again before anybody will really be convinced by their coherence.

We can probably give Carl Robinson some leeway when he suggested in his post game interview that the character of his players has never been in doubt given how relieved he must have felt with the win but the character of his players has very much been in doubt and remains very much in doubt given the appalling run of results and lack of discipline they’ve exhibited in recent weeks.

That character will continue to be tested and assessed over the course of the rest of the season and only then will anybody be able to make a definitive claim to its worth.

That gives Carl Robinson some tough choices.

Neither Ghazal nor Teibert should be left out after the way they played against Montreal but that would mean confining Felipe to the bench.

He should leave Felipe on the bench if only to hammer the home the idea that what the players do on the field is more important than what they earn in their paycheck but the smart money would bet against that.

But hopefully this performance will put paid to the line of thinking which argues this group of players is incapable of competing in MLS.

Sure, they were only playing a second string Impact side but they created chances, worked for each other and defended as a unit.

Any team consistently doing all of those thing will be difficult to beat and will certainly be edging much closer to the playoff line than Vancouver currently are.

Maybe we’ll never find out why the season up to now has been such a shambles (and let’s not bet against the shambles returning before too long) but we’ve at least seen a template for how this side can function successfully.

Robinson would be unwise not to follow that template for what’s left of the campaign.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Marinovic-6, de Jong-6, Waston-5, Henry-6, Nerwinski-6, Teibert-6.5, Ghazal-6, Shea-6, Techera-5.5, Reyna-6.5*, Kamara-5

Vancouver Whitecaps do what they’ve done before

“Sometimes it gets so hard to care, it can’t be this way everywhere”

Bob Dylan-Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine

So this is where we are now.

The Vancouver Whitecaps will sell Alphonso Davies for north of ten million dollars and we have no idea if that money will be spent on players or on some other chunk of club expenditure (New filing cabinets perhaps? Upgrading from Windows XP?).

And even if the money is spent on players the person in charge of selecting them and coaching them will be Carl Robinson. A man who has consistently proven himself incapable of dealing with or getting the best out of players with more experience of football than the confines of MLS.

And even if Robinson is let go the people in charge of selecting his replacement will be the people who selected Martin Rennie and then Martin Rennie’s assistant to lead the team.

For this whole scenario to end in any good way for the supporters of the team it either needs a complete clear out or a once in a generation bout of good luck.

It’s not looking great.

The latest debacle in an ever growing catalogue was a 2-0 loss to the Seattle Sounders at Century Link Field, a game in which the Whitecaps barely looked like creating a meaningful chance of any kind and gave up two goals which were the product of their own failings.

In the absence of Davies, a quick and strong wide player who is ideally suited to a 4-3-3 system, Robinson switched away from 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3 with the slow and not strong Techera slotting into the Davies role.

It didn’t work.

There’s a wonderfully rich irony in having watched the likes of Rivero and Montero be bombarded with high balls only to find the arrival of Kei Kamara result in the tall, lanky forward sending in crosses to the not tall or lanky Techera.

And if we can reasonably conclude from all this that the team is not being coached effectively we can definitely conclude it isn’t being managed correctly.

In another timeline Efrain Juarez would be the experienced leader this team needs but in this timeline his petulance is his defining feature and there are some coaches who wouldn’t let him start for the team again this year.

“I’m sick of it” Robinson said after the game (speaking of the general lack of discipline within the team) although many of us were sick of it much earlier than now and maybe some of us even believed him earlier in the season when he said the matter of poor discipline had been dealt with internally.

Three red cards and an additional three game suspension in the last five games certainly hints at a locker room that isn’t really listening to their coach anymore.

Did anybody emerge with credit from that game in Seattle?

Marcel de Jong had the will to keep making forays down the left hand side no matter how little support he received and Nicolas Mezquida added his typical energy and willingness to actually try when arriving as substitute.

But the rest of the players either looked like they didn’t want to be there at all or, at best, didn’t really care about losing a Cascadia Derby game.

Things need to change in a hurry before nobody cares anymore.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Marinovic-3, Nerwinski-4.5, Waston-4.5, Henry-4, de Jong-5.5*, Felipe-4, Juarez-3, Mutch-4, Techera-3.5, Kamara-4, Reyna-5.

 

 

Whitecaps fail to make an impact (again)

Now with additional réflexions from the day after.

If a person were forced to select Carl Robinson’s least appealing trait as a coach than that fellow could do worse than select his propensity to view the limitations of his squad as a safety net rather than a challenge to be overcome.

After the game on Wednesday Robinson was of the opinion that his team “went after” the away goal in Montreal which we can accurately describe as more than a slight gilding of the lily. 

He also thought the team worked “extremely hard” which is basically covering the lily in molten gold until it crumples beneath the weight of its own sadness and withers and dies.

Robinson has never seen his team suffer a loss that couldn’t be put down to the lack of relative quality of the players he manages, or the travel or the squad rotation or something or something or something.

And he seems fine with that.

The post match shrugs and smiles befit the aura of a man comfortable in the knowledge that extracting more than the sum of said squad parts isn’t really within his remit.

And boy did we see that in full effect in the 1-0 loss to the Montreal Impact in the first leg of the Voyaguer’s Cup.

This time around it will no doubt be squad rotation that gets brought to the fore as the reason for yet another tepid display.

But here’s the thing.

If you’re going to keep rotating your first eleven then you’d better figure out a way to make that rotation work and not just use it as one more punchline at the end of another “You know me, I don’t make excuses but…” post game quote.

And sooner or later the coach is going to have to accept that the team needs somebody in front of the defence to protect them. Giving up goal after goal from the edge of the box isn’t a coincidence. It’s happens because the Whitecaps have nobody to close down the shooter because they’ve all either dropped too deep or haven’t tracked back. 

As things stand Vancouver would be better off planting a fence post at the outer edge of the “D” to at least give opposition players some obstruction to think about before lining up a shot.

So what were the standout features from the loss?

Anthony Blondell seemed set on trolling those of us who have argued he deserves a decent run in the team by giving a display shot though with appalling first touches and decision-making.

Maybe he just needs more minutes? Maybe he’s run out of hope? Maybe he was just trying too hard?

Whatever the reason he was fortunate to even appear for the second half (although he didn’t improve at all).

You know who will never be accused of working too hard?

Yes, spot on.

Whatever we may think of Shea’s salary in Vancouver to see a senior player display that level of disinterest and sheer carelessness speaks volumes as to why the team consistently fail in the character stakes.

It wasn’t just Shea who played badly of course and by the end of the second half most Whitecaps fans were probably reduced to exclaiming “Oh, is he still on the field?” whenever one of their players touched the ball.

Robinson tried to turn the game around by bringing on Hurtado, Franklin and Ibini but to no avail and………….

Wait! What?

Yes, the competition the club really, really care about was subjected to that level of tactical wizardry.

So it seems Robinson has thrown all his eggs into the playoff basket (probably because of an edict from on high?) so this Saturday’s game against Seattle gains even more importance than it did before.

The Sounders have been terrible for much of this season but they have shown the odd glimpse of life in recent weeks.

For those of us who already feel the post-season schedule is one that will be unencumbered by actual games of football for the Whitecaps it will be a game filled more with macabre curiosity than genuine hope.

But at least feeling macabre curiosity is better than the studied disinterest this team currently seems determined to engender into their fanbase.

In the end the Whitecaps were astonishingly lucky to escape with just a one goal defeat but let’s not pretend it was anything more than another nail to the heart of whatever hope any of us have of anything getting remotely better in either the short or long-term.

But why would it get better when the only net anybody seems genuinely interested in is that metaphorical safety net of just about acceptable mediocrity?

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Marinovic-5.5*, Nerwinski-5, Maund-4.5, Ghazal-5, Levis-5, Teibert-4.5, Norman-4.5, Techera-3.5, Shea-3, Mezquida-5, Blondell-2.5