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

 

 

Rooneymania wins the day

Now with updated “angry mutterings” from the day after.

Even on the next day it’s kind of hard to believe that the coach of a team fighting for a playoff spot and losing 1-0 thinks it’s okay to shake the hand of an opposition substitute.

But what else can we take away from that game?

The 4-4-2 system is no longer fit for purpose on the road. In the last two games away from BC Place the Whitecaps have conceded seven goals (against not particularly good teams) and while the openness it brings to their game is at least creating chances at home it’s killing the season when used anywhere else.

It’s also starting to feel as though the primary purpose of this season (Correction: the only purpose of this season) is for the club to hype up Alphonso Davies to a level that means they can sell him for the highest possible amount.

Nothing wrong that intention at all and yesterday he provided one more Giffable moment to add to the rest of the collection.

But from a supporter’s point of view what a waste of his young talent this season has been.

A team containing the talent of Davies and Reyna with the MLS experience of Kamara and Felipe around them could and should have been crafted into an exciting and coherent whole rather than the nebulous and ever-changing lineups we’ve been subjected to.

Heaven help us once the young phenom is gone.

So, after relying on having played more games to make the standings look respectable, the Whitecaps have sunk to their more or less correct level of eighth and it’s hard to see that improving in any meaningful manner given the schedule

But at least the coach should be able to snap up the autographs of some pretty good opposition players on the way.

Now back to your previous programming.

For most of the Vancouver Whitecaps 3-1 loss to DC United it felt like what it was.

A not very good Western Conference team visiting a not very good Eastern Conference team on the day they opened their new stadium.

Advantage Eastern Conference team for sure.

Then, at 1-0 in the second half, DC United brought on their new DP signing Wayne Rooney.

And what does Carl Robinson do?

He rushes to shake the hand of his opponent like a star struck fourteen year old grabbing at the hem of the clothes of the pop idol of the moment.

Our coach is so desperate to be accepted by somebody famous that he clearly doesn’t care about the result of the game anymore, he just wants to feel the glitter of the opposition.

It’s bad enough watching Robinson trying to ingratiate himself with opponents taking throw ins at BC Place (at least he can hide under the cover of “mind games” when that happens) but to see him fawn over the other team when the result is still in the balance is just flat-out embarrassing.

What’s the point in discussing tactics or formations when this is who is leading the Whitecaps?

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Rowe-5, Franklin-5, de Jong-5, Henry-5, Aja-5, Felipe-5, Juarez-5, Reyna-5, Mutch-5, Davies 5.5,  Kamara-5

Vancouver Whitecaps: Driving in their car

Is their any love greater than the love of a driver for a really good rental car?

That thrill as the shock of unfamiliarity melts into the excitement of the new and as the initial sense of dislocation and confusion gives way to the right switches always being flicked and buttons being pushed.

And then, just when it all seems perfect, the unspoken sense of an ending descends into the interior and suddenly it’s over.

And yet, although it only lasted a few days, the sheer density of the relationship seems to have bent and stretched the time spent together into meaninglessness.

And the best thing of all is that there’s no bitterness upon parting. No recriminations, just the two going their separate ways secure in the knowledge it always had to be this way.

Maybe in the coming weeks and months the outline of a familiar form will be glimpsed from the corner of the eye, but it won’t be them. In your heart you know it can’t be them.

But that won’t stop the Proustian rush of mountain roads and ocean sprays circling the synapses for a second or two before the real world reasserts itself once again.

And, in almost no way imaginable, isn’t being the coach of a soccer team a bit like being the driver of a rental car?

Trying to figure out what goes where and how to get the best out of this strange and unpredictable beast without the whole thing grinding to screeching and disastrous halt.

Safe to say if we extend this metaphor to Carl Robinson he would be the kind of driver who, no matter what car he was allotted or how many free upgrades he received, would immediately set the cruise control to 58 mph and sit in the passing lane of the freeway oblivious to the tirade of abus from other motorists.

Slow and steady might not win the race but it gets you there in almost the exact time predicted by Google Maps and that’s a victory of sorts.

Except that now he’s started to experiment with putting his foot on the gas occasionally. Maybe even using the passing lane for passing instead of it being just a really nice drive because you never have to think about overtaking any other vehicle.

Sure, he’s occasionally setting the windshield wipers to maximum when he’s really trying to find the AOR channel on the radio and his discomfort is apparent whenever his attempts to open a window result in the gas cap popping open, but at least the car is going somewhere close to the speed it should.

But do you know what the best thing about driving these days is?

The car pretty much does all the work itself.

It’s smart enough to let you know if another vehicle is in your blind spot, won’t force you to turn your head when reversing and will sound a shrill warning if the traffic in front is getting too close.

In other words, the best way to drive a modern car is just to get in and do as little as possible.

And right now Robinson has a squad of players who seem capable enough of figuring things out for themselves when they are on the field. All he really has to do is make sure there’s enough gas in the tank and the oil is changed at the right times and the rest will pretty much take care of itself.

No car will ever fully function to its potential with a passive driver at the wheel but better that than a driver who perpetually has their foot resting gently on the brake pedal for fear of something going wrong.

Less is almost certainly more when it comes to this coach and this team it seems.

Vancouver Whitecaps: Ball of Confusion

So where we are now is that we have a defensively minded coach who hasn’t been able to effectively organize his defence this season and is now forced to play an attack minded team (he almost certainly doesn’t believe in) in a desperate attempt to salvage something from the wreckage of what has gone before.

Oh and he hasn’t fielded the same starting eleven once this season.

Is it any wonder the Vancouver Whitecaps still haven’t got a definitive identity even though the World Cup is just around the corner?

Fittingly they followed up the 2-2 tie with Houston (a very poor road team) with another 2-2 tie against San Jose (another very poor road team) and no doubt we’ll get to hear the same blah, blah, blah about chances missed and lessons learned over the next few days while the season continues to ebb away with all the certainty of Carl Robinson making the wrong substitution at the wrong time.

At least the starting line up this time around was promising and the team did play some decent one touch football, created two goals from open play and mostly looked like they wanted to win the game rather than not lose it.

But a defensive lapse just before half-time allowed San Jose to equalize and then the home coach got to give his team talk.

It’s hard to imagine just what it is Robinson does say to his players in the interval but time after time after time the Whitecaps begin the second period flatter than a pancake that is the victim of a hit and run steamroller .

As per usual it took the opposition doing something (this time scoring a  goal) to wake them back to life and Yordy Reyna leveled it up with a nice header to set up the by now customary hustle to try and get something more from a game that should have been a fairly routine outing for a team of substance.

We interrupt this blog to bring you some ponderings from the next day.

It’s becoming increasingly clear the Whitecaps really messed up in how they used the salary cap this season.

It’s hard to imagine an effective lineup in which Ghazal ($700,000) and Juarez ($620,000) both get to start in the centre of midfield or what Bernie Ibini ($300,000) gives the team more than Erik Hurtado ($150,000).

And of course there’s Brek Shea on $745,000.

What more could have been done if just two of those deals had been turned into a player of genuine quality?

Perhaps not much given Carl Robinson’s rather odd selection policy this year.

The coach has always emphasised that he’ll judge a player on performances yet Russell Teibert had his best start to an MLS season and has been rewarded by being frozen out of the side completely.

Even when he does come back (probably in Dallas) it will be tough to pick up where he left off in terms of form.

And the same can be said of Jake Nerwinski and Brett Levis to an extent. Two young full backs who have done nothing worse than any other member of the back line but have been relegated to the sidelines in favour of experienced players who still can’t help the team to keep a clean sheet.

And can we please stop defining “character” as having the ability to come back from a  deficit?

A team full of character would have built on that early lead against San Jose and cruised to a three or four goal victory.

But, like everything else about this team, their moral fibre is reactive not proactive.

We now return you to your regular blog.

Random thoughts?

Reyna finally found some spark to his game so it was baffling to see him substituted with less than ten minutes to go.

Sean Franklin offered virtually nothing going forward and Jake Nerwinski would have been a far better option in this game at least.

Both Davies and Kamara were really poor when it came to the final pass/shot.

Felipe looked good again as the one player who can find a decent pass from anywhere on the field.

Waston and Aja were terrible in their distribution.

And it’s hard to know what Brek Shea did in the previous game to convince Robinson he could turn this game around.

So it’s on to Dallas in an attempt to keep the fatally injured season alive for just a little bit longer.

Time for the Soccer Shorts Player Ratings.

Rowe-5.5, Franklin-5, de Jong-6, Waston-5, Aja-5, Juarez-5, Felipe-6, Davies-5, Techera-5.5, Reyna-6*, Kamara-5