Vancouver Whitecaps say “Adiós” to Bolaños

So farewell then Christian Bolaños.

It’sen announced that the Costa Rican international has moved back to his home country to play for his former club Saprissa.

So how do we assess his time for the Vancouver Whitecaps?

Well, his first season was an undoubted success with five goals and eight assists leading him to be voted Player of the Year and it was a joy to watch his ability to play the game at his own speed no matter what the circumstance.

The second season was less impressive and we can probably put that down to a combination of injuries, lack of focus due to the distractions of international duty and the team not playing in a style suited to his game.


In an ideal world the Whitecaps would have got more from his undoubted quality on the ball but by the end he had simply turned into a “useful at set pieces” kind of player and there are others that can fill that role for far less of a salary hit.

Maybe there will be a direct replacement signed but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to move Yordy Reyna to his more natural left wing spot and stop thinking of him as the number ten that he actually isn’t.

In other news the Whitecaps have signed Efrain Juarez from Mexican team Monterrey and he can play in a number of positions but is most suited to either right back or defensive midfield.

In that ideal world we were dreaming of earlier he’d slot in at right back to give Jake Nerwinski another season of learning the ropes of defending but given Carl Robinson’s tendency to view playing defensive midfielders with the same restraint Winnie the Pooh views a jar of honey that central spot may prove to be his main role.

That would mean the ongoing “talks” with Nosa Igiebor are less likely to prove fruitful and would surely make him one of the strangest signings the team has made.

Igiebor didn’t play for the first few moths of his time in Vancouver but was then thrown into the playoffs in a manner which suggested Robinson felt he was the answer to whatever ailed his team at the end of the campaign.

He wasn’t the answer, but it seems odd that the current prevarication seems to be leaning more toward departure than extension.

To be fair it’s still too early to make any kind of definitive judgments about the comings and goings around the squad until we see the final picture but the hope has to be that any moves are designed to support the style of play Carl Robinson favours (while simultaneously wishing he didn’t favour that style of play).

I also really wanted to get some kind of Dylan themed”Lost in the Reyna in Juarez” kind of pun into this post but to no avail!

Gone Laba Gone?

Any good therapist will tell you that when faced with an unpleasant situation the best thing to do is to ignore it completely until it goes away.

And that’s how we must all deal with the Whitecaps 1-0 defeat to New England at the weekend.

We must never speak of it again.

But what will we speak of?

Well, let’s just shoot the breeze on a few different topics should we?


Here we go then.


Yes, now.

Laba leaving?- Rumours are a-swirling that offers are a-brewing for midfielder Matias Laba.

There was a time when losing Laba would feel like a hole being blown right through the heart of the team but now his salary hit and the acquisitions of Tchani and Ghazal would make his loss feel a lot less painful.

And, like quite a few others, Laba hasn’t really grown as a player during his time in Vancouver so it’s yet another move that might be best for all parties.

And not just Laba? The signing of Stefan Marinovic is clearly a move made to deal with the expected departure of David Ousted and with Jordan Harvey in the last year of his contract and Christian Bolaños failing to turn back the hands of time (and with a World Cup year coming up) it’s tempting to think that their recent omissions are as much to do with positioning for their leaving as it is to rest them.

All speculation of course but there does seem to be the odd sense that the Whitecaps are a team in transition just as the business end of the season kicks into gear.

It will be interesting to see how Carl Robinson manages such a situation.

VAR has a bad weekend-  This is a great summary of just what went wrong with the Video Assistant Referee program over the recent games.

I was innately sceptical of the move when it was announced but the first weekend reassured me somewhat given how effectively it was used.

There was always the fear of unintended consequences however and they have reared their ugly head(s) with a vengeance.

One of the skills of a referee is that he has to manage a game and that means that certain calls are made differently during different games (and even during the same game should the situation require it).

VAR offers no such subtlety and places the already pressurised ref under even more pressure by forcing him to make a decision he doesn’t really want to make.

Maybe a solution would be to always pair the same ref and  VAR together to allow them to build up some kind of working relationship?

But whatever the solution it needs to be addressed to prevent the somewhat ironic outcome of the man in the middle losing even more of his authority in the eyes of the players and the fans.

Doing the business at home- We’ve all spent countless hours wondering just why the Whitecaps are so bad at breaking down teams at BC Place but one obvious reason is that they are incapable of forcing the opponent to lose their defensive shape.

In theory the arrival of Jordy Reyna should help that.

His willingness to drop deep to pick up the ball offers far more of a challenge than the tried and tested low percentage long ball over the top of the defence.

And if he and Tchani and Jacobson can somehow find a way to link up the defence with the midfield and the midfield with the forward line then we may not be faced with the frustrating sight of Vancouver desperately hoping for a last minute set-piece to solve their inability to score goals in their own stadium.

Is that  it?

Yes, that’s it.

You sure?

Yes, I’m positive. You can go now.

You’re not going to carry on when I leave?


Okay. Bye.



Vancouver Whitecaps: Danger! High Voltage

There can’t have been many Vancouver Whitecaps fans who approached the game against the in form Chicago Fire with much hope or expectation, but the ensuing 4-0 rout must surely have been at the low end of those hopes and expectations.

Carl Robinson reverted back to a 4-1-4-1 formation with the returning Christian Bolaños deployed to distract Bastian Schweinsteiger in the centre.

And that worked well for the first ten minutes or so as the Whitecaps looked dangerous from a set-piece and Bolaños hit a post after a nice piece of trickery.

Then Schweinsteiger dropped deeper and the whole plan fell apart.

Tactical flexibility? To adapt to an in game situation? That’s not how Carl Robinson and the Whitecaps roll and suddenly there was ample space for the Fire to play the ball in the centre of the field and the goals arrived with the inevitability of a Donald Trump tweet during the Sunday morning news cycle.

The second half consisted of Chicago allowing Vancouver to have the ball confident in the knowledge they wouldn’t cause any damage.

And they didn’t.

If there was one thing to separate these two teams (There was far more than one) it was the way the final ball was played. Chicago hit their crucial passes with calm and purpose, Vancouver hit theirs with hope and not much else.

Things then got worse with a red card to Matias Laba who will hopefully face at least some kind if internal discipline in addition to the automatic game he will miss because to make that kind of challenge so late in a game already lost is unforgivable.

Maybe his absence will be for the best though?

He was yet again culpable for giving up a goal after conceding the ball thanks to a bad first touch and it could be that opponents have identified this as a weakness to be exploited.

Steal the ball from Laba and the Whitecaps are dangerously exposed to runners.

Chicago got their fourth following Laba’s dismissal but by that stage everybody was just keen for the whole thing to be over.

We all know what the excuses are for this performance; injuries, travel, Chicago are a good team (As though having a “good team” is some kind of cheat code) but the upcoming game against New York City at BC Place on Wednesday evening suddenly feels particularly important.

They too are a “good team” and if the Whitecaps get beaten again they go into an extended break with nothing to lift their spirits other than the hollow sound of more post game interviews speaking of “character”, “belief” and “bouncing back”.

The good news (Yes, there is some good news) is that in addition to Bolaños starting there were also places on the bench for Mezquida, Dean, Hurtado and Reyna.

There’s an awful lot of hope riding on the return to fitness of Jordy Reyna and I suppose we can’t really judge Carl Robinson until he does have a full compliment of fit players.

But if he fails to shape this squad into coherence and quality in the second half of the season and if he allows this campaign to drift into the torpor and futility of the last then it will surely be time to look elsewhere for our repetitive soundbites.

The Fire were no doubt celebrating at the disco last night (Maybe even the Taco Bell?)

The Whitecaps weren’t too far away from the gates of hell.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Ousted-6, Nerwisnki-5, Jacobson-5, Parker-5.5, Harvey-5.5, Laba-4, Bolaños-6*, Tchani-5, Techera-5, Shea-5.5, Ibini-5 (Mezquida-5.5, Montero-5)



Game of two halves for Schrödinger’s Caps

There aren’t really any “must win” games at this stage of the Major League Soccer season but the Vancouver Whitecaps home game to Sporting Kansas City at least felt like an “it would be really, really, nice to win” game.

Following up a positive four game road trip with a flat and futile performance at BC Place wold have felt like a step back in a season that had lurched toward the positive in recent weeks.

The end result was a comfortable 2-0 win for the Whitecaps but for the first thirty minutes “flat and futile” felt like a pretty good description of the game.

Coach Carl Robinson announced an unchanged team for the fifth consecutive game and he can’t really have been surprised to discover that a lineup which was very effective on the road proceeded to produce yet another effective road performance with few chances given or taken.

That really isn’t good enough for a home game though but, just when it appeared that the Whitecaps had lapsed into relying on hopeful/hopeless long balls from Kendall Waston to fashion any kind of chance the big central defender produced a decent pass to Sheanon Williams who hit a great cross to Christian Bolaños who chested it down to Cristian Techera who volleyed home first time.

It was a goal of genuine class in a half that was largely bereft of that particular commodity.

Thankfully the second half was far better and whether that was down to Kansas being forced to push forward and leave space at the back or whether it was down to Vancouver being more adventurous is open to debate but chance after chance was spurned (Including another Montero penalty miss) before Tim Parker headed home a Bolaños free-kick to all but seal the deal.

The question now for Robinson is how he sets the team up for the game against DC United next saturday.

Tony Tchani is still struggling to find a role in the side and the balance looked far better once he was removed and Alphonso Davies pushed wide and Bolaños moved inside.

Let’s call that a 4-1-1-3-1 for now with Jacobson being the second ‘1’ and playing the role of the Schrödinger midfielder; vacillating as he did between attack and defence.

That certainly feels more like the way forward than what we saw at the start of the game and it would also offer up an easy way to get both Brek Shea and the in form Techera into the starting eleven.

Will Carl Robinson continue in his great adventure toward tactical flexibility? This game should have convinced him that he needs to do just that but, for now, we can all enjoy three valuable points and a long and sunny holiday weekend.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

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



Whitecaps v Impact: What did we learn?

Sheesh! Do we have to go through this after every game?

Few things are a more damning indictment of modern culture than the need to “learn” from everything. Can’t we just enjoy the moment for once? Immerse ourselves in the warm glow of three points on the road? Live with the memories for what they both are and were without needing to contextualize them with increasingly shallow and repetitive insights that offer nothing but the banality of half remembered events and genuflection at the altar of passing charts and expected goals?

No, we can’t do any of those things so let’s just crack on with it shall we?

So having stared in wonder at Carl Robinson’s new found tactical creativity there remain a few tingling questions of doubt despite the performance and the result.

Firstly, there’s the Christian Bolaños role to be considered.

The Costa Rican has now played out wide, in the number ten role and, in Montreal, in the void left by Tony Tchani’s removal from the field (And the void left by his presence on the field to be fair).

There’s nothing to indicate that this will be anything like a long term project but asking  Bolaños to move inside and deeper to allow the attacking threat of Alphonso Davies to get on to the field feels like subtraction by addition.

Bolaños wasn’t at his best on Saturday but he’s always capable of one exquisite pass or cross and the higher up the field he is to do this then the better it will be for the Whitecaps.

There’s also the question of whether Davies himself really is an impact sub at all because in both the game in Portland and the game in Montreal he was introduced to the action late and offered little in the way of attacking threat.

Sure, he played the pass that led to the pass that set up the Techera goal but that’s a stretch by anybody’s reckoning.

In Montreal he was also responsible for two really poor attempted clearances from the edge of his own penalty area that plunged his side straight back into trouble.

Not all players are comfortable in picking up the pace and feel of a game that is already in progress and it’s a reasonable bet that Davies has barely been used in that role at all in his short but brilliant career.

It’s a ludicrously small sample size to make any kind of definitive statement upon, and it would surprise nobody if he emerged as a game changing sub in the next couple of weeks, but it’s at least something to keep an eye on as the season unfolds.

The only other major/minor take away is that Robinson may finally have abandoned his “The first goal always wins the game” philosophy and that can only be for the good because it felt as though it weighed a ton around both the necks of the players and the tactical imagination of the coach for far too long.

Sure scoring the first goal is great but, as the Whitecaps have already shown this season, it shouldn’t sound the death knell of the game .

Is that enough? Vaguely feel like the whole thing was worth it?

Nah, me neither.


Vancouver Whitecaps: Wishing they were lucky

Napoleon Bonaparte famously preferred his generals to be lucky rather than good which, when you think about, is a startlingly incompetent way of running any kind of army and can therefore probably go into the history folder marked “apocryphal quotes”.

Nevertheless there are moments in any campaign when the fickle hand of fate can intervene when least expected.

And, while the overarching narrative around the Whitecaps this season has been the tale of woe relating to injuries and such, could there be an argument that Carl Robinson has actually enjoyed a good degree of fortune so far in 2017?

Let’s see if we can’t at least make some kind of case in favour of that contention.

The injury to David Edgar certainly stymied the coach’s plan to use the Canadian central defender as a cohesive force on both the field of play and in the locker room.

But his absence meant that Kendall Waston and Tim Parker were forced together again and the signs are that they are at least returning to something akin to their form of 2015.

It also forced Robinson into making a difficult choice about the captaincy and he eventually settled upon Waston and we soon discovered that while the burden of leadership didn’t eradicate every error from the big Costa Rican’s game it did encourage a more level-headed approach when it came to physical challenges.

Having Waston as captain reduces the risk of Waston as a red card collector.

The next piece of fortune came in the double whammy of the sending off and injury to Brek Shea.

Shea hasn’t done badly since joining the Whitecaps but it was clear that, given the numbers available to play out wide, Robinson was seriously toying with playing him as either a target man or as a number ten alongside Fredy Montero.

Shea is neither of those things and both he and we were spared witnessing any such experiment by his extended lay off.

That also forced Robinson to bring in Cristian Techera and the Uruguayan has now been instrumental in helping the team pick up a much needed six points from their last two MLS home games.

No Shea injury, no whipped in cross from Techera to set up for the first goal against Seattle.

But surely Jordy Reyna being ruled out before the season even began was nothing but bad news?

Well, it certainly looked that way for the first few games as Robinson played around with the ideas of Shea, Mezquida and Hurtado as striking options, but then Christian Bolaños got back to fitness and slotted into the number ten role with aplomb.

The general feeling is that Bolaños much prefers to play out wide but his presence in the centre brings a calmness and vision to a team that frequently lack both attributes.

No doubt that Reyna should be the long-term solution but when he is finally ready to play his first meaningful game he should be doing so in a side that has found some cohesion rather than the generally haphazard lineups we saw in the first few games.

There’s also the fact that the absences of Reyna, Shea, Bolaños and Manneh (For various reasons) helped Robinson through the difficult chore of rotating his squad.

There’s always been the sense that some players will get the nod no matter what their level of play (Witness Laba and Morales last season) but this time around there’s no chance for a player like Techera to feel slighted after being dropped following a game winning performance because there’s almost nobody to drop him for.

And let’s not forget that the arrival of Fredy Montero was the result of the striker being friendly with Mauro Rosales rather than any extensive behind the scenes machinations from the club.

No doubt the upcoming four game road trip will test this hypothesis to the limit but it could be that the virtue of selection necessity has been the saving grace for a team that can now find a level of consistency (In both style and personnel) before they get a fresh induction of renewed blood in the oft difficult to manoeuvre summer months.

You make your own luck in sport to be sure, but sometimes the raw materials are a little easier to assemble than others.