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




Vancouver Whitecaps: Something we learned yesterday

The Vancouver Whitecaps 2-0 half time lead over Minnesota United on Saturday evening wasn’t so much a vindication of Carl Robinson’s switch to 4-4-2 as it was a statistical anomaly caused by a penalty kick and another set piece goal.

A better coach (Or even a more proactive one) would have cashed in his chips at the break and reverted to the 4-1-4-1 system that has served the team well in recent weeks.

That didn’t happen though and the home team came out with something to prove and levelled the game with relative ease.

Fortunately that seemed to be the limit of their ambition and from that moment on the game felt like two broken down boxers taking half-hearted swings, each more concerned with feeling the mind numbing force of the knockout punch than landing it.

I’m not sure what it will take for Robinson to realise that Brek Shea is unable to play the central attacking role effectively, but Brek Shea constantly being unable to play the central attacking role effectively doesn’t seem to be it.

Against Minnesota he and Fredy Montero weren’t so much supporting each other as drifting in orbits dictated by a differing gravitational pull.

And though it’s good that the team are now so effective from set-pieces sooner or later they will have to figure out how to give Montero some actual service or risk turning their Designated Player into yet another journeyman forward scampering for space where none can be found.

Elsewhere Alphonso Davies provided a modicum of momentum when he was on the ball and Tony Tchani finally produced a goal without ever offering much of an attacking presence from the middle of the field.

And the makeshift defence did what we expected it to do; be largely solid while always hinting at the possibility of conceding when under genuine pressure.

Whether we see this game as two points dropped after being 2-0 up against one of the League’s less impressive teams or a point gained on the road during an injury crisis will largely depend on the tale of the table at the end of the year.

But next week’s trip to Chicago and the following home game against New York City will be much tougher tests than the one faced on Saturday and just doing enough to get by won’t be doing enough against either of those opponents.

Injuries and suspensions are no doubt a cause of much of the malaise but those injuries and suspensions seem to be tempting Carl Robinson back to the comforting cloak of safety first football that he looked to have discarded earlier in the season.

Let’s hope not.

Time for the Soccer Shorts Player Ratings.

Ousted-6, Nerwisnki-6, Parker-6, Jacobson-6, Harvey-6, Laba-6, Tchani-6, Davies-6.5*, Techera-6, Shea-5.5, Montero-6





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



Vancouver Whitecaps and the fine art of surfacing

I was going to open this with a bit about how krill spend their whole lives constantly treading water and therefore their two main roles within the ecosystem were to act as food for predators and as metaphors for people desperately trying to find an original introduction to their blog.

But it turns out they actually have inflatable air sacs in their bodies which act as flotation devices, thus rendering them metaphorically useless.

Lazy bastards.

Anyway, for much of last season and at the beginning of this it felt as though the Vancouver Whitecaps were treading water when it came to the progress of the team.

The system had grown stale, the coach seemed unaware that the system had grown stale and the players had the disinterested demeanour of a teenager at a family wedding.

But then, seemingly out of nowhere, Carl Robinson began to make tactical changes; three at the back, Bolaños as the number ten and finally the 4-1-4-1 formation that played well in Portland but lost and then played well in Montreal on Saturday afternoon and won 2-1.

Robinson is often keen to point out that formations don’t matter, players do. And in this particular case he’s both right and wrong.

Because the real strength of this system appears to be how wholeheartedly the players have bought into it.

Listen to any interview with any one of them recently and they will all enthuse about how they are now determined to adopt a more attacking style when playing on the road.

And we can probably conclude one of three things from this.

The coach has thoroughly convinced them of the benefits of this way of playing, they’ve been briefed by the club to say this to drum up interest in the games or the players themselves were partly instrumental in instituting the change.

Whatever the reasons behind it though the win in Montreal will only strengthen the belief in that particular way of playing.

There are still issues though.

Fredy Montero barely gets a look at goal and is used more as the hold up man than the striker and, somewhat bizarrely, two of the goals conceded in the last two games have come about because a Montero pass was hit slightly behind Bolaños causing the Whitecaps to lose possession.

That doesn’t mean that the errant Montero pass was the sole cause of the concession (there were many other factors involved) , but it does indicate a weakness in the formation because Vancouver are now much more vulnerable to conceding once they lose the ball

That’s because the defensive “double shield” is no longer there and though few will mourn the passing of that tactical trait work needs to be done at either getting Laba to stay deeper and more central or for Tchani and Jacobson to not over commit too early in a move (I can’t believe I’m complaining that the Whitecaps midfielders are being too attack minded!).

Another issue is that neither Jacobson or Tchani are true goal scoring midfielders.

Jacobson at least has some of the instincts to play in that way (even if his finishing leaves something to be desired) but Tchani has shown little going forward and that’s going to be an issue as the games go on because a team set up like this can’t afford to spurn chances on a regular basis.

But these are relatively minor gripes given how much things have improved with Bolaños, Techera and Montero beginning to find some kind of understanding and Sheanon Williams looking like the answer to all the right back woes of last season.

The question now is whether Robinson will stick with what he’s got or continue to experiment with systems and lineups.

It would be brave of him to try the latter given how well his side have played in the last two weeks but it’s tough to see how a player like Brek Shea will fit into this lineup and even harder to see a fit again Yordy Reyna playing any of these roles.

So maybe there is room for more tactical tweaks as the weeks and the games go on and that’s no bad thing as long as the core philosophy leans toward going forward more than dropping back.

Because while it may not be true that teams that try to win games always fare better than teams that try not to lose them it is true that fans will forgive the former far more easily than they will the latter.

And the Whitecaps have become almost likeable again.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings-

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




Vancouver Whitecaps v LA Galaxy: What did we learn?

Fair warning to you all that I watched the majority of the Vancouver Whitecaps 4-2 win over the LA Galaxy on my phone while waiting to board a flight to the UK so the insights contained within will be those of a man both jet lagged and uninformed.

Maybe that’s the magic bullet I’ve been looking for?

Whatever the case I won’t allow being in England to influence my perspective in any way but cor blimey guvnor it weren’t half smashing to use me old apple pies to have a gander at them there fellas using their plates of meat so well.

Anyway, what did we learn?

Carl Robinson proves his critics right- One possible reading of the game is that the coach had been right all along with the formation he was playing, it just needed time to bed in.

The other, less charitable, reading is that everybody else was right all along and that the team needed to play in a far more proactive manner (especially at home).

This was certainly helped by the Galaxy’s strange compulsion to make the game as open as possible but even so the Whitecaps actually got men forward from the midfield and perhaps the most unexpected consequence of the Tony Tchani signing is that he allowed Matias Laba to get forward rather than the other way around.

It’s ludicrously early to be making any kind of relevant assessments but if Laba suddenly finds the will and the way to get into the opposition penalty area on a regular basis then that’s nothing but good news.

Selection headaches ahoy!– Brek Shea’s suspension gave Cristian Techera the chance to start a game and boy did he take that chance.

Techera hasn’t looked that good since he first arrived in Vancouver and it was a reminder of just how effective he can be as an attacking presence.

Maybe the Manneh trade has either invigorated or terrified the Uruguayan (nobody wants to wake up to find themselves on a plane to Columbus) but whatever the cause Techera should have moved ahead of Shea in the starting eleven reckoning after Saturday.

Shea will undoubtedly start against Tigres on Wednesday and so he has a chance to make a counter-claim but if Robinson doesn’t reward Techera with more minutes then we may well be back to the unmotivated bug of yester season.

There are still issues- Of course there are; one win does not make a summer after all.

In the first half the Whitecaps all but lost their way after the non-call on the Davies PK decision and the first LA goal and, after a very bright start, were somewhat grateful to get back into the locker room just one goal to the bad.

That hints at the still lingering suspicion of a soft underbelly at the heart of the team (Why is the underbelly near the heart anyway? They need medical help stat!) but hopefully that particular flaw will be partially remedied by the memory of achieving a come from behind win in such thrilling fashion.

Erik Hurtado’s attempt at a “Beckham”- We must never speak of this again.

Time for the (belated) Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Ousted- 5.5, Williams-6.5, harvey-6, Waston-6, Parker-6, Laba-7, Jacobson-6.5, Davies-6.5, Techera-7.5*, Bolaños-6.5, Hurtado- 5.5 (Montero-6)   

Vancouver Whitecaps bullish after tie in New York

The CONCACAF Champion’s League quarter-finals exist in some strange kind of hinterland for the MLS clubs involved; existing as they do just at the end of the pre-season but just before the regular season gets under way.

That makes the games both hard to predict and even harder to parse for harbingers of what is to come.

Nevertheless the Whitecaps 1-1 tie with the New York Red Bulls was both a pleasing result (even more so considering the home team were given a penalty kick and the advantage of an extra man after Cristian Techera had been dismissed) and offered at least few clues about what to expect from Vancouver in 2017.

The most positive aspect was the somewhat constant movement of the forward line with Hurtado, Manneh, Davies and Techera frequently switching positions and at least giving the Red Bulls backline something more to think about than a solitary striker.

It’s a little easier to see Fredy Montero fitting into that version of 4-2-3-1 than those previously envisioned.

Not surprisingly the pace of both Manneh and Davies always offered a threat on the break and if Manneh could just learn to play the right pass at the right time he would be a guaranteed game winner more often than not.

Defensively the Whitecaps were solid too (or at least more solid than many of us feared) with Parker and Waston looking more like the effective 2015 pairing than the porous 2016 version.

The worrying aspects remain the lack of any creativity or link up play from the defensive midfielders with both Laba and Teibert offering next to nothing going forward and while that may be forgivable on the road it still remains to be seen how dangerous the Whitecaps are when faced with an opponent who sits back and negates their pace.

The red card and the penalty kick (both good calls) also offered a painful reminder of the indiscipline of last year, but at least the ten men held on and that should instill a little more confidence in the ability to close out games in a way they were barely able to do in 2016.

It’s all set up very nicely for the game at BC Place next Thursday and if the Whitecaps can come out of that game advancing to the semi-finals then the mood around the whole club should get both a little lighter and a little more forgiving.

It’s ludicrously early in the season (I mean really, really ludicrously early) to be talking about a game having so much importance but that’s the way it is.

The positive news is that both the result and the performance in New Jersey offered somewhat unexpected glimmers of hope for what is to come.

It’s the hope that kills you of course, but at least it’s a relatively pain free death (until the final moments anyway).

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Ousted-6, Nerwinski-5, Parker-7*, Waston-7, Harvey-6, Laba-5, Teibert-5, Techera-5, Manneh-6, Davies-6, Hurtado-5 (Barnes-6, Williams-5)





Vancouver leave Couva with a win

I’m sure I don’t need to go into detail about the relative strengths and weaknesses of Trinidad and Tobago’s Central FC (even though I very definitely could do that if I needed to).

The important thing to remember is that there are no easy road games in the CONCACAF Champion’s League which very much fits into the “it’s a cliché because it’s true” category (actually is “it’s a cliché because it’s true” now a cliché itself? I think it might be).

Anyway Vancouver went to Couva and came away with a very impressive 1-0 victory thanks to a Cristian Techera goal in the thirty-fourth minute and have now given themselves a decent chance of getting through the group stages of this competition.

Last season Carl Robinson rang the changes for these games and paid the price in terms of quality of play, but this time around he kept a core of experienced players in the starting eleven and was rewarded with a very good team performance.

He’ll certainly have been impressed with Brett Levis who looked composed on the ball at left back and with Spencer Richey who looked solid in goal.

A shout out too to David Edgar who did well in his first competitive start for the Whitecaps and to Alphonso “he’s only fifteen you know” Davies who came on as a second half substitute and made an immediate impact on the game and so very nearly got his first goal for the club.

I’m in the seemingly group of people who think Davies is too young to be playing at this level and until this game I’ve felt reasonably vindicated in my view because for every exciting run there’s been a corresponding piece of rawness.

But against Central he looked to be the real deal.

The question now is whether his overall game would benefit from fifteen minute cameo appearances with the first team or the full ninety minutes with WFC2. One thing is for certain though; this kind of experience is beyond value to a young player.

So maybe the real difference between this year and last year in the CCL is that the players who were given their first chance to impress at this level actually grabbed that chance with both hands? It’s hard to be definitive about that but the end result was that this was the best overall “team” display from Vancouver for some weeks.

The defence connected with the midfield and the midfield connected with the forwards and the Whitecaps were frequently first to the loose ball which meant the home team were never allowed to settle into any kind of rhythm.

For now we should just enjoy the warm glow of quiet satisfaction at seeing the Whitecaps produce an organized and thoroughly professional performance and hope that this “second string” eleven has laid some kind of foundation for those who didn’t play today to build on.

Time for the Soccer Shorts Player Ratings

Richey-6, Smith-6, Edgar-6, Kah-6, Levis-6, Teibert-6, McKendry-6, Mezquida-6, Techera-6, Aird-5, Hurtado-6* (Davies-6