Vancouver Whitecaps have just enough sting to shoot down the Rapids

Let’s get one thing straight.

The Vancouver Whitecaps were fairly terrible in the first half of their 2-1 win over the Colorado Rapids at BC Place on Saturday evening.

Taking a fourth minute lead against the worst road team in Major League Soccer should have been an invitation to build on that goal and then coast through the rest of the game and thus  save legs and minds for the Wednesday trip to Seattle.

Instead the Whitecaps decided the best option was to immediately concede possession and hang on for dear life in the hope that the visitors wouldn’t be able to breach their defence.

But they did.

And what should have been a comfortable game of football was transposed into an edgy encounter for those both on and off the pitch.

We all know that Carl Robinson likes to play the game in a certain kind of way but there are times when the fine line between tactical pragmatism and tactical pusillanimity become somewhat blurred.

And the first half of the game against Colorado was one of those times.

Thankfully Vancouver were a little better in the second half but still failed to increase their tally once Jordy Reyna had restored the lead in the fifty-fourth minute and we were subjected to watching Colorado lump high balls into the box for much of the rest of the time.

Yet for all the underwhelming nature of the victory the Whitecaps now sit four points clear at the top of the Western Conference and the much coveted home playoff game seems to be a more likely occurrence than not.

Watching this team one can’t help but be reminded of Mary Kay Ash’s famous quote about the humble bumble bee

“Aerodynamically, the bumble bee shouldn’t be able to fly, but the bumble bee doesn’t know it so it goes on flying anyway.”

I mean, logically this team shouldn’t be able to win so many games, but they don’t seem to know that and so they go on winning them anyway.

Anything else we can take from the match?

Well, Fredy Montero and Jordy Reyna are clearly vital to any success since they provided the only attacking threats of any note with both goals set up by sublime assists.

Brek Shea is still yet to prove he is deserving of a regular first team place.

Nerwinski and de Jong both offered something going forward, although probably not as much as they either could or should have done given the opposition they were facing.

And just maybe Tim Parker isn’t captain material? He got the nod again given the absence of Kendall Waston but he was badly at fault for the Colorado goal and on a number of occasions took options that were atypical of the way he normally plays the game.

That might just be the result of not having the comfort of Waston alongside him, but it may also be that the burden of captaincy clouds his mind rather than clears it.

It’s now on to two tough games in Seattle and Kansas this week and they will go a long way to deciding which of the top four playoff spot the Whitecaps are really battling for.

But don’t bet against this team continuing to fly no matter what the science may tell you.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Ousted-6, Nerwinski-6, de Jong-6, Parker-5, Jacobson-6, Ghazal-6.5, Tchani-5.5, Techera, Shea-5.5, Reyna- 7*, Montero-6.5



Whitecaps sail to three points

The Vancouver Whitecaps knew they were facing a dangerous opponent on Saturday evening at BC Place.

An opponent that was unpredictable, operating as a coherent unit and featuring the unconventional inclusion of Mariposa Monarch Butterfly Aerial Beings and Swallowwort Fossil Twins.

That’s right, the Whitecaps were fighting for patrons with “Nomadic Tempest’ the experimental opera currently performing on a tall ship docked in False Creek.

Fortunately I regard the words “experimental opera” in the same way Carl Robinson regards the words “early tactical substitution”; fine for other people, but not the sort of thing I care to indulge in.

So I was able to see the Whitecaps earn a valuable three points with a 2-1 win over the Houston Dynamo at BC Place.

The Whitecaps really did need to win this one if they were serious about a top four finish and win it they did thanks to goals from Fredy Montero and a screamer from Jordy Reyna.

But after spending most of the first half playing a decent amount of good football they came out flat in the second half and allowed Houston back into the game and from there on in it was more backs to the wall defending than the procession it promised to be.

Still, there were enough positives to make this more than just about the three points.

Reyna will probably turn out to be a player who can infuriate with his decision making at times, but he’s already shown he can be the difference maker the team has needed and Bolaños and Montero were both excellent in the first forty-five minutes.

Another good outing too for Tony Tchani.

He can occasionally take the overly safe option with his passing and he lacks composure whenever he does get near the six yard box, but when he’s playing simple passes to the more creative players he’s doing a job that hasn’t been done for the Whitecaps for quite some time.

And there was a time when conceding that early second half goal would have led to the team losing their heads completely.

That didn’t happen and though we can obsess about the importance of “locker room spirit” a little bit too much this iteration of the Whitecaps has shown on more than one occasion that it responds to adversity in a far more steadfast manner than last year’s version.

So it’s on now to another big game against Seattle at BC Place on Wednesday evening.

And although Robinson likes to reward players who earn a win with another outing he does face a few selection issues.

Jake Nerwinski got burned a little bit at right back so does Sheanon Williams make his first start back at BC Place since his enforced absence?

Techera and Bolaños were playing much narrower than usual to allow the full backs space to break forward and Reyna the licence to roam, but will that work against the Sounders?

And why are the Swallowwort Fossil Twins so intent on destroying the planet?

(Oops! That’s back to the opera again).

Anyway, the win against Houston offered foreshadowing of all the positives that could make the Whitecaps a decent playoff side and all the deficiencies that could ultimately undo them.

That’s what I call real art!

Time for the Soccer Shorts Player ratings.

Ousted-6.5, Nerwinski-5.5, Parker-6.5, Waston-6.5, Harvey-6.5, Jacobson-6, Tcahni-6.5, Techera-6, Bolaños-7, Reyna-7*, Montero-6.5

Whitecaps v NYCFC: What did we learn?

The 3-2 win over New York City FC at BC Place on Wednesday evening was arguably the Vancouver Whitecaps’ best game of the season in terms of pure drama.

But in the cold light of  day what lessons can we take from the game as we all head into a probably much-needed break from the recent maelstrom of events and incidents surrounding the club?

One Jordy Reyna does not make a summer- it was great to finally see the Peruvian on the field and it was even greater to see that he played the game in exactly the way advertised; a mixture of trickery and directness with a clear eye for goal.

But he arrived on the scene against an opponent who were themselves still pushing for the winner and thus leaving wide open spaces at the back.

If Reyna is really going to be a difference maker in the kind of home games the Whitecaps have so much trouble in winning, the kind where the visitors just back and frustrate, then he’ll need to be used as much more than just a maverick presence.

Carl Robinson’s job now is to figure out how he can combine the attacking talents of Reyna, Montero and Bolaños in particular.

Because if he can do that then his side may finally possess the means to break down any MLS defence.

Formations don’t matter- this is one of the coach’s go to comments in any post-game interview and, on this occasion at least, he was proved right.

The Whitecaps started both halves in a 4-2-3-1 formation but whereas the first forty-five minutes felt like watching a training session in which one side were not permitted to cross the half-way line, the second half showed the value of getting the ball to the three players just behind Fredy Montero.

Once Techera, Bolaños and (When he arrived) Reyna actually got some decent possession the game was suddenly a lot harder to control for New York.

It makes no sense to use players of creative quality as what amounts to the first line of a defensive midfield so let’s hope this win imbues the coach with the confidence to release the better instincts of his quality players.

Jake Nerwinski has earned another start- the youngster may only have fallen into the right-back spot for non-footballing reasons and he may have been poor in Chicago (Although everybody was poor in Chicago) but on Wednesday he was solid at the back and a genuine threat going forward.

Even after he’d set up the winning goal with an excellent cross Carl Robinson had to virtually dive onto the field to stop Nerwinski from charging forward as the clock ticked down passed the ninety minute mark.

Nerwinski has taken his chance and he should be rewarded for that.

The Robinson/Tchani relationship is interesting- there’s not a game goes by without the coach bellowing instructions to Tony Tchani. Now, admittedly he does this to other players as well but to nothing like the degree he does with Tchani.

We can only speculate as to why that might be but the fact that he’s stuck with the player through a number of average at best performances must mean that Robinson sees something in the player that has yet to materialize in Vancouver.

Robinson did play in a similar midfield role in his playing days so maybe that propels him to offer more advice than usual, but there was a moment in the first-half when Tchani seemed to be gesturing towards the touchline and advising his coach to calm down a tad.

It will be interesting to see if Robinson’s input ultimately results in a player who can be genuinely influential on the field.

Kendall Waston shows his importance- there probably wasn’t much doubt about this but the return of the captain certainly helped Nerwinski to a better all round game and it also gave the whole back line greater solidity.

Dubious penalty call aside the Whitecaps may well have fallen too far behind to mount any kind of second half comeback had Waston not been on the field.

Keeping both Waston and Parker seems essential for any continuing success this season.


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.