Vancouver Whitecaps: Before this river becomes an ocean

The best thing about the Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 road win against the Houston Dynamo was that it garnered our heroes a valuable three points from one of the toughest trips in Major League Soccer.

The second best thing is that it helped allay any of those “the Whitecaps will be a more possession based team this season” theories that sprung up after last week’s game against Montreal.


Vancouver were back in their familiar territory of conceding chance after chance while somehow managing to win the game thanks to a penalty kick and a breakaway goal.

At this point I’m not sure who the universe is really playing the long con on; the Whitecaps fans who think that this time around Carl Robinson has figured it all out and it will be different in the playoffs this year or Robinson himself who must surely feel that he’s cracked the secret of road success in MLS.

The results may make a convincing argument that he’s done just that but, like a faith healer who strikes lucky with a cancer remission or two, causation and correlation can make convincing bedfellows even when they live in separate cities.

There were times in Houston when the Whitecaps could barely string two passes together. There were even times when they weren’t even interested in stringing two passes together but somehow every Houston foray except one either found a Whitecaps boot or head, a Marinovic glove or the wrong side of the goalpost.

Good defending to be sure but good last-ditch defending and certainly not, in any way shape or form, a composed away performance.

But for all this complaining there were some standout showings.

Alphonso Davies was forced to drop back to cover the left back position when Marcel de Jong was forced to leave the field in the first half and when the youngster did get caught out of position his pace allowed him the opportunity to recover.

Stefan Marinovic produced at least two saves he only had half a right to make and Brek Shea once again proved that when he’s given the chance to break beyond the opposition defence he’s as cool a finisher as the club has.

Less impressive was another display of listless anonymity from Yordy Reyna which must have left Cristian Techera watching from the bench and wondering why the Peruvian got the nod over him.

Aaron Maund still looks capable of getting caught hopelessly out of position and Felipe was the victim of tactics that are in no way designed to get the best out of his particular style of play.

No matter.

Six points from the first two games gives the team a decent cushion for what is actually a pretty tough opening schedule and there’s always the chance that Robinson will integrate the newcomers to the squad in a manner that improves the overall quality of play.

He probably won’t do that of course and come season end we’ll all once again be wondering why the Whitecaps couldn’t break down a stubborn opponent at BC Place.

For now though let’s just enjoy the sense that the plan is working.

We interrupt this blog for five bonus thoughts from the day after

Felipe was advertised as a box to box midfielder (and is) but didn’t get anywhere near the Houston penalty area unless it was to trot over to take a corner kick.

The Whitecaps didn’t complete a single pass inside the Houston penalty area

Robinson got his substitutes spot on. Moving Davies to left back, introducing Blondell for Kamara when the latter looked in danger of picking up a second yellow and giving Mutch the opportunity to wrest a semblance of control back to the game all worked perfectly.

It’s to Kamara’s huge credit that he somehow got a goal and an assist from that game but even a natural number nine can only do so much in isolation.

The rest of MLS is already producing results that are so batshit crazy it kind of makes any attempt at rationalization superfluous.

And now back to your regular blog.

Time for you Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Marinovic-6.5*, Nerwinski-6, de Jong-5, Waston-6, Maund-5, Teibert 5.5, Juarez-5.5, Davies-6.5, Reyna-4, Felipe-5, Kamara-5.5 (Shea-6)




Carl Robinson will choo choo choose who?

Back at the turn of the century a Business Professor and a Psychology Professor conducted an experiment in a California supermarket.

On one day they set up a stand with twenty-four gourmet jams on display and on another day they set up the stand with just six.

What they discovered was that while more people stopped to peruse the larger selection only 3% of those who did so actually purchased any jam.

Of the fewer who stopped at the smaller selection the number who shelled out some cash was 30%.

Too much choice, it seems, can be a disincentive when it comes to making a decision.

And too much choice is one of the defining factors of the world most of us now inhabit, be it household goods, insurance options, streaming services or restaurant menus that traverse the globe and back again in just the appetizer section.

No matter what we ultimately attain we can’t help but feel the pull of what was left behind.

Somewhat ironically, studies on the psychology of choice are now so prevalent that selecting just one to use as an illustration at the start of this piece simply left me thinking things like “I should have used the one that examined the difference between hedonic and utilitarian goods!”

You can see where I’m going with this right?

Seriously, can somebody tell me where I’m going with this please?

Oh yeah. The Vancouver Whitecaps.

Before we get to the choices facing Carl Robinson in the coming weeks let’s first think about whether the 4-2-3-1 system he employed in the 2-1 win against Montreal worked.

“Yes and no” is the right answer to that I think.

In the first half the visitors bunkered down and the only chances the Whitecaps created came from unforced Impact errors. We’ve seen that movie before of course, where Vancouver’s best option is to hope that the ball over the top hits the one in fifty chance of landing in the right stop.

To be fair it did at least feel as though they were passing  those long balls rather than simply hitting them, but even so it’s a low percentage strategy for a team playing at home.

In the second half Montreal were far more confident and thus far more open and Alphonso Davies and Cristian Techera both found the kinds of space they never got close to in the first forty-five minutes and two goals ensued.

So perhaps it’s fair to say that the 4-2-3-1 remains an option for road games and games where we know the opposition are willing to play more open football and that, given the arrival of Kei Kamara and the initial promise of Davies, it will at least be a better option than it was last season.

But sooner or later Carl Robinson is going to have to switch things up if he wants to find a starting spot for newcomers Jordon Mutch and Felipe Martins.

On Sunday he switched Felipe with Reyna but let’s hope we don’t get into the situation where a box to box midfielder is being shoehorned into the number ten role simply for the sake of formational orthodoxy.

And that would mean the coach being faced with what could well prove to be a paralyzing plethora of choices.

Sacrifice one of his wide players to accommodate one more central midfielder while simultaneously reducing the number of crosses delivered to the head of Kamara?

Experiment with three at the back and nullify some of Davies’ attacking threat by using him as a wing back?

Go to a traditional 4-4-2 which would mean two of Juarez, Ghazal, Felipe and Mutch not making the starting eleven?

Employ a 4-3-3 that keeps the wide players in the side and allows a true holding midfielder to play with either Felipe or Mutch as the more attacking option and Juarez as the conduit between the two but only allows a place for Reyna in the more disciplined wide role?

Right now it’s the latter option that probably makes the most sense but Robinson will indeed be faced with the thoroughly modern dilemma of an abundance of choice as well as something akin to that aformentioned decision between the hedonic and the utilitarian when to comes to the type of teams he selects.

And of course there are far too many studies in that particular area to enable us to make any kind of prediction as to which one he will ultimately opt for although, if I were going to switch disciplines for a moment and be the other person in his hell, I’d say he’ll go for the utilitarian option.

Vancouver Whitecaps: One down, thirty three (plus playoff games, MLS Cup Final and victory parade) to go

There was a fifteen minute period at the start of the second half when the Vancouver Whitecaps game against the Montreal Impact felt disturbingly familiar.

Vancouver had dominated the first half without ever really creating a clear cut chance and the second half began with the Impact on the front foot while the home team played with a kind of listless torpor.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Alphonso Davies whipped in a cross from the left and Kei Kamara produced a bullet of a header to change the tone completely.

Seven minutes later Davies slotted home his first ever MLS goal and only the sense that the whole team seemed to feel the job was done allowed Montreal to get a goal back and give fans of the Whitecaps a far more nervous than necessary final ten minutes.

They hung on to that lead however and concluded a mostly satisfactory day at the office.

So what were the main lessons learned?

Well, Kamara certainly doesn’t have the technical skill of Fredy Montero (there were times when his efforts resembled a unicorn trying to control a particularly feisty hedgehog) but that probably won’t matter if he can get on the end of crosses the way he did for the first goal.

Alphonso Davies had by far his best game as a Whitecap as he finally transformed “potential” into real world achievements.

He still takes the wrong option every now and then but he seemed far more interested in hurting the opposition than he has in the past. Let’s hope that level of ruthlessness is  a feature of his season.

Efrain Juarez was fairly anonymous in the first half but about twenty minutes into the second he appeared to suddenly come to his senses and began to get involved in the game both with the ball and as an organiser/coach whenever he could.

I’m not sure the MLS era Whitecaps have ever had a player who fills that kind of pseudo “Captain” role in the centre of the field and it will be an interesting dynamic to watch as the season progresses.

The biggest area of concern has to be the form of Yordy Reyna.

Yes it’s only the first game of the season, but he ended the last with exactly the same kind of lethargic display.

At his best Reyna thrives on devilment and speed of thought and foot and all three were missing on Sunday afternoon.

He probably just needs time to get his form up and running but there are new players waiting in the wings who could well push the Peruvian out of the picture if his overall play doesn’t improve.

Elsewhere Aaron Maund used the ball well from the back but was caught out of position on the Montreal goal and Russell Teibert had one of his better games as he even used the option of the forward ball from time to time.

It’s worth bearing in mind that a 2-1 win against a very poor Impact team is hardly the stuff of  legends in the making but the Whitecaps have failed this kind of test more than once in recent years so it would be churlish to be hyper-critical of the three points no matter how it is was earned.

Two tough road games to come that will no doubt give us a better idea of how Carl Robinson intends to slot his new signings into the team but, for now, all is good in the world of the Whitecaps.

Time for your Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Marinovic-6, Nerwinski-6, de Jong-6, Waston-6, Maund-5, Teibert-6, Juarez-6, Davies-6.5*, Techera-6, Reyna-4.5, Kamara-6

Vancouver Whitecaps: Reasons to be Cheerful?

Football doesn’t really break your heart.

It might feel as though it does from time to time but really it’s just breaking your heart in for the real tragedies we all have to deal with.

And that’s just one of the rush of emotions that make attending an actual live sporting event a cathartic experience no matter what the outcome.

Anger, elation, frustration, injustice and unbridled joy are just a few to provide the kind of emotional purge the self-help industry would pay billions to harvest if they could only bottle it.

So no matter how we feel about the structure of the squad, the tactics of the coach or the quality of the designated players, going to the game is always good (even when it feels bad).

Fortunately there’s more to look forward to than just psychological purification at the hands of the Vancouver Whitecaps this year.

There’s the new players for a start.

It’s always fun to try to get the measure of the new guy. And it’s even more fun watching those perceptions change as the season unfolds.

Last year Sheannon Williams seemed like a player we would all take to our hearts before it all went wrong. Fredy Montero began with the suspicious stench of the air of a rival before making it pretty clear we needed him much more than he needed us and Brek Shea arrived as a “character” only to reveal that he didn’t really have much of that particular attribute at all.

It’s our own personal soap opera!

And this year’s player to watch seems certain to be Kei Kamara.

The club is already pushing Kamara in almost all of their online promotions and he does seem to be a genuinely likeable guy but (Spoiler alert!) his history is littered with disputes and it’s unlikely he will change his stripes this late in his career.

The Whitecaps and Carl Robinson have been eager to point out that this is one of the attributes they most like about their new striker as it will challenge the other players if they are underperforming.

But it will also challenge Robinson himself.

His time in Vancouver has been marked by his propensity to defend his players in post game interviews no matter what the realities of the situation, so having the “leader in the locker room” directly contradict that point of view will prove interesting.

We’ve seen glimpses of this before with David Ousted and other senior players but Kamara is much more of an “out there” personality who will eat up media time far more than his predecessors.

It’s often seemed that Robinson’s desire to support his players at all costs has meant he struggles to deal with dissent and dissatisfaction within the squad so the first Kamara missive from the embedded discontents could prove both fascinating and pivotal.

Elsewhere Anthony Blondell has the potential to either set the league on fire or flame out in unfamiliar surroundings and Efrain Juarez could add a little attacking intent to the centre of the pitch.

Throw formation experiments, sophomore slumps, World Cup jitters and hangovers into the mix too.

Let’s get this crazy messed up show on the road as soon as possible!

Vancouver Whitecaps: How Soon is Now?


The Vancouver Whitecaps players are back at preseason training which means no more Christmas miracles, no more dystopian futures and much more opportunity for me to phone all this in with the kind of “Here are five things…” kind of posts that you, dear reader, will plough through until the end in the vain hope of excavating maybe a nugget of information or insight or just something, anything, to make the whole sorry exercise worth while.

Like I said.


But worry not because this won’t be one of those “Here are five things…” kind of posts at all. Oh no! This is very different. This is a “Here are five people….” kind of post.

Here are five people who will (or could) most influence the Whitecaps 2018 season.

Yordy Reyna- Last season Reyna arrived from a half season long injury to look like the wild card who could turn the team from “possible” to “probable” in the MLS Cup stakes.

It didn’t quite work out that way in the end and his season (like everybody’s) ended with a whimper.

This season Reyna could prove to be even more of a wild card.

His off-season travails have been well documented and remain unresolved and how he reacts to those is yet to be seen.

But right now Reyna is looking like the only genuine creative spark the Whitecaps have so, from a purely footballing perspective, let’s hope he can find focus on the field and that the prospect of being a member of the Peru team that travels to the World Cup in the summer either concentrates or clears his mind.

Without Reyna’s spark of ingenuity the Whitecaps could be a very laborious team to watch indeed.

Kei Kamara- Carl Robinson has been keen to emphasise that Kamara is the first genuine number nine he has had at his disposal and it’s true the big man should suit the team’s style far better than his predecessors.

The tactical naifs among us will wonder why that system was being played when there wasn’t a player suited to it but ours not to reason why the water has passed under a bridge that has already burned and if Kamara does get the service he needs (and with Anthony Blondell as backup) we may finally see those crosses and long balls from the back pay greater dividend.

Alphonso Davies- Sooner or later Davies is going to have to start earning column inches because of how he plays rather than because of his untapped potential.

And that “sooner” is getting awfully close to “now” if he’s going to fulfill that promise.

We’ve seen the odd flash of guile amid the pace, power and defensive diligence but those flashes need to become a feature of his play or Davies will turn out to be just one more MLS players who can be classed as “useful” rather than a game changer.

If Davies starts the season well then Robinson will surely give him the game time to further hone his craft, but a slow start for the youngster leading to a few weeks on the bench and suddenly the nagging itch of doubt will start to feel like something that even Davies himself can’t help but scratch.

A defining year for him? It probably is.

Defender X- The coach has already hinted he will be looking at playing three central defenders this year and that means one other player has to slot alongside Kendall Waston and Tim Parker.

Robinson has name checked Marcel de Jong  as the leading contender but Aaron Maund and Doneil Henry must feel they are in with a shout given a fair wind and a clean bill of health.

But whoever gets the gig will need to supplement the pairing of Waston and Parker without detracting from their defensive solidity from last season and it would also be great if they could pass the ball with a reasonable degree of competence.

That certainly makes de Jong the favourite but let’s bear in mind…

Carl Robinson- Robinson has shown in the past that he’s not afraid to try different formations and systems but he’s also shown that he’s not hugely successful at making them actually work and that, when push comes to shove, he will revert to the style he feels most comfortable with; containment and reactive football.

Whether he can break out of that rut this year is open to debate (although I don’t really think it’s open to debate but we have to start the season with some hope right?) but to hear him talk about new signing Efrain Juarez with the all too familiar refrain of being a”good presence in the locker room” brings on the kind of ennui that really should be saved for the dog days of summer when the traditional late season slump has really taken hold.

But, putting all the gloominess aside, the coach has the squad to play the way he wants to play and the MLS experience under his belt to optimise the way he uses that squad week in and week out.

Which is all good.

No excuses from here on in then (well there will be excuses, but there really shouldn’t be.)

Vancouver Whitecaps need a Kamara

The good news is that the Whitecaps have at least realised that signing players who fit with Carl Robinson’s style of play is an eminently sensible approach.

After the announcement of Anthony Blondell a few days ago the club has now added Kei Kamara to the mix (and, indeed, the mixer).

The bad news is that the Kamara signing feels a little bit like opening your main gift on Christmas morning and finding you are now the proud owner of an iPhone5C.

I mean, it will do the job and everything but it’s just it would have been better to have received it at least a couple of years ago when it was a little more state of the art and a little less in a state of repair.

Both the club and Robinson have been keen to emphasise both how suited Kamara is to the way they play and (once more with feeling) how “good he is in the locker room”.

The obsession with constantly repeating this phrase for every new signing aside the actual evidence suggests that Kamara can sometimes be “challenging” in the locker room just as much as “good” and one area where the coach has seemed to yet really find his feet is in dealing with big personalities who aren’t totally content with events both on and off the field.

That dynamic could be an interesting one to watch.

Perhaps more interesting than the Kamara signing is that ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle has indicated that the Whitecaps are still trying to bring Fredy Montero back on loan from his Chinese club for the 2018 season.

Granted this policy of stocking up on proven but ageing MLS forwards isn’t the most exciting or imaginative way of doing business and there’s a degree of short-termism which bodes ill for the long run.

But seeing Montero play slightly deeper behind Kamara with (and this is very much up in the air given the circumstances) Reyna on the left side and Blondell as cover wouldn’t be a bad way of doing things.

But if neither Montero or Reyna are back next season then there’s suddenly an alarming lack of any genuine creativity around the opposition penalty area.

That may not bother Robinson all that much given how well his team fared in the standings in 2017 but the odds of him catching the lightning in a bottle of set-piece goals and a couple of very against the run of play road wins isn’t the foundation for a successful season.

Time will tell as more arrivals and departures unfold in the coming weeks but, as it stands, Vancouver have made a couple of useful additions in the forward area.

That’s good I guess.