Whitecaps get their Manneh back

The problem with playing a system that actively allows the opposition to have more possession of the ball is that from time to time you are going to run into a team that actually know how to use that possession effectively.

And that’s what happened to the Vancouver Whitecaps in their 2-2 tie at BC Place with the Columbus Crew on Saturday afternoon.

By the end the Whitecaps were more than happy to come away with a point after seeing Kekuta Manneh return bearing gifts of an assist and a goal to cancel out Fredy Montero’s early strike.

What we saw from Manneh was exactly why he was both exciting and frustrating to watch in a Whitecaps uniform.

Two fantastic moments that turned the game and two moments (a wildly hit shot from twelve yards out in the first half and an errant pass that would have set a teammate free in the second) that probably mean he will never achieve the highest level.

Still, it was nice that he got a round of applause at the start and when being substituted but it was a tad too much for some Whitecaps fans to actually applaud his goal.

I mean, come on!

Overall Carl Robinson will perhaps feel that this game wasn’t so much a case of his system not working as it was a case of his players not playing the system correctly because Tchani and Aly Ghazal frequently left too much space open in the centre of the field and Fredy Montero and Jordy Reyna were often two isolated islands desperately hoping others would join them to form an attacking archipelago.

It wasn’t that Shea and Techera offered nothing going forward, it was just their inability to consistently support the front two created the disconnect we’ve seen so often in the past.

It was still pretty entertaining stuff though and Jordy Reyna was twice denied by the woodwork as he put in a particularly lively second half shift.

But if this game foreshadows the playoffs then there are areas for concern.

Columbus had clearly worked out that closing down the Whitecaps central defenders can disrupt the whole game and that playing between the lines of the midfield and the attack asks questions that Vancouver aren’t always able to answer.

No doubt more than a few MLS coaches will be taking notes on those particular points of interest.

On the positive side the Whitecaps once again demonstrated that almost no game is a lost cause and even though Robinson reverted to the tactical long shots of throwing Erik Hurtado up front and playing Alphonso Davies at left back they somehow managed to eke out the kind of point that could prove vital come season end.

Neither will it do them any harm to carry around the idea that finding a last minute goal is something they are always capable of achieving.

The Whitecaps remain top of the Western Conference and at the start of this run of home games most of us would have taken ten points from the four as a decent haul.

That can be achieved with a victory over the Colorado Rapids next Saturday but they are a team who will happily bunker down and let the Whitecaps come onto them and that’s a different challenge entirely.

Right now it’s all good but it’s still too early to say whether those few clouds on the horizon will dissipate to reveal the sun or begin to accumulate to bring rain.

Stay tuned for the traffic report.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Ousted-6, Nerwinski-6, Parker-5.5, Waston-6, Harvey-6, Ghazal-5.5, Tchani-5.5, Techera-5, Shea-6, Reyna-6.5, Montero-6.5* 


So farewell then Kekuta Manneh

The news that Kekuta Manneh has been traded to the Columbus Crew for Tony Tchani and some imaginary salary cap money probably comes with both a sense of surprise and a sense of the inevitable.

Surprise because both clubs kept the deal close to their chests until the official announcement and inevitability because Manneh had seemed a disconsolate figure for much of the season; a man set apart from the ebb and flow of the team dynamics.

But now that the deal has gone down what are we to make of it?

From the Whitecaps point of view Tony Tchani fills a much needed hole since a genuine box to box midfielder has been as rare in Vancouver as a Kokanee drinking hipster and (assuming Carl Robinson allows him to play with the freedom to get forward) the thought of a player arriving late into the opposition penalty area takes the breath away given the barren nature of the current attack.

We will also get to find out whether Matias Laba can play the lone defensive midfield role. I have my doubts given his tendency to hunt the ball, but if he can form an effective partnership with Tchani then it changes the whole dynamic of the Whitecaps midfield.

Maybe Robinson will even consider playing 4-3-3 in some games to give himself the insurance of a more static presence in front of the defence in the shape of Teibert or Jacobson while still allowing the possibility of the quick break from the three forward men?

That’s a stretch but at least now the options are more realistic than the previous “Maybe Bolaños can play there?” scenarios.

But what are Columbus getting for their imaginary money?

There’s no doubt that Manneh has plateaued of late in Vancouver and whether that’s down to injury, disillusion or coaching is up for debate but it will be genuinely interesting to see how he fares elsewhere.

The Crew have certainly taken a chance on a player who hasn’t been in good form for a season and change but the potential is still there even though the window for that potential is getting narrower by the week.

If their gamble pays off and they can somehow rediscover the best of Manneh then they will have a player who can change a game in the blink of an eye and a US international that they can build a system and a marketing campaign around.

That’s a long shot but I think most coaches would want the chance to prove they could make that gamble pay.

For now though this looks like a very good move by a Whitecaps team that has needed something good to happen since at least the start of the season.

Next stop the World Cup!


Tigres v Whitecaps: What did we learn?

Well, apart from the obvious fact that a team with higher paid and better quality players will always outplay a team with lower paid and lesser quality players that is.

Fredy Montero won’t create chances on his own- Let’s not say that Carl Robinson didn’t want to sign Montero but let’s at least accept that the striker sort of turned up on his doorstep after being dropped there by Mauro Rosales.

The Whitecaps weren’t in a position to turn down a proven MLS goal scorer but it will be interesting to see how Montero fits into Robinson’s view of how a striker should be utilized.

In that world the forward tends to be a combination of a man isolated on an island away from the rest of the team while simultaneously being set up to comically fail due to no fault of his own.

A kind of Robinson Clouseau.

Erik Hurtado makes the most of the role because he runs around a lot and Nicolas Mezquida showed against Tigres that he can carve out a chance through his harrying of defenders but Montero already looks like the kind of striker who feeds on other people’s scraps.

Being paired with Mezquida up front feels like it would be the right move but Robinson’s aversion to the Uruguayan probably means we’ll see a platoon of  Brek Shea as the target man he isn’t and Hurtado as the hard worker with limitations he is before we see that.

Kekuta Manneh drops down the depth chart-  There was a time when the last thirty minutes of the Tigres game would have seen the automatic introduction of Manneh.

Unleashing his speed against a team that were pressing for a goal was virtually Robinson’s “go to” move when it came to substitutions.

But a mixture of indifferent form and unwillingness to put in a defensive effort meant the coach couldn’t trust the former rising star in such an important game.

It’s ironic that the man he did trust, Cristian Techera, also failed to track back for the crucial second goal but either Manneh treats his lack of deployment as a wake up call for the season or he should be used as trade bait before his stock falls any further.

Parker ahead of Waston in the defending stakes- Nobody should underestimate just how difficult it was for the Whitecaps defence on Tuesday evening.

A team that is used to facing one or two dangerous players was suddenly facing a plethora and while Ousted was excellent and Harvey admirably steady it was Tim Parker who stood out for his ability to only go to ground when absolutely necessary.

The modern defender needs to be as much a shepherd as he is an enforcer and Parker demonstrated the necessary patience for such a role.

Kendall Waston was mostly excellent too but he’s developing an unnerving ability to throw in at least one disastrous mistake per game.

That probably comes from a desire to be a “leader”  on the field but more often than not the end result is that he tries too hard to intercede in situations where intercession is best left to somebody else and that tends to leave a gaps where no gap should be.

Isolated incidents to be sure but ones that add up to a less than stellar body of work.

He can’t be blamed for deflecting the ball into his own net against Tigres but he can be blamed for what went before and what went before was two failed attempts at a hasty clearance.

Suddenly he’s rushing back to make amends and the rest is history.

All in all though the game offered more positives than negatives for Vancouver and the trick for Carl Robinson now will be to somehow configure his team so that it can regularly threaten the opposition goal.

That would be nice.

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)





Killing time with speculation

One of the worst things about languishing in the purgatory of endlessly waiting for playoff games the Vancouver Whitecaps aren’t even involved in is the almost complete lack of any concrete news around the club.

And yet even in this barren wasteland of information there have been at least two possible transfer rumours alluding to a player heading to Vancouver (well maybe one and a half, or maybe just one, perhaps half a rumour at best).

Thankfully we are now living in a post-truth world so we can all pretty much speculate to our hearts content.

The most concrete (ish) rumour surrounds Robbie Keane

There are a few good reasons why Keane could come to the Whitecaps.

He and Carl Robinson became firm friends at Wolverhampton Wanderers when a freak training ground accident forced them to undergo a rarely attempted surgical procedure


And both players were said to be hugely relieved when the term “ballectomy” was fully explained to them.

Keane is a proven goalscorer in MLS and is the kind of experienced striker that Robinson has favoured in recent seasons.

Yet against all that stands the Irishman’s much professed hatred of turf and the fact that his salary would surely make him a no go if he was going to be used in the same manner as Earnshaw and Perez.

Robinson has a strange compulsion to sign players based on their impact on the locker room as much as the pitch but Keane would surely be a step too far in that direction.

So Keane to the Whitecaps? It’s less than likely.

The other rumour that swirled around social media recently was caused by this tweet

The LA Galaxy’s Emmanuel Boateng fits the Whitecaps model almost as much as Robbie Keane does.

He’s a quick wide player who doesn’t finish quite as well as he should but the Whitecaps have enough of those to be going on with unless there’s a trade involved somewhere.

The tweet was almost certainly a post-Trump joke rather than a declaration of intent but let’s run this idea passed the space-time continuum and see who tries to kill Hitler.

In 2017 Kekuta Manneh should be eligible for the US National Team and let’s assume he gets selected by whoever happens to be in charge at the time and then let’s further assume he has one of those games where he ends a couple of those runs of his with a goal.

Suddenly there’s a new young superstar on the US team and if there’s one thing the MLS media love it’s an exciting young American player and if there’s one thing that marketing departments of teams love it’s a player who gets media coverage.

To cut a long story short there’s a possibility that Manneh could be the Whitecaps hottest property by some distance next season.

Would MLS love to have such a player on an American team? Sure. Would they be prepared to give the Whitecaps something substantial in return? Sure.

Obviously I’m using “substantial” in the MLS sense of “completely imaginary  money” but it’s real if you think it’s real.

So Boateng to the Whitecaps? No, unless somewhere down the line the planets align to make the Galaxy yearn for the marketing muscle of Manneh.

Stranger things are happening every day.