Vancouver Whitecaps win the battle in Portland

Anyone who has seen the Bard on the Beach production of Macbeth this summer will no doubt have left the performance with the eternal question about the play circling through their mind.

Is the unfolding tragedy the unstoppable result of the will of malevolent supernatural spirits or is it the result of all too natural human beings latching on to the supernatural to justify their lust for power and glory?

Whatever answer you choose to that conundrum the inevitably of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth destroying themselves and others with every attempt to undo their own destruction makes for compulsive viewing.

And you know what else made for compulsive viewing?

The Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 victory over the Portland Timbers at Providence Park on Saturday evening.

For weeks now the Whitecaps have seemed to be slowly drifting out of playoff contention and prior to this game it felt as though it may well be the one to make the demise be done quickly but, for the first half at least, Vancouver produced some of their best football of the season.

They were a constant threat on the break against a Timbers team who lacked any real coherence going forward and goals from Kei Kamara and Cristian Techera either side of a Diego Valeri penalty miss gave the Whitecaps a surprisingly deserved two goal cushion to defend in the second half.

There were a number of standout performances in that first forty-five but Aly Ghazal stood out in particular. The Egyptian can be far too erratic with his passing at times but when he is on his game he is exactly the kind of defensive midfielder the team needs; breaking up play and providing the cover the back four has been lacking so often this year.

Praise too for Aaron Maund and Brett Levis who used their appearances as understudies to impress.

The second half though was less impressive.

Carl Robinson pulled his team back further toward their own goal with every substitution, eventually switching to five at the back in a move which only served to upset the solidity of the back four and invite more pressure and when the Timbers were awarded another penalty (“Out damn spot” indeed) which Valeri converted the remainder of the game was the kind of “backs to the wall”, “kick it anywhere”, “what is fair and what is foul?” defending that isn’t sustainable over the long term.

And while there’s something Shakespearean about Robinson finding short term success with the very tactic that is constantly his long term downfall nobody can deny that he is capable of sending out a team that is both bold and resolute when given something to hang on to although they still required something of a charmed life to come away with the three points that keep their regular season still relevant.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of this win however was that it was achieved without their two most potent attacking threats.

Neither Alphonso Davies nor Yordy Reyna featured which only serves to emphasise just how deep the squad really can be and the late season renaissance of Brek Shea has offered Robinson an option that wasn’t really there before.

Shea is capable of turning a renaissance into a new Dark Age faster than he can buy a new hat of course and he will no doubt once again become a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the field

The same can be said about the Whitecaps as a whole and it’s impossible to say just who they will be when they play Toronto in the second leg of the Voyageur’s Cup on Wednesday and at home to the New York Red Bulls next Saturday.

Before the Portland game it was clear that Robinson was targeting the cup as the main focus but that Cascadia derby victory may skew his thinking once more.

A win at BC Place followed by two games against the fairly terrible San Jose could make those post-season hopes more corporeal than they have been since it last rained in Vancouver.

For now though what’s done is done and only time will tell if that win in Oregon signifies anything at all.

Time for the Soccer Shorts Player Ratings.

Marinovic-6, Franklin-5, Waston-6, Maund-6, Levis-6, Ghazal-7*, Felipe-5.5, Shea-6, Techera-5.5, Mezquida-6, Kamara-6.5 (Nerwisnki-6, de Jong-5.5)

Whitecaps box clever in Orlando

Many visitors to an English country garden can get somewhat confused between which buildings are gazebos and which are follies.

And that’s not just because they are idiots.

It’s also because it can often be a fine line between the two. One small change in the parameters and they blend and shape before our eyes becoming both each other and each other’s opposite.

It’s like a really crap version of “Dr Strange”.

But, for the sake of clarity, a gazebo is a pavilion or summerhouse designed for a specific purpose; either to entertain guests, to provide shade or even just offer a well positioned viewing area to take in the majesty of the blooms upon display.

A folly on the other hand is a structure designed to appear to be something it isn’t.

The facade of a castle turret perhaps, the front of a Greek temple.

But when a folly resembles a gazebo and is subsequently used in the manner of a gazebo then all bets are off.

Then you can call it what you want and nobody will really care.

Time then for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Just kidding, because we still have the Vancouver Whitecaps incredibly useful 2-1 win in Orlando to consider.

These are the main facts.

The Whitecaps were out possessed, out shot and out passed and, on another day, could have lost by two or three goals.

Yet on another day again they could have finished a couple of their break away chances and won by two or three goals themselves.

There’s just no logic in it.

Kudos though to Carl Robinson for making a number of changes almost all of which paid off in one way or another.

Aaron Maund was solid in place of the injured Tim Parker, Marcel de Jong was excellent in a central midfield role, Jake Nerwinski was a significant upgrade on Sheannon Williams at right back and Stefan Marinovic was a more than adequate David Ousted replacement.

And while Hurtado, Shea and Ibini mostly offered little of substance going forward the former pair linked up well for Shea’s decisive goal in the second half.

And this was just the kind of game that Nicolas Mezquida is in the squad for; sixty minutes of harrying and closing down the opposition with the bonus of a quality free-kick that earned the first goal from an Orlando head.

The subsequent arrival of Davies, Montero and Reyna seemed set to guarantee Vancouver the comfort of a third goal given how open the hosts were at the back as they pressed for the equalizer but time and time again the wrong final option was chosen.

A shot that needed a pass, a blast that needed a calmer head.

But they hung on and suddenly Wednesday’s near debacle against Seattle seems a far more distant memory.

Carl Robinson now has two weeks to figure out how to get the best out of his players when they play at BC Place.

The lessons from the season so far seem to indicate that rewarding players for the previous game isn’t really working. Not sure why that is but that’s what the evidence points to.

But neither do we want to see change purely for the sake of change.

So maybe the coach needs to approach the selection for every game based on which eleven starters will line up best against the opponent that week?

There’s a danger in constantly shaping a side to fit the opposition but this Whitecaps team seems to function better when reacting to events rather than instigating them.

Or maybe Robinson should just draw all the names out of a hat and see what happens?

That could work too.

Safe to say though that while the three points in Florida are huge (and makes the playoffs a far, far more likely scenario than it was this time yesterday) we still don’t really know if what we’ve got with this team is a fully functioning gazebo or an empty and functionless folly that, from certain angles, can look very convincing indeed.

Now it really is time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Marinovic-6.5, Nerwinski-6.5, Harvey-6.5, Waston-7*, Maund-6.5, Teibert-6, de Jong-6.5, Ibini-6, Shea-6, Mezquida-6.5, Hurtado-6 (Davies-6.5, Montero-6, Reyna-6)