Vancouver Whitecaps: Definitely, Maybe

The current crop of Vancouver Whitecaps acquisitions and targets can be loosely lumped into the following categories.

Definitely might be good. Was good once but hasn’t been for a couple of seasons but maybe just needs a fresh start. Somebody once thought he was good but he never lived up to that potential.

There’s nothing wrong with trawling the databases and highlights for signings for a club that prides itself on not being among the bigger spenders in the league but, and this gets me an honorary degree in stating the bleeding obvious, bringing in so many players would be a challenge at the best of times.

But bringing in so many players with so much doubt swirling around their suitability is a huge ask.

Oh, and Marc Dos Santos also wants to completely revamp the style of play of the team so even the established players (“established” for the Whitecaps currently means they perhaps played a few games last season) will need to learn new ways of interacting with each other on the field (and off it too if the end of season media day was anything to go by).

So it’s all doom and gloom right? The Whitecaps will struggle to find their feet and scrape along near the bottom third of the Western Conference for the whole of the season?

Yes that’s correct. That’s exactly what will happen.

Wait? What? You want a more uplifting scenario on this greyish Sunday morning?

Okay then.

It’s not inconceivable that Dos Santos will knock it out of the park with all of his signings and everything turns out to be fine.

It’s also not inconceivable that he’s a good enough coach to meld the team together no matter what the weaknesses are and that the “established” players will be refreshed by his style of playing after toiling under the yoke of the previous incumbent.

It`s also not inconceivable that MLS will continue to be a forgiving enough league to allow a slow, find your feet, kind of start to not completely derail the season.

It`s also not inconceivable (and this is the Soccer Shorts hot prediction for the season ahead!) that opponents will be so discombobulated by facing a Whitecaps team they know little about and barely even recognize that Vancouver will hit the ground running, get off to a great start and that momentum will be enough to surf them to a spot somewhere near the bottom end of the playoff spectrum.

That would count as a huge win for both Dos Santos and the club.

And it would certainly be a vindication for the ruthless off-season purge of the playing proletariat that went on (there are those who would argue that lustration rather than purge was the way to go but we are where we are from a regime change point of view).

To summarize then.

Things could be worse!

 

Vancouver Whitecaps: We Know We Are, We’re Sure We Are

An expensive and poorly assembled squad of players that needs whittling down and re imagining to suit the needs of a new coach, an ultra rich owner who wants things run according to a strict financial diktat and a general sense that the club has been drifting aimlessly toward the rocks with nobody positioned on deck to spot the impending crash.

The Netflix documentary series “Sunderland ‘Til I Die” should probably carry some kind of trigger warning for supporters of the Vancouver Whitecaps or, at the very least, details of a phone number to call “if you have been affected by the issues raised in this program”.

Not that the circumstances are exactly the same of course.

The Whitecaps aren’t faced with the prospect of crippling relegation after relegation and they’re not quite living in the same cutthroat, dog eat dog, financially insane system as Sunderland inhabit but the series does give a chilling insight into how difficult it is to turn a club around once it has set sail on the wrong course.

And that’s why (no matter how welcome it might sound) the pledge by Marc Dos Santos that he will build “a model or identity for Vancouver” amounts to little or nothing.

Actually, let’s rewind that for a moment because I don’t think we’ve really taken into account how weird it is that the Whitecaps don’t already have a “model” or “identity”.

After seven years in MLS Dos Santos doesn’t think the model needs to change, he thinks there actually needs to be one established.

It’s hard to know how that can happen.

Either it’s failed to get on the agenda for countless Front Office meetings because nobody even considered it a requirement or it has made it to the agenda and subsequently been voted down.

“Those in favour of instituting a consistent working practice?” (No hands raised).

“Those against?” (Carried unanimously).

So Dos Santos needs to accept that he is facing a near impossible task if he wants to change the root and branch of the club because the root and branch of the club is planted firmly in the “whichever way the wind blows” philosophy of management.

Appoint somebody, let them take the praise and the blame and then move on to whoever is next and give them the freedom to do whatever they want in an endless cycle of diminishing returns and badly spent cash and goodwill.

Good football and good results will paper over the cracks for a while (and the signs are at least positive that Dos Santos has an intelligently thought through idea of how to achieve both of those) but “Sunderland ‘Til I Die” is a litany of good people being shackled by a bad environment and, while Vancouver aren’t quite at the irredeemable stage just yet, next season does feel like the last chance to get things right before there’s just no turning back at all.

Vancouver Whitecaps: Rating the players (Part Four)

We’re finally there!

The last look back at a season that made most of us want to turn away. But at least after Parts One, Two and Three we can turn to the most successful aspect of the whole campaign.

The forward line.

Kei Kamara- Here’s a theory. If Vancouver had only signed Kamara and nobody else during the off season they would have made the playoffs.

Imagine it. No Juarez, Felipe or Mutch to distract Carl Robinson from his one and only love of bunkering in and using a target man? That might well have worked.

But even in the mess of a tactical minefield he was unleashed in to Kamara played well, and yet perhaps his most important contribution was his mentoring of Alphonso Davies.

Because convincing the Bayern bound kid to simply enjoy his football certainly didn’t feel like something anybody else within the locker room was capable of doing.

For a player who arrived with a reputation of being something of a trouble maker Kamara turned out to be the sanest person in the room.

Season rating-6.5

Yordy Reyna- The Peruvian began the year under all kinds of clouds and it wasn’t until the season was in full swing that Reyna followed suit.

But once he did get going he proved himself to be a crucial, unpredictable element to the Whitecaps attack.

He’s a diamond  in the rough for sure, but put a couple of really good players around him and Reyna could be a genuine force in MLS.

Season Rating-6

Brek Shea- If Kendall Waston personifies the early stages of Carl Robinson’s reign and Efrain Juarez personifies its end then Brek Shea personifies the club as a whole.

Coming in on a trade simply because they wanted to get rid of somebody else and earning an extension simply because somebody forgot about a clause in his contract Shea is the DP that nobody wanted.

Not even the occasional flash of quality can mitigate the disaster his signing has been and it will be fascinating to see where he ends up next (and how much he is paid).

Season rating-3

Cristian Techera- Techera is the very definition of flattering to deceive given that he’s capable of putting up stats that make you think “Hmm, he actually had a good season”.

But it’s clear he only plays well when he really wants to play and drifts out of games far too easily.

His ability to put in a good delivery from a set piece was always his saving grace but he won’t be back.

Season Rating- 4

Anthony Blondell- Blondell began the season with some promise but then immediately fell off a metaphorical cliff.

Hard to know if that’s down to his own failings, the failings of the coaching staff or some other extraneous factor but it’s not impossible to imagine him having a decent season next year if he stays (it’s not easy, but it’s not impossible).

Season rating-3

Erik Hurtado- We know what we get with Hurtado. Lots of effort, plenty of speed and a lack of any real quality.

It’s possible that Dos Santos will like his hustle for his pressing game but it might be time for Hurtado to move on.

Season Rating- 4.5

Nicolas Mezquida- We know what we get with Mezquida. Lots of effort, moments of quality and a lack of any real speed.

It’s possible that Dos Santos will like his hustle for his pressing game but it might be time for Mezquida to move on.

Season rating- 4.5

Alphonso Davies- Saving the best until last at least.

This season Davies went from being a young player with potential to being an actual player.

He lit up a number of games with his pace and his skill and provided almost all the moments of genuine joy for the fans watching the team.

He still had days when he tried to do too much or selected the wrong pass but playing with (and against) better players in Germany should move his game up to another level at least.

He will be missed for sure but he leaves with everybody in and around the club wishing him nothing but the best (and that won’t be true of all the departures in the off season).

Season rating- 7

Vancouver Whitecaps: Rating the players (Part Three)

New coach Marc Dos Santos will probably need to set aside at least a couple of months if he wants a quick chat with all the central midfielders his new club currently have on their books but, in lieu of such wasted days, he could simply check out the following blog post which rates his putative midfield charges on their 2018 performance.

He should also feel free to check out parts One and Two as well.

You’re welcome Marc!

Aly Ghazal- The Egyptian looked most comfortable when asked to play as the lone defensive midfielder toward the end of the season. He still retains the bizarre habit of hitting one absolutely horrendous pass in every game (Ghazal seems to look up, see an opponent in isolation and pass the ball directly toward him).

Every Vancouver player’s future now rests upon the tactical whims of Dos Santos but the biggest hit against Ghazal is the hit he takes on the salary cap.

He’s a decent player, but not decent enough to allow him to adversely impact the overall recruitment strategy.

Season rating- 5.5

Efrain Juarez- If Kendall Waston is the player to epitomise the beginning of the Carl Robinson era then Juarez is the player to epitomise the end.

Seemingly signed because he’d played in a World Cup and with the understanding he would play in the centre of the pitch rather than his more familiar full back Juarez was the Platonic ideal of a player brought in for a lot of money and with little thought.

His biggest contributions were picking up unneccessary red cards and advising other players where to be positioned while hopelessly out of position himself.

He did have  a good game in the 2-1 win in Colorado though.

Season rating-2

Felipe Martins- What a strange season it was for Felipe (for all of us really).

The player best suited to feed the attacking front three of Kamara, Davies and Reyna was positioned deeper and deeper as the year went on until his transformation into a not very good defensive midfielder was complete.

In the end he lost his place and, once again, the Whitecaps saw a big pre-season signing contributing nothing to the team. He may though be one player who is suited to finding a place under the new regime.

Season rating-5.5

Jordon Mutch- When he did play the Englishman showed a degree of quality missing for so much of the season but that “when” is the telling tale because Mutch never looked capable of stringing a consistent run of games together.

His loan move was a chance worth taking once but the Whitecaps should take a pass on any further extension.

Season rating- 4.5

Russell Teibert- This was Teibert’s best season in a Whitecaps shirt. He was the most consistent central midfielder in the team and when moved forward by Craig Dalrymple at the end of the year he even demonstrated an eye for goal.

His end of season interviews though felt more like a campaign to be made captain for 2019 than they did an attempt to heal wounds or solve problems.

Just as in his overall play Teibert tends to favour the clichéd over the innovative or refreshing and the thought of listening to his post game interviews for a whole season is spiritually debilitating.

If Dos Santos is being candid about the style of play he wants to install it’s hard to see Teibert slotting in without a major overhaul of his play and Teibert’s role is likely to revert back to the valuable bench player he undoubtedly is.

Season rating-6.5

Next time out it’s a look at what was (mostly) the best part of the season; the forwards.

 

Vancouver Whitecaps: Rating the players (Part One)

Oh well. Only one more game to get through before this season can finally be laid to rest for the Vancouver Whitecaps.

And, tempting though it may be to look away from the horror show of a year, that means it’s time to look upon all the horrors to have been performed in our name.

Or, in other words, time for the player ratings for the season.

Let’s start with the goalkeepers and full backs.

Stefan Marinovic- What can we say about Marinovic? Seriously, what can we say?

Marinovic is an oddity for a goalkeeper in that he doesn’t have any defining characteristics or on field personality or anything of anything really.

Does he even exist when we aren’t watching him play?

His first full season in Vancouver has been marked by injury and a startling inability to prevent the opposition from scoring less than two goals and while the defensive frailties are not solely his responsibility he’s been unable to offer any degree of organization for the players in front of him.

Marinovic almost never makes a terrible mistake and almost never makes a game winning save. He just is.

Season rating-5

Brian Rowe- Rowe stepped in for the games where Marinovic was missing and it didn’t make much difference. The team still conceded the obligatory two goals most of the time and while Rowe was less decisive than Marinovic in commanding his area the transition between the two was sadly seamless.

Season rating-5

Jake Nerwinski- The young full back fell victim to the increasingly bizarre selection strategy as the season progressed. Just when it seemed he was set for a run in the side he was left on the bench for enough games to allow him to lose his match sharpness.

By the end of the year he had reestablished himself as the first choice right back but never quite lived up the standards he set last season.

His defending will always be a little suspect, a bad decision here a moment’s hesitation there, but this was offset by his attacking threat.

This season though he’s offered little of value in that area.

And when he has got forward his delivery has been poor (ironically he was one of the best crossers of the ball last year) possibly because he’s trying just too hard to get the delivery right. Maybe the whole back line have had to think too much about what they’re doing?

Nerwinski will always be a trier and the hope is that a new coach will use him in a way that magnifies his strength and limits his weakness (Hint. Playing as a wing back).

Season Rating- 4.5

Brett Levis- In some way just seeing Levis get a run of games and earning the start at left back is a kind of triumph after the injuries he has suffered.

But he’ll need more than that if he is going to be a regular in 2019.

Firstly he needs to figure out his inability to get through the full ninety minutes (It has to be psychological at this stage surely?) and secondly he needs to find a level of consistency that has eluded him thus far.

But Levis will always be a trier and the hope has to be that a new coach will use him in a way that magnifies his strength and limits his weakness (Hint. Playing as a wing back).

Season rating-4

Sean Franklin- A stop-gap replacement for Nerwinski who probably played two or three games too many to the detriment of team cohesion.

Franklin did nothing too terrible but was still part of that defence so let’s not get carried away.

Season rating-4

Marcel de Jong- This has been a season in which de Jong has very much regressed.

He began the year as the first choice left back and put in a few of his typically solid performances before losing his way.

Put some of that down to injury and put some of it down to being part of a disorganized back line but he still made too many unforced errors for such an experienced player and he’ll do well to convince the new man that he still offers value to the team next season.

Season rating-3.5

Next time out it’s the central defenders. Yikes!

Vancouver Whitecaps do not go gently

Well that could have been worse.

When the Whitecaps went 2-0 down to LAFC early in the game on Sunday afternoon it felt as though the home side would be slicing through Vancouver’s defence with impunity all night long.

It was all too easy.

But Russell Teibert promised that the team would never ever give up again and it seems his word is his bond as Alphonso Davies produced a great run to earn the penalty kick that Yordy Reyna converted and, in the second half, Jordon Mutch hammered one home from distance to earn an unlikely road point.

A cynic might suggest that LAFC were so comfortable in those early stages that they took their metaphorical foot off the imaginary pedal a little too early, but credit to the Whitecaps for having the wherewithal to capitalize on that failing.

It’s hard to say if anything means anything anymore (for the Whitecaps and for life in general) but Davies and Reyna demonstrated they can unnerve any opponent (what a waste of their talent this season has been) but the defence is still a work in progress with only one game remaining and Aly Ghazal is still a player who can combine being very good and very bad within the same game (sometimes within the same passage of play).

And we really are all going to have to stop being fooled by Erik Hurtado’s annual flurry of decent games.

He isn’t a “decent back up” for anybody in this league anymore. Kudos to his work rate and his energy but watching the ball bounce of his shin time after time has become wearying.

But at least he doesn’t eat up salary with the voracity of Brek Shea, who Craig Dalrymple seems determined to stick with.

Once again Shea demonstrated he knows how to get involved in the play without ever really knowing what to do when he is involved. Or when he does know what to do he is almost always incapable of completing the maneuver he wants to complete.

So it’s on to the final game in Portland next week with nothing to play for but a modicum of pride and a farewell to Davies.

Pretty sure most of us will be glad when it’s all over.

Time for the Soccer Shorts Player Ratings

Marinovic-4.5, Nerwinski-4.5, Levis-4.5, Waston-4.5, Henry-5, Ghazal-5, Shea-2.5, Teibert-4, Davies-5.5*, Reyna-5, Hurtado-3.5

 

Vancouver Whitecaps: Toward a Brighter Future!

Given that the Vancouver Whitecaps making up a six point and fourteen goal differential over the next two games is a mere formality before the playoffs begin Soccer Shorts can exclusively reveal that the club already has plans to make the 2019 season even better than 2018.

“Not possible!” You scream at your computer screen? Well, take a look at just some of the exciting new initiatives already being prepared for next year.

The Alphonso Davies Man of the Match Award- The Whitecaps recognize that it being impossible for their best player to ever win the Man of the Match award was a slight glitch in the system.

But next season that will no longer be an issue!

For 2019 the Whitecaps have negotiated an exclusive deal with the Provincial Government to designate BC Place an under age drinking area.

That’s right! From 2019 even the kids can enjoy the best sporting atmosphere in Vancouver.

And don’t forget to look out for the new pre-game activities on the Terry Fox Plaza as children of all ages try to compete with a hologram of Alphonso Davies as he downs a stein of German lager in one.

Don’t forget to use the hashtag #mykidbeatPhonzie to get your video on the big screen!

Post-Game Counselling Sessions- The Whitecaps organization also recognize that some games this season have raised issues that could affect their supporters on an emotional and psychological level.

That’s why they’ve appointed Naomi Wither-Flanders as the clubs new certified counsellor.

“I just feel it’s important to allow people to speak about what has happened to them” Naomi said in  a recent conference call “Sometimes it’s easy to gloss over how people are impacted by having to watch Brek Shea make a tackle or Erik Hurtado control the ball or Efrain Juarez simply playing football. Over time these issues can create a kind of numbness that spills over to their personal lives and hopefully through a mixture of both group and conversion therapy* I can help the fans to reach a level of acceptance”

*Conversion Therapy only available to season ticket holders.

Animatronic Robbo- Worried about the absence of Carl Robinson next season? Worry no more!

The Whitecaps have announced that an animatronic Robbo will be positioned on the edge of the home technical area for the duration of 2019.

Laugh as Animatronic Robbo throws his arms up in disbelief when a decision goes against the Whitecaps. Smile as Animatronic Robbo pats an opposition player on the back when he takes a throw in. Sigh as Animatronic Robbo tries to make a substitution in the sixty-fifth minute of every game.

Animatronic Robbo will also be available to rent for both business and personal functions.

Crowdsourcing Contracts- The Whitecaps have never had an issue in understanding MLS contracts. None.

But how can they make perfection even better?

By involving you!

“It’s really exciting” said Naomi Wither-Flanders the new Head of Soccer Operations “and it’s a real opportunity for us, the professionals, to use the amateurs to help us with our jobs”

That’s right! In 2019 the Whitecaps will allow all season ticket holders to go through every player contract with a fine tooth comb. Will you be the one to spot the clause that gives Cristian Techera tenure at UBC? Should Aaron Maund really be Canada’s Designated Survivor? And who put Yordy Reyna in charge of Translink?

Next season it’s up to you to figure these things out!

The Upper Tier at BC Place will be open- Perhaps the biggest news of all!

“It’s really exciting” said Naomi Wither-Flanders the clubs new marketing executive. “We had hoped that the upper tier would be open by 2025 at the earliest so to have achieved that goal six years ahead of schedule is a fantastic achievement for everybody concerned. Obviously some compromises will need to be made, including closing the whole of the lower tier, but I’m sure everybody will agree that’s a small price to pay for such a huge step forward”

But what about the temporary roof that hides the upper tier during home games? Will that remain in place and, if so, won’t that prevent supporters from seeing the game?

“It will remain in place” Naomi laughed “we just feel that not being able to see the game will improve the whole experience for everybody”

Stay tuned for further announcements during the off-season!