Vancouver Whitecaps: Living as they dream

The phrase “Road Trip” doesn’t really do justice to the adventure the Vancouver Whitecaps are about to embark upon. “Odyssey” perhaps? “A journey into the dark heart of America”? “Dude, where’s my plane?”

But, whatever nomenclature we eventually settle on, the rollicking escapade did at least get off to a good start.

Actually, it got off to a slow and turgid start, with the Whitecaps spending the first half of the game against Real Salt Lake flailing around for the ball like puppies trying to chase down a scurry of squirrels.

But the second half was better.

Fredy Montero began to get on the ball more and the forward forays did at least seem to have some purpose.

And, once David Milinkovic scored and Salt Lake had Kyle Beckermann sent off, every Whitecaps fan settled down to watch their team sit as deep as possible and allow the ten man opposition to come on to them.

So, as against Montreal in the week, it came to be that this tactic led to the concession of a goal but, as against Montreal in the week, the Whitecaps responded by scoring another goal of their own.

And, this time around, it was substitute Lucas Cavallini latching on to a Fredy Montero cross.

It was brave of Marc Dos Santos to leave Cavallini on the bench. Surprisingly brave. But he will surely have to start the Canadian for the game in LA on Wednesday.

That probably means dropping Montero to the number ten role and moving Milinkovic wide in place of Adnan.

That’s a shame because Milinkovic has been better in the central role than on the wing, but needs must I suppose.

Elsewhere Cristian Dajome showed that he can be both a frustrating and effective MLS player. His first touch at times was awful, but his work rate and pace helped create the first goal and he seems to be developing a basic understanding with both Montero and Milinkovic.

And speaking of pace.

Is this the slowest Vancouver team since they joined MLS? The restless spirits of Kekutah Manneh and Darren Mattocks have hung around the club for years, imbuing each iteration of the squad with at least two or three players who can “turn on the afterburners” before running the ball out of play for a goal kick.

That absence is no bad thing. Speed can be a hell of drug for players searching for the easy pass, but it does mean being more careful in possession. Picking out the man, not the space twenty yards ahead of him.

But that will require an evolution in the way they play. An evolution that can be helped by both Montero and Baldisimo. Two players at either end of their careers who appreciate that the ball is their friend and who want it be the friend of their friends too.

Whether that can happen this season is unlikely. But the process can at least start, and it has to start because the Whitecaps can’t survive if they treat every one of their upcoming matches as the road games they actually are.

Somehow Dos Santos has to instill the mind set into his players that where they are playing is irrelevant for the rest of this season. Every game can’t be a backs to the wall, smash and grab raid. Not successfully anyway.

Wherever they lay their cleats, that’s their home for the rest of the year.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Hasal-5, Nerwinski-5.5, Gutierrez, 5.5, Veselinovic-4.5, Cornelius-5.5, Teibert-5.5, Bikel-5.5, Milinkovic-5.5, Adnan-4.5, Dajome-5.5, Montero-6* (Baldisimo-5.5, Cavallini-5)

Vancouver Whitecaps: Nothing but blue skies from now on?

Who knew that all the Vancouver Whitecaps needed was a player with genuine quality who could link up with his teammates and keep the ball?

Fredy Montero didn’t quite win the game single handedly against the Montreal Impact on Wednesday evening at BC Place, but it felt that way at times.

Only playing because Lucas Cavallini picked up a red card in the previous game, Montero was clearly out to prove a point before the team head south to who knows what.

He drifted around the field, always offering himself as a passing option and always treating the ball with respect rather than as a hand grenade with the pin pulled out that has been the dominant style for this team all season.

He also used a touch of devilry to make a half-hearted punch to his knee look like a hammer blow to the head as wielded by George Foreman in his prime.

Oh, and he managed to score from the subsequent penalty kick.

Elsewhere Cristián Gutiérrez slotted in at left back in place of Ali Adnan and offered the Impact none of the freedom the Iraqi afforded them last time out and David Milinkovic demonstrated that his best position by far is the number ten role where he can be both creative and an early line of defence.

It’s hard to make any sweeping judgments after a game in which the opposition go down to ten men in the first half. And it’s even harder when we remember that this was yet another change of formation for the Whitecaps with a line up that featured several players who wouldn’t be in the coach’s first eleven all other things being equal.

Which poses this problem.

Both Montero and Gutiérrez have earned the right to start the next game in Salt Lake on Saturday, so does Marc Dos Santos pick them and leave out his two Designated Players? Or does he tinker with the formation yet again to accommodate all four and risk unbalancing a system that at least displayed a semblance of coherence?

No doubt he will say this is a good problem to have. But it isn’t. It’s a potential problem for a squad that always seems to teeter on the cusp of discontent.

Every Whitecaps silver lining has a cloud.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Hasal-6, Nerwinski-5, Gutiérrez-6, Cornelius-5.5, Veselinovic-5.5, Teibert-5.5, Bikel-5.5, Dajome-6, Bair-5, Milinkovic, 6, Montero-7* (Baldisimo-5.5)

Vancouver Whitecaps: Random Thoughts

Some random thoughts about the Whitecaps because, you know, we don’t want to let the wound heal.

The odd thing about Marc Dos Santos is that he clearly knows what is going wrong with his team.

He isn’t some intransigent coach who refuses to accept the evidence of his own eyes. He knows the team don’t keep the ball, he knows they collapse the moment a game turns against them and he knows they sit too deep and don’t create enough attacking opportunities.

He just doesn’t seem able to translate that knowledge into the real world. Which is a shame.

Time for Hasal to step aside? He was the third choice keeper about two months ago and he’s had a great run in the team. But last night felt as though the trauma of keeping goal behind that defence finally caught up with him. Best not to destroy his confidence just because he has a good narrative.

The thing about Russell Teibert is that he hardly ever gives the ball away, but he almost always gives the ball to somebody in a position where they are likely to give it away. A backward pass to a central defender may keep the ball in the short term but, two passes later, that possession is almost always gone.

There should be a special passing stat for players who play this way.

Leonard Owusu has gone from the “I like the look of him” zone, to the “For the love of all that is holy just pass to one of your own players!” zone in quick fire time. So he’s settling in nicely.

Who are ya? Seriously, who are the Whitecaps? Or, more pertinently, who and what are they trying to be? Their formations change by the game and their tactics change by the minute. They”ll never be able to assemble a functioning squad if they don’t know what kind of system they are buying players for.

And what of Lucas Cavallini? He presses defenders, but the rest of the team give up on following suit after about twenty minutes.

No wonder his is frustrated. But he’s been no friend to himself since he arrived. If he could take a penalty kick he’d have a respectable three goals from seven games right now and, against Montreal, he was clearly fighting inner demons as much as anything else.

He looks like a man adrift in more ways than one.

Did the smoke affect the mood of the game? None of us have enjoyed living under the grey canvas of wildfire smoke. The unnatural chill, the hint of ash at the back of the throat, the sense that our lungs are working harder for less and less reward.

So how much more frustrating must it feel to be a professional athlete having to perform in such conditions?

A recipe for tetchiness and tantrums if ever there was one.

Vancouver Whitecaps: Autumn Special!

Before we get to the meat of the issues that really count we should acknowledge that the Whitecaps will be playing the Impact tonight. A game that will end in a 2-1 victory for Vancouver with Cavallini and Ricketts the goal scorers.

Now that we have dealt with that minor issue we can move on to the two main items of note to occur in the wonderful world of the Whitecaps this week.

The big news is that they are now scheduled to play three more games in September, including a “home” game against Portland in Portland.

Leaving aside the absurdity of what counts as home or away games in MLS, it’s tough to think of a worse place to be playing football than Portland right now.

Wildfires, protests and a pandemic do not good teammates make and while it’s possible, even likely, that the fires and the smoke will have dissipated by the time Vancouver arrive there the whole situation still feels oddly incongruous, if not inappropriate.

That fact that MLS can only arrange the schedule on a month by month basis indicates just how febrile the situation in the whole of the United States is right now and that makes each game seem less like it belongs to a season and more akin to one of those standalone episodes of a long running TV series that never quite satisfy.

And the November election looms ignored in the distance like a Brek Shea contract clause.

There is no outcome that will “heal” America. There is only the promise of differing levels of chaos. It would be a brave person who planned a a trip to a major US city in the weeks following the vote, let alone plan a series of sporting events (and we can throw in the pandemic winter for bonus uncertainty).

America isn’t quite a a failed state just yet, but it is in a state of failure and any Canadian team would be within their rights to say “Thanks, but no thanks” to the prospect of regular visits accompanied by regular quarantine on return.

The other big news of the week was the announcement that the club would soon be appointing a new Chief Revenue Officer and Chief Marketing Officer. 

“Rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic!” screamed the sheeple on social media failing to realize that this was just the latest in a long line of brilliant moves to skirt the arcane MLS roster and salary cap rules.

How those people will be laughing on the other side of their faces when the Whitecaps announce new Chief Revenue Officer Kylian Mbappé and new Chief Marketing Officer Kevin De Bruyne.

Vancouver Whitecaps: Stop, Luke and Listen

I’m delighted to announce that the write up for the Vancouver Whitecaps 1-0 defeat to Toronto FC will be very generously guest hosted by TSN’s main commentator, Luke Wileman.

This is a huge honour for me Luke, glad to have you here.

Thanks Russell, great to be here. Here’s my quick take on the game.

“This game was played in Toronto, Toronto of course is the capital city of the Canadian province of Ontario. With a recorded population of 2,731,571 in 2016, it is the most populous city in Canada and the fourth most populous city in North America. The city is the anchor of the Golden Horseshoe, an urban agglomeration of 9,245,438 people (as of 2016) surrounding the western end of Lake Ontario.

And, interestingly, Lake Ontario is one of the five Great Lakes of North America. It is surrounded on the north, west, and southwest by the Canadian province of Ontario, and on the south and east by the American state of New York.

New York being the city where NYCFC currently play of course and it’s of interest to note that they played their first game in 2015, as the twentieth overall expansion team of the league; it is the first franchise to be based in the city, and the second in the New York metropolitan area, after the New York Red Bulls.

Interestingly, 2015 was a common year starting on Thursday of the Gregorian calendar, the 2015th year of the Common Era (CE) and Anno Domini (AD) designations, the 15th year of the 3rd millennium, the 15th year of the 21st century, and the 6th year of the 2010s decade.

A decade being a period of 10 years. The word is derived (via French and Latin) from the Ancient Greek: δεκάς, romanized: dekas, which means a group of ten. Decades may describe any ten-year period, such as those of a person’s life, or refer to specific groupings of calendar years.

The first know calendar is believed to have been….”

Luke! Luke! You can stop now. I’ve got it from here. Thanks so much.

The Whitecaps were slightly better in that they were functional in defence but still offered nothing of any interest or variety going forward.

Most times this game would feel like a weak-hearted affair that pointed to real problems. But after the previous game it feels like a step forward and that, in itself, is a problem.

Time for the Soccer Shorts Player Ratings.

Hasal-5, Nerwinski-3, Adnan-5, Veselinovic-5*, Rose-5, Cornelius-5, Owusu-4, Teibert-3, Metcalfe-4, Cavallini-3, Ricketts-4

So farewell then Hwang In-Beom

Like many people I have spent the last few months watching in fascination at the habits and rituals of the humble delivery driver.

The “Sorry we missed you” note even though you haven’t left the house all day. The imaginative use of dates to imply a delivery was attempted twenty four hours prior to when it was even possible and the plaintive “Can you let me in?” plea when our hero stands balancing a cavalcade of boxes filled with cat food, printer cartridges and the second volume of that Fantasy trilogy about a dragon who turns out be the White Lord of the North.

Yet one of their rituals remains shrouded in mystery.

For, on most days, a delivery truck will pull into the parking area at the back of the apartment block and, without stopping, circle around and leave.

They are not using the space to simply turn around and change their direction, that makes no sense given the road configuration.

So what is going on?

The best suggestion I have heard is that a tracker in the truck monitors their progress so this quick, yet seemingly pointless maneuver, satisfies a data driven formula that the correct route has been taken.

It may be generations until we discover the true answer to that question, but I like the idea. Trucks that are both there and not there, leaving ghostly trails of their progress. Tricksters making nonsense of the plans of others, leaving nothing but chaotic rhyme and algorithm.

And while Hwang In-Beom’s story in Vancouver may not be as complex as this deep dark mystery he too was, in many ways, here and not here.

Gone before he had arrived.

He never made secret his desire to play “In Europe”, although sooner or later we are going to have to settle on a definition of what “In Europe” actually means. The Luxembourgian third tier? The Spanish Futsal Amateur Cup?

But Russia definitely counts as Europe. The travel will still be brutal and Putin’s Fiefdom doesn’t scream “fun destination”, but it could be a springboard to better things.

But then so could MLS if In-Beom had settled and delivered here. But his always endearing presence off the field was almost always matched by his almost always ethereal presence on it.

The Whitecaps needed a player who could lift them up and they got a player who changed nothing.

Maybe that’s the kind of player In-Beom is? One who plays to the level of the team he is in? Maybe he can keep a good team good, but can’t make a poor team decent?

It’s certainly possible to imagine him fitting in to a well structured system that relies on one touch passing and movement and doesn’t look to him as the creative fulcrum.

From the perspective of the Whitecaps they have lost a Designated Player who didn’t play like a Designated Player (Not a new scenario for them).

They wanted a number ten, but ended up with a player who is best suited to playing number eight playing as a number six.

His replacement needs to be somebody who wants to be here, somebody who is effective in the system and somebody who leaves behind something more than the faintest of traces on a heat map of the final third.

Vancouver Whitecaps stay in the bubble

So, as expected, the Vancouver Whitecaps brushed aside the Chicago Fire by a convincing two goal margin to set up a last sixteen game against either Toronto FC or Sporting Kansas City.

Well perhaps it wasn’t quite as simple as that, but Marc Dos Santos had a plan and it worked; keep a clean sheet for the first sixty minutes and then introduce the pace of Reyna and Dajome for last half hour to take advantage of tired legs.

This plan was slightly disrupted by an injury to Khmiri and a weather delay, but nothing is ever going to be that simple for this team it seems.

But only somebody with a heart of stone could have watched the game unfold and not felt a sense of delight and relief for a group of players and coaching staff who have gone through so much turmoil over the last few weeks.

And only somebody with a brain of stone could have watched that game and concluded that things were just peachy keen for the Whitecaps going forward.

But this tournament neither signifies nor signals anything.

It exists in an independent reality, separate from both the laws of nature and the laws of common sense.

And, because they are in a Time and Space anomaly, Vancouver somehow progress to the knockout stage without ever looking comfortable in defence in any of their three games.

Nor have they ever looked capable of breaking down an opposition defence that was even approaching competency, but speed and a little bit of luck was enough for them against the Fire.

A mere two day break before taking the field again doesn’t bode well for their chances of progressing further but, given the circumstances, they have already achieved more than they should have done.

So we probably shouldn’t pay too much attention to what might happen further along in the bracket and there will no doubt be smirks of confident satisfaction from whichever of Toronto or Kansas ends up facing Vancouver in the next match.

For now though we should just enjoy a rare and fleeting moment of sporting happiness.

It’s 2020. We need to learn to take what we can.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Hasal-5, Nerwinski-5, Adnan-6*, Veselinovic-5.5, Cornelius-5, Khmiri-4, Teibert-5, In-Beom-4.5, Owusu-5, Bair-4, Raposo-4 (Reyna-6, Dajome-5)

 

Where now for Dos Santos and the Whitecaps?

What does the future hold for this Whitecaps team and this coach?

Well, that can probably be split into three separate time frames. The short, medium and long term, with each of them presenting their own unique challenges.

The Short Term- It’s theoretically possible that a comfortable win over the Chicago fire on Thursday would see the Whitecaps progress to the knockout stage of the MLSisBack tournament.

But words like “comfortable”, “win” and even “progress” don’t really come to mind when thinking of this team right now.

So the sole aim for that game has to be to demonstrate some level of organization. Yes, Vancouver have been hamstrung by the absence of crucial players, but a team in that situation has to control the things it can control.

And that includes the basics such as defending set-pieces, playing as a unit and just doing the simple things correctly.

It’s a frequent post-game lament of Dos Santos that his players didn’t do what he wanted them to do. They sat too deep, they didn’t press high enough up the field, they didn’t track runners.

The coaching staff have to solve the problem of why their instructions are so often unheeded or this team can’t move forward at all. Maybe it’s a matter of communication? Maybe it’s about the character of the players? Maybe it’s about on the field leadership? (More on this later.)

The Medium Term- If we are thinking about the remainder of this season then we don’t know what to think. The Canadian government (rightly) hasn’t allowed the Blue Jays to play home games in MLB, so it’s inconceivable they will allow Canadian MLS teams to do the same.

That means that, if MLS pushes ahead with the season, the Whitecaps will have to station themselves south of the border (Hard to believe the players will agree to this) or “hope” that MLS arranges another tournament in lieu of league play.

That probably leaves the still to be arranged Canadian Championship as the sole arena of competitive football and failure to perform well in that competition will be hard to recover from or explain away.

In essence it’s more likely than not that this squad will effectively lose a season of development.

The Long Term- Nobody would blame the players who opted out of the tournament in Florida for their decision. Indeed, if the team as a whole had decided not to travel it would have been more than understandable. Probably sensible.

But soccer players are human beings. More than that, they are competitive athletes who don’t like to lose.

So, while sitting next to each other in a relaxed team meeting it may well be easy to keep the bond going and the emotions in check, it’s more than likely that in a heated training ground confrontation, or a game that’s going awry, accusations will be unthinkingly thrown.

“Where the **** were you in Florida?”, “You sure this is safe enough for you?” etc. etc.

Throw in the fact that most of the players who elected not to travel were both senior and the best remunerated and it’s not hard to imagine divides occurring if things go (metaphorically) south.

It’s also true that the group of players who did travel and went through the whole debacle will always have that shared experience to discuss and to joke about.

The whole situation is a recipe for cliques and resentments that will be extremely tough to curtail.

So, in the near, medium and long term, Marc Dos Santos needs to get his ideas across more effectively, organize the team more efficiently and develop an atmosphere that makes use of leadership from senior players who may have (even if subconsciously) lost some of their standing among their juniors.

Vancouver Whitecaps by definition

They’ve sentenced us to a life of footballing misery so let’s sum up each of the Whitecaps starting eleven versus the Seattle Sounders in a sentence each.

They lost 3-0 by the way.

Max Crepeau- A good shot stopper who has yet to demonstrate he can command the penalty area or organize a back line.

Jake Nerwinski- A Major League Soccer full back.

Ali Adnan- A left back and consistently the most creative player in the team.

Jasser Khmiri- Not as good on the ball as he thinks he is. Treats defending as optional.

Ranko Veselinovic- A small sample size to make a judgement, but seems to have genuine quality.

David Milinkovic- Too ephemeral in every game he’s played.

Leonard Owusu– Could be good in a better midfield.

Hwang In-Beom- Has the ability to influence games. Hardly ever does.

Russell Teibert- Disrupts more Whitecaps attacks than opposition attacks.

Cristian Dájome– Doesn’t look good enough for Major League Soccer

Yordy Reyna– Has the ability to influence games. Hardly ever does.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Crepeau-4, Nerwinski-5*, Adnan-5, Khmiri-4, Veselinovic-5, Owusu, 4, Teibert 3, In-Beom-3, Dajome-2 Milinkovic-2, Reyna-4

Vancouver Whitecaps Play a Game of Football!

Absence is a house so vast that inside you will pass through its walls and hang pictures in the air

Pablo Neruda

The year 2020 has been many things. So many things. But perhaps when we look back on it in the years to come we will remember it most as the year of absence?

Absence from our workplaces, absence from our streets and restaurants and also the absence of sport. That modern day religion that measures out our weeks and months in anguish and joy.

But gradually we are creeping back toward our normal lives. Like animals being released from months of captivity we blink our eyes toward the light and tread softly on the path that leads to freedom.

Are we not in many ways experiencing our own rebirth? Both as individuals and as a society. Sensing a new beginning that…..what? You want me to write about the game? But I don’t want to write about the game! I hate football!

Sigh okay.

The Whitecaps began the MLSisback/MLSIsBack/mlsisback tournament in typical style. Almost like they’d never been away really.

Having been gifted two of their three goals by laughable San Jose defending, the Whitecaps decided that, just for shits and giggles, they would sit as deep as they possibly could and allow San Jose the freedom to both run at them while simultaneously conceding more corners than you’d find in Rubik’s Cube factory on dexamphetamine.

That plan didn’t work and they, with crushing inevitability, conceded in the 154th minute to a former player to lose the game 4-3.

Yes, yes, yes it was their first competitive game for the longest time. Yes, yes, yes they were missing many key players. But no, no, no there’s still no excuse for playing so naively. So contrary to everything that works when defending a lead.

On the positive side Adnan and Veselinovic played well and the latter may turn out to be a ball playing defender of genuine quality, but on the negative side In-Beom once again failed to persuade anybody that his longed for move to Europe is anywhere near to being a reality and too many players gave the ball away when attempting a simple pass.

These aren’t the symptoms of the situation, they are seemingly innate problems that exist within the team.

These problems can be (and should be) solved on the training ground (“Not if they’re innate they can’t be!” scream the pedants at the back). And if a team is constantly not doing what the coaching staff want them to do then the way the team is being coached needs to change.

But perhaps we shouldn’t be too harsh on players and coaches who are facing a situation that most of us would find close to intolerable?

Nah. Part of the fun of it all is venting irrational anger for nonsensical reasons.

And, to end on a really positive note, if the Whitecaps lose to Seattle in the next game there will probably be no need to get up early for the final game of the group that starts at the ungodly hour of 6.a.m.

Hurrah!

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Crépeau-4, Nerwinski-5, Adnan-6, Veselinovic-6*, Khmiri-4, Owusu-5, Teibert-4, In-Beom-3, Dájome-3, Milinkovic-5, Reyna-4