Vancouver Whitecaps accept chaos

For sixty minutes the Whitecaps played in a very Whitecaps way against the Colorado Rapids on Sunday evening.

They didn’t really think about attacking, they couldn’t keep the ball because they didn’t want the ball. Any attempt to play it short from the back was defined by lethargy and lack of movement. Any attempt to play it long from the back merely resulted in the ball settling happily at the foot of a Rapids player and there were no attempts to play it through the middle from the back because the midfield existed more as concept in the imagination than a physical entity that existed in the real world.

Somehow though Vancouver were still tied at 1-1 after one solid hour of play and so Vanni Sartini decided to accept that the universe is just a bundle of chaos existing in a vast and empty void and made his substitutions accordingly.

White and Cavallini playing up front at the same time? Why not? Removing the midfield entirely? Let’s give it a go! Playing Dajome in a variety of positions based solely on the premise that there was no premise? Done!

Bizarrely it worked.

Or rather, it both did and didn’t work.

It worked in the sense that the Whitecaps began to create openings and could even have stolen a win.

It didn’t work in the sense that the Rapids had chance after chance and, on another night, could have run away with the game.

But maybe if you play the universe at its own game it will occasionally reward you?

Maybe if you stare into the abyss and see the abyss staring back at you and you somehow don’t blink or flinch or shudder then the abyss will give a shrug of respect and decide that, just this once, it will let you walk away unscathed?

That’s not a long term plan for sporting success but, on the night, it was kind of fun to see a Vancouver coach and team not give a hoot about shape or formation and just let the stars align as they chose to do.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Crepeau-5, Brown-3, Dajome-5*, Veselinovic-4, Rose-4, Jungwirth-4, Bikel-2, Teibert-3.5, Gauld-5, Caicedo-4.5, White-4 (Cavallinie-4, Baldisimo-4)

Vancouver Whitecaps at the crossroads.

Impressive and important though the ten game unbeaten streak had been the Whitecaps spent much of that time dodging bullets like a prisoner of war zig-zagging across an open field while guards strafe the air with gunfire.

Failing to show any urgency in the first half, waiting for the opposition to score before coming to life, relying on substitutes to tilt the momentum.

Each one of those failings will, sooner or later, hit a major artery.

And so it was in the the 1-0 defeat to the Portland Timbers on Friday evening.

Not that things were helped by Vanni Sartini’s team selection in which Patrick Metcalfe and Russell Teibert were asked to play as (checks notes) wing backs.

It’s unfair to blame either player for the lack of success of that particular plan, but any system in which Teibert is the better of the attacking options isn’t really fit for purpose.

Sartini rang the changes during the second half and Javain Brown provided more threat in his first five minutes than Metcalfe and Teibert had throughout the whole game, Deiber Caicedo offered some much needed energy and pace and almost netted twice and we also got to see the “Cavallini hat-trick” of consistently failing to hold on to possession, exasperated arms thrown into the air at the imaginary failing of a team mate and an unnecessary scuffle with an opponent.

It has to be a matter of time before Cavallini’s salary is offloaded to make way for a player who better fits the plan for how this team is being built.

This loss doesn’t destroy Vancouver’s playoff hopes, but it should shift the emphasis toward using the remaining games to assess which players deserve to be here next season and which don’t.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Crepeau-4.5, Metcalfe-3, Teibert-4, Godoy-4, Veselinovic-4, Jungwirth-4.5, Bikel-4, Baldisimo-5*-Gauld-5, Dajome-3, White-3 (Brown-5, Caicedo-5, Cavallini-1)

Whitecaps back in their safe BC Home

For most of the game against Austin FC on Saturday afternoon it seemed that the follow up to Vanni Sartini’s opening triumph would be his Neither Fish nor Flesh. A performance that exposed the flaws of the first outing rather than building on the positives.

Instead it turned into his Give ‘Em Enough Rope. Not great, probably not good, but with enough flashes of promise to indicate the project wasn’t dead yet.

The first half was awful.

The Whitecaps were out pressed, outplayed and out of ideas. Partly because the team selection was wrong. Losing the threat of Javain Brown on the right cried out for extra pace elsewhere on the field, but Sartini opted to move Bikel to replace Brown and Baldismo to replace Bikel in the middle.

If he had flipped his team sheet over to cover players whose name began with the letter C he would have seen that Caicedo was best positioned to provide said pace.

The late Austin goal in that half was inevitable and must have left the coach wishing he had acted earlier in replacing Bruno Gaspar at left back.

It’s unclear what was wrong with Gaspar. An early tackle that made him want none of what was to come? Playing on the left instead of the right? A dislike of MLS as a cultural entity?

Whatever the reason it’s rare to see a player not want the ball that much.

The second half saw the introduction of Caciedo and his pace did indeed make a difference (As I correctly predicted just three short paragraphs ago).

But what was more interesting was Santini’s willingness to adjust the way his team was set up. Baldisimo to a quasi central defence role! Dajome to left wing back! Three at the back and wing backs!

Perhaps the interim tag gives him more leeway to try things? Perhaps working in the academy has instilled the habit of making in game changes when needed? Or perhaps he’s willing to admit he’s got something wrong every now and again?

Having Ryan Gauld starting games doesn’t hurt of course and we’ve now seen enough of the Scot to figure out just what kind of player he is.

He’s certainly not the stereotypical MLS “Number 10”, all languid mercurial skill and pulling the strings of the players around him.

But he is a very good deep lying forward who works hard throughout the game, makes the right runs when he’s not on the ball and makes the right decisions when he’s on it.

And those traits are making all the difference to this team.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Hasal-5.5, Gaspar-1, Bikel-4, Godoy-4.5, Jungwirth-5, Teibert-4.5, Owusu-4.5, Baldismo-4.5, Dajome-5.5, Gauld-5.5, White-5 (Caicedo-5.5*, Metcalfe-5, Veselinovic-5.5)

Vancouver Whitecaps learn to fly

Whether the Vancouver Whitecaps playing in exactly the way Marc Dos Santos had always wanted them to in the very first game following his departure is ironic or telling is a question for another day.

But that’s what they did.

They pressed from the front throughout (or, at least, until a series of substitutions dulled the impetus) and they put Real Salt Lake on the back foot from the first whistle.

Salt Lake may be a team in free fall right now, but the Whitecaps have been the emergency parachute for many a free falling team over the years, but this time it was different.

Perhaps that was down to the shock of the Dos Santos exit providing a wake up call to the whole team? Perhaps it was simply having Ryan Gauld starting an MLS game for the first time? Perhaps it was a reaction from the players to their dire performance on Thursday evening? Perhaps it was the tactical tweaks that Vanni Sartini introduced?

It’s probably a combination of all of the above and more, but the decision to move Dajome alongside Gauld, just behind the striker, certainly made pressing the Salt Lake back line easier.

And the Whitecaps stayed on the front foot even when they went one, two and three goals up. There was no sense of “holding what we have” and hoping for the best. A refreshing change.

It was also refreshing that this wasn’t simply “The Ryan Gauld Show”.

The Scot was good and his ability to arrive unmarked in the penalty area at just the right time feels like a summer shower on a hot desert day after years of watching balls into the box being met by shrugged indifference by midfielder after midfielder.

But he wasn’t the stand out player.

Bikel (in particular) and Owusu ran the midfield. And Russell Teibert did what Russell Teibert should do. Harried the opposition when they were in possession without being asked to be the main outlet for distributing the ball.

Cristian Dajome rediscovered his ability to hit the kind of first time cross that will always lead to defensive uncertainty and Brian White did the Brian White thing of being there when that happens.

The defence was solid with Florian Jungwirth bringing experience of having played in the position for a number of years (rather than just “experience”) and Bruno Gaspar played like a right back in the left back role while never really looking like a mistake was imminent.

But the biggest shout out has to go to Javain Brown.

He was awful against Pacific FC on Thursday (not the only one to claim that accolade of course) but on Sunday he just kept going and going. Offering the kind of attacking play a full back needs to do in such a narrow system.

He created the corner that led to the first goal and, even while looking exhausted, he went on a lung busting run to hit the perfect cross for Gauld to head home the third.

Brown may not be the finished article, but watching him develop should be hugely enjoyable.

This was though only one game and it may turn out to be an anomaly.

But it does put paid to the theory that this group of players are completely incapable of playing in such a way and that Dos Santos was making the best of the hand he was given.

And while it would be astonishing if Sartini was given the role permanently he did at least provide the template for whoever is next in line.

It’s not clear that he would want it permanently anyway given the emotional wringer he went through before and during the game.

As RSL’s own interim coach Pablo Mastroeni shouted at the fourth official as decisions began to go against his team “No worries! It’s only our fu*^i!g livelihoods on the line here!”

It takes a certain kind of person to deal with that kind of burden day after day.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Crepeau-6.5, Brown-7*, Gaspar-6, Jungwirth-6, Veselinovic-6, Teibert-6, Owusu-6.5, Bikel-7, Dajome-6.5, Gauld-7, White-6

So farewell then Marc Dos Santos

There are probably more than a few decisions Marc Dos Santos regrets during his time as the coach of the Vancouver Whitecaps. But I wonder if the one he regrets the most is the one he made before a ball was even kicked in anger?

For he inherited a squad that needed to be refreshed and decided instead to rebuild it.

With that decision he essentially turned himself into the coach of an expansion team and placed himself firmly on the back foot from day one.

From that point on Dos Santos always seemed to be slightly out of sync with his own vision and what he needed to do to bring that vision into focus.

The Whitecaps finished dead last in the Western Conference that year and the inevitable re-rebuild was disrupted and disjointed by a global pandemic (remember that?) and the inability for the Whitecaps to play in Canada for almost the whole of the year.

This season began with the team stationed in Salt Lake as their home, before they finally arrived back in Canada earlier this month and Dos Santos was given one game at BC Place and one road game in the Canadian Cup to prove his worth to an ownership that were clearly losing patience some time before the final decision was made.

Just reading that brief timeline can leave nobody in any doubt that Dos Santos had a rough ride in terms of circumstance. But, ultimately, he failed to rise above that circumstance and prove himself the man for the job.

The time spent in Utah must have been tough for all kinds of reasons, but that was a time where the squad was together for an extended period, yet still they looked uncoached and inert on the field.

Not being located in Vancouver doesn’t explain why they consistently failed to turn up for the first forty-five minutes of so many games and why they consistently displayed a startling inability to perform the rudimentary basics of the game.

Dos Santos clearly had a plan for how he wanted his team to play. He clearly knew what was wrong with the way his team was playing. He just didn’t have the ability to make those changes happen in any meaningful way.

Whitecaps history will remember him as a coach who always took the cautious option in his tactical approach, who always wanted to avoid the worst case scenario than reach for the best, who never really knew how to change the flow of a game with either tactical tweaks or a timely substitutions and who seemed to select players based on personal preference rather than how they were performing on the field.

But that history will also remember him as an immensely likeable presence who loved the game and and was clearly hurt by the failure to achieve his goals.

It’s a genuine shame he didn’t turn out to be right man for the job.

Vancouver Whitecaps crack the road code

By hook or by crook the Whitecaps have somehow maneuvered themselves into a position where making the playoffs can officially be classed as “not inconceivable”.

Although the first half of the 2-1 win against Austin only served to remind us all of their shortcomings.

The better team against a poor opposition, they lacked the will and the ability to press home their advantage and went into the break trailing by a goal.

Then Marc Dos Santos broke from tradition and introduced a substitute at half time. And Ryan Gauld made all the difference.

Not so much in his play (although that obviously helped) but more in the overall sense of belief he seemed to inspire in his teammates.

The belief that, if they passed the ball forward quickly they might create more chances than if they passed the ball backwards slowly.

And it worked!

Gauld was involved in both goals and they now come home to BC Place for a Saturday evening game that isn’t just about seeing them in the flesh, but is also one where they have some skin in the game in terms of the postseason.

There’s been a lot of hope built on that return and anybody who has followed this team for more than a few months will know that hope is the most dangerous feeling of all.

But never mind, we should enjoy the moments while we can.

Somewhat ironic of course that they finally figure out how to win on the road in the final game before they embark on a run of home matches. But there we are.

Next stop BC Place!

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Crepeau-5, Brown-4.5, Nerwisnki-5.5*, Veselinovic-5, Rose=5, Teibert-4.5, Bikel-5.5, Owusu-4.5, Dajome-5, Caicedo-4, White-4.5 (Gauld-5.5).

Vancouver Whitecaps: Still not adding up

With the scores tied at half-time in the Saturday evening game between the Whitecaps and Minnesota United Adrian Heath, the Minnesota coach, decided that his team weren’t good enough and made a change.

It worked and Minnesota dominated the second half.

Meanwhile Marc Dos Santos watched all this happen, made one switch that made his team more defensive, and then waited until his team conceded the inevitable goal before changing to a more attacking lineup and discovering that (Spoiler alert!) playing a more attacking lineup means more attacks.

More attacks means more chances for “things” to happen and Cristian Dajome “won” a last gasp penalty to give the Whitecaps a point they didn’t deserve.

And that point might not be enough anyway. They now face three road games in eight days before they (finally) return to BC Place. And, no doubt, we will hear much about how tough that schedule is in the coming days (while perhaps ignoring that Minnesota were on their third game in eight days without that seeming to be a reason for Vancouver to take advantage of their plight).

The jury has been out on whether Dos Santos is an innately conservative coach or simply one who isn’t capable of sending out a team that can take control of the game.

It’s probably a little bit of Column A and a little bit of Column B, but the arrival of Ryan Gauld should settle the matter once and for all.

And while there are those who think that the appearance of a “Number 10” heralds a new era of free flowing football, samba style soccer and the dawning of the new Age of Enlightenment, all signs point to Gauld being mainly a “get out of jail free” card for Dos Santos. Set up the team in a way that shows ultimate respect to the opponent and hope that Gauld can create something from the scraps.

In a way Minnesota offer some hope that this might work.

Nobody would describe Adrian Heath as a tactical mastermind (Maybe Heath himself I suppose?) but the arrival in recent seasons of better players has allowed him to allow the team to be the sum of their parts and that’s been good enough to make them a playoff team.

And that’s what we have to hope for once Gauld begins to play.

That Dos Santos can find a system that allows Gauld to be on the ball and that he selects the right players to make that system work.

To at least make the team he sends out add up to the sum of their parts.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Hasal-, 4, Nerwinski-5, Gutierrez-4.5, Godoy-4.5, Veselinovic-5, Teibert-4.5, Bikel-3.5, Baldisimo-3, Caicedo-4.5, Dajome-5*, White-4 (Metcalfe-4)

Vancouver Whitecaps do not disappoint us

What a strange situation.

The Whitecaps 2-2 tie with LAFC was a game in which the team played to their strengths, worried one of the better teams in the league and offered a blueprint for how they can achieve success going forward (in every sense of the word).

So what went right?

Gutierrez and Caicedo on the left and Brown with Dajome on the right offer both attacking and defensive options.

The two full backs are always keen to get forward and the two wide players are always happy to help out in defence (often from the front).

There was also more directness in attack. The willingness to hit an early cross and try to make something happen actually made things happen. So much more effective than the instinct to stop, pause and play the safe pass that allows the opposition to regroup.

Godoy and Veselinovic have been allowed time to form some kind of partnership. And the latter’s ability on the ball, and confidence to make use of that ability, offers more control than the patented long ball to who knows who.

The whole team had confidence on the ball. Willing to play out of the press rather than avoid it and so open up LAFC to the always dangerous counterattack.

But perhaps it was the midfield that made the real difference?

Alexandre always wants to play the forward pass, Baldisimo is becoming a nice hybrid of a holding player who can create and Bikel was exceptional at breaking up play and getting forward when the opportunity arose.

So that meant a three man midfield where all three offer some kind of attacking threat. Yes, you read that correctly.

A word to for Brian White, who will never be the long term solution, but offered decent hold up abilities and played with an unselfishness that allowed others to get into dangerous positions.

Impressive too was the way the team as a whole responded to the LA equalizer. Not dropping deep and fearful of conceding a third but pushing for (and probably deserving) a winning goal of their own.

Phew!

A whole slew of sentences outlining how good the Whitecaps were. What a world!

None of this means that all problems are solved of course. This is still the same team that were so turgid against Houston just one week ago.

But it does mean that the problems can be solved.

That there’s already enough in this squad to be competitive in MLS if allowed to play in the right way.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Hasal-5.5, Brown-6.5, Gutierrez-7*, Godoy, 6.5, Veselinovic, -6.5, Baldsismo-6, Bikel-7, Alexandre-5.5, Dajome-6.5, Caicedo-6.5, White-5.5

Vancouver Whitecaps: Not terrible!

One step at a time.

The Whitecaps 2-2 tie with the Seattle Sounders on Saturday evening wasn’t a season defining turnaround in fortune, but it was a sign that Vancouver are capable of better than they have been in the season thus far.

Just the simple act of wanting to progress the ball forward at more than half speed makes them a more effective unit and makes use of the pace out wide of Dajome and Caicedo.

And Dajome seems to be the catalyst for the team right now. If he’s playing well then the Whitecaps are playing well. And even though Caicedo frustratingly lacks the final product (both in finishing and in passing) his presence can be enough to disconcert the opposition.

It wouldn’t be the Whitecaps though if there weren’t some things to baffle us.

Why they refuse to defend the edge of their own area from set-pieces remains a mystery for the ages.

Time after time they will successfully clear a corner only to find that an opponent has an unchallenged attempt on goal from twenty yards out.

Maybe there’s some statistical evidence to back up defending in this way? But, if so, the Whitecaps are defying the odds in all the wrong ways.

It’s also perplexing why Marc Dos Santos doesn’t make more use of his whole squad, both before and during games.

Is Leonard Owusu so bad in training that he is a worse option to start in midfield than the dead zone that is Russell Teibert? Are the defence in so much need of organization that playing Andy Rose is a better option than allowing Ranko Veselinovic and Erik Godoy to try to form a a partnership that could last for a few years?

And what’s with the reluctance to make changes during the game?

It was hotter than the sun in Seattle last night, but it took a Sounders equalizer to prompt the introduction of fresh legs (accompanied by the other relevant body parts too of course).

Next week Vancouver play FC Dallas, the only team in the West who have been worse than them this year.

Maybe there will be news by then that the fabled and mystical unicorn of a number ten has appeared in human form in the shape of Ryan Gauld, just as the prophecies have foretold?

But, whatever the case, the Whitecaps need to play with their heads up, both metaphorically and in actuality.

To be at least the sum of their parts, to always look to the horizon and not the ground, to believe in what can be and not be bound by what is, to avoid trite words of inspiration and reach inside themselves to be the team they want to be.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Crepeau-5, Bikel-5.5, Gutierrez-5.5, Rose-5, Godoy-5.5, Baldissimo-5, Teibert-4, Alexandre-5.5, Caicedo-5.5, Dajome-6*, Cavallini-5

More of a ripple than a splash

Many of us watched in horror when Danish international Christian Eriksen collapsed on the field during EURO 2020 and then we watched in further horror as the television pictures zoomed in on medics performing CPR on the stricken player.

I joined in the chorus of despair that these pictures were even being transmitted, lamenting the intrusion of privacy for a man who was clearly fighting for his life.

In retrospect, my outraged pleas would have carried more weight had I not specifically turned on the TV so that I could see what was happening to Eriksen in HD rather than on my iPad screen.

But moral outrage is often too good to resist when living in the moment.

Following the relief that Eriksen had survived and been transported to hospital we then had to face the inevitable outpouring of emotion in the following game involving Denmark.

It’s perfectly natural for the Danes themselves to be filled with angst of course. But the rest of us? Do we really need to take a seat on their emotional roller-coaster?

Do we really need to be told that the narrative now is how resilient the team have been and how the footballing community has come together in support of Eriksen?

Perhaps there’s some truth in that.

But there’s also a harsher and colder narrative to be seen.

That narrative reminds us just how insignificant we all are. That even when one of the star players in a tournament collapses and almost dies the games continue with only the merest of pauses. That the trauma he and his family faced, and will face, is already a footnote in the scheduling. An asterisk to be briefly considered for future historians of the game.

In W.H Auden’s poem Musee de Beaux Arts he writes of seeing Bruegel’s painting Landscape with the Fall of Icarus.

“About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position..

In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster;

…and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.”

We all saw something amazing and terrible in that game and then we gave a collective shrug and went back to checking the group tables to see which teams were best placed to qualify if they finished in third place.

How does any of this relate to the Whitecaps?

Only in the sense that it feels like we are watching them fall slowly to the ground as they have, once again, built a team with wings made of wax. Destined to rapidly descend the moment it comes into contact with too much heat.

As a result some people’s lives will probably be altered forever; forced to move to new cities, new countries, new roles and we will once again shrug our collective indifference and carry on with our lives.