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.

The One About the Whitecaps

“Friends” was the Platonic Ideal of the kind of sitcom American network TV excels in.

More Soap Opera than comedy, it was all hugs and lessons learned from characters who any sane person would run a mile away from were they ever unfortuante enough to meet them in real life.

It would be nice to say something counterintuitive here. That, despite the flaws, the show was genuinely funny and that, despite the refusal to acknowledge anything beyond the white heterosexual norm, it did at least promote the idea that the traditional American family could consist of people other than blood relations.

That our real “family” is the people we discover on the way.

But none of that is true.

The comedy was mostly in the rhythm of the lines rather than the content and the show was obsessed with family and how the characters interacted with the concept.

But is there anything the show can teach us about the Vancouver Whitecaps?

Well, it can teach us that for an ensemble piece to work it doesn’t necessarily require an outstanding talent It just needs the team behind the ensemble to be efficient at what they do. To be able to harness the resources under their control in a way that produces the desired result.

The desired result for “Friends” was the telegraphed joke that got the laugh and a moment that made the studio audience gasp in either delight or dismay. And “Friends” pushed those buttons to perfection.

The desired result for the Whitecaps is results.

Thankfully though the Whitecaps and us are on a break right now while Marc Dos Santos indulges in what he has described as a time he will treat as a pre-season.

In an ideal world they would have done this during the actual pre-season and I’m not sure any of us can take Vancouver experimenting with systems for three more regular season games before abandoning it and going back to playing Cristian Dajome as a sort of number ten because his work rate is the Whitecaps best chance at creativity.

Could it be more obvious that the only way the Whitecaps will get better is by signing better players?

I know that sounds like a truism, but sometimes it’s possible for a team to improve on the training ground without strengthening the squad, but history suggests that won’t happen here.

In retrospect, the only time the Whitecaps have looked decent under Dos Santos is when Fredy Montero wanted to play and was playing well.

A good player who the rest of the team could look to as a leader and who made those around him better.

It’s not a strategy that will bring any kind of long term success and the only short term success it will bring would probably be failure in the playoffs. But it’s better than what we have now.

So splash the cash on a Brad Pitt style cameo player who will garner interest in a format that’s running mostly on muscle memory at this stage.

Or maybe bring in a monkey? Monkeys are always entertaining right?

Do we need to talk about Marc?

It would be great if Marc Dos Santos turns out to be a successful coach for the Vancouver Whitecaps.

He seems to be a genuinely nice guy who loves his football, can talk about it with passion and intelligence and who knows how he wants his teams to play.

Yet here we are again.

Seven games into another season and the Whitecaps are back to what they have always been under Dos Santos. A loose affiliation of players who can play well when things are going their way, but lose faith and belief (and the ability to move off the ball) the moment fate throws them a curveball.

Yes there are reasons as to why it’s been tough for the Whitecaps in 2021. But there were reasons as to why they were tough for them in 2020 and there were reasons as to why they were tough for them in 2019 too.

It starting to feel like an all too familiar tune.

Nobody is expecting Vancouver to produce a footballing clinic every week while running away with the Western Conference. But it doesn’t feel like too much to expect at least some basic competence.

For the team to play the first forty-five minutes as if they have met each other before. For there to be at least some plan to break down a defence. For their Designated Player striker to be playing as a striker and not a deep lying number whatever the hell it is Cavallini is supposed to be doing. For there to be more to hope for than set-pieces and defensive turnovers. Did I mention that there needs to be more movement off the ball. Oh right, yes I did. In every single blog post for the last however many years this accursed thing has been going!

Anyway, the late consolation goal in the 2-1 defeat to Houston on Saturday will allow enough rope for there to be the usual post-game platitudes about not being good enough in the first half, learning from this and knowing they need to be better.

None of that will mean anything of course, because none of the players seem to be buying in to what the coach is selling.

I’ve no idea why that is, but it’s painfully obvious to see whenever the tide turns against this team.

Can that be fixed in the four week period they now have before the next game?

(That’s a rhetorical question by the way).

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Crepeau-4.5, Gaspar-4.5, Brown-4.5, Rose-4, Godoy-4, Bikel-2, Alexandre-5, Dajome-2, Caicedo-5*, Teibert-3, Cavallini-4 (Baldisimo-5)

Vancouver Whitecaps: The Wild Brunch

For all the angst of watching Seattle and Portland breeze though MLS in recent years perhaps no team has really brought home how bad the Whitecaps have been at this whole thing quite like Sporting Kansas City.

An “unfashionable” team who don’t spend a fortune but have an established style of play and who bring in players who suit that style of play rather than chasing either the big name signing or whichever player happens to be available at the time.

They are a template for how to run a team in MLS.

And, unsurprisingly, they beat the Whitecaps 3-0 on Sunday brunch time, not least because they have built a better squad and have a better coach.

It’s possible that Marc Dos Santos looked at the previous games this season and thought that Jake Nerwinski had done just fine and didn’t really need much cover from the wide player in front of him.

It’s also possible that he thought he did need cover and that Ryan Raposo was the best option to do so.

But neither of those possibilities place the coach in a favourable light and Kansas eyed up the right side of the Whitecaps with the same relish a hungry lion eyes up a wounded antelope.

The game was over before Dos Santos replaced Raposo with Baldisimo and the Whitecaps somewhat improved for ten minutes before half-time, but the second half was a return to Kansas failing to score from the numerous chances they created and Vancouver snatching at the very occasional chance that fell their way.

The only real positive from this performance is that it will have surely dented the belief that the Whitecaps were establishing a consistent style of play and that little needed to change other than the occasional tweak here and there.

The whole “no goals from open play” thing is starting to look less like an amusing quirk and more like a harbinger of doom as, with Dajome out of sorts, they produced no real incisiveness with Cavallini once again being the bulwark to more attacks than the defenders around him and Alexandre, once again, operating in areas of the pitch where his capacity to inflict damage was mostly related to his reputation for falling to the ground at the slightest provocation.

This was the first time the Whitecaps have been embarrassing to watch this season, but there were so many things wrong with the performance that it seems hard to think of it as “just one of those games”.

“We have to be better”, “Lessons will be learned” and “It’s a process”.

Time for the post-game hits to get an airing.

Time also for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Crepeau-5, Nerwinski-1, Veselinovic-4, Cornelius-4, Gutierrez-3, Bikel-5, Alexandre-4, Raposo-1, Dajome-3, Caicedo-2, Cavallini-2 (Baldisimo-5*)

Vancouver Whitecaps: Something Good

After the Whitecaps loss to Colorado last week I whined that the two previous good results had been false dawns. Anomalies that tricked us all into thinking progress had been made whereas, in reality, the Whitecaps were still the same old Whitecaps.

So where does the narrative stand after the 2-0 victory over whatever the hell Montreal are called these days?

The narrative stands with a foot in both camps. Awkwardly hopping from foot to foot, unsure of where to finally come to rest.

The first half on Saturday was confirmation bias catnip for those who think that Vancouver are still too passive when they need to be proactive. All safe and slow passing that pads possession stats without making any kind of progress towards the opposition penalty area.

The second half was power of positivity bindweed for those who think a squad that has been strengthened without being disrupted can grow into the season. All high pressing and pace going forward.

But the simple truth might just be that Marc Dos Santos got his tactics wrong last week.

Moving Dájome away from the centre, playing Alexandre in the number ten role and asking Russell Teibert to be the creator are the kind of decisions that probably feel innovative in some 4 a.m. fever dream but collapse into incomprehension when exposed to the Utah sun.

Against Montreal, Teibert was back on the left where he could protect Gutiérrez, Alexandre was playing in the role he was brought in to play and Dájome was back alongside/just behind Cavallini in attack.

And Dájome is turning out to be a crucial player for the team.

Last year he seemed a somewhat peripheral, if intermittently effective, wide player who could deliver decent crosses for Cavallini to finish. This year he’s been the main creative force simply because he never stops harassing the opposition defence and plays with a refreshing directness.

Alexandre wasn’t his creative equivalent on Saturday but, in the second half, there were signs the Brazilian could play the kind of instinctive first time forward pass the Whitecaps have been severely lacking.

But now let’s turn, with a heavy heart, to Jake Nerwinski.

Nerwinski looked disturbingly out of his depth yesterday. He was targeted as a weak point and almost always took one touch too many that meant his passing was rushed and thus offered Montreal the chance to gain possession in dangerous areas.

If Gaspar is fit he surely has to start on Wednesday and give Nerwinski the break he seems to need in order to get his head back in the right place when he’s on the field.

That game and the visit to Kansas on Sunday should suit the way the Whitecaps want to play and they should also mean more players are given the chance to make a larger contribution.

Dos Santos now has decent depth at his disposal. How he uses that depth will be as important as how sets up the team in each game.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Crépeau-6, Nerwinski-2, Gutiérrez-6, Rose-5.5, Veselinović-5, Bikel-5, Alexandre-5.5, Teibert-5.5, Caicedo-5, Dájome-6*, Cavallini-5.5

So what did we learn?

So (now that the dust of disappointment has settled) what did we really learn from the Whitecaps defeat to the Rapids on Sunday evening?

We were too happy- In retrospect, many of us viewed the first two games through the rose tinted spectacles of results rather than performance. The Whitecaps were fine in those games, but that’s all.

But they weren’t the seeds of recovery we thought they were. Two set pieces and a penalty kick do not a foundation make and the law of averages came back to bite the team on Sunday.

Lessons to be learned- In his post-game presser Marc Dos Santos admitted that his team needed to be better at breaking down a defence that sits deep.

Yes they do.

But they’ve needed to be better at that for the last fifty-nine centuries. One assumes they are working on this defect in training, but it constantly seems to be a source of deep bafflement to everybody on the team that hitting hopeful long balls from the back isn’t the infallible master plan they seemingly think it is.

Dos Santos also said that perhaps his players started slowly because the pressure of getting to seven points may have got to them. It’s certainly easy to see how reaching such vertiginous heights would freeze even the best of footballers.

Let Cavallini be Cavallini- The Canadian forward is good at getting on the end of crosses (high or low) and annoying opposition defenders to within an inch of a red card.

He’s not good at running forward with the ball for anything more than a few steps. Let Dajome and Caicedo do the running forward with the ball. They can then kick it across to where Cavallini is standing and he can try to head or kick it into the net.

They need a number ten– I’m instinctively anti the number ten role. Especially in MLS. Yes, yes, yes it will get results, but it’s such a reductive way of running a team and leaves you always one bad injury away from disaster.

It was my (seemingly forlorn) hope that the Whitecaps could build a team. A squad of players who slotted together in a system that made the reliance on the mercurial talents of an individual the redundant dream of a bygone MLS age.

But no, the only way they will flourish is by adding that one player who can make things happen for the others. A golden talisman for the leaden footed support act to rally around.

There is hope- Well, I say “hope” but really it’s an acknowledgment that they probably have enough to squeak into the playoffs.

Good set-pieces will get you points and the eventual return of Erik Godoy should make both the defence better and the midfield more willing to get forward (That “should” is doing a lot of heavy lifting in that sentence).

But will they be more than that? A team that genuinely believes the top four is within their reach? A team that doesn’t fail to perform the moment even the most minor of achievements is within their grasp?

That looks a lot less likely than some of us thought it was just one short week ago.

Vancouver Whitecaps: Revenge of the Rapids

In the 1983 Italian movie, Zeder, a young journalist discovers that the ribbon of an old typewriter he has recently bought still retains the imprint of a story written by its previous owner.

As he slowly pieces together the words he discovers it to be a macabre tale that lures him into the world of the dead and the undead, until his existence is nothing but dread and fear.

And the Vancouver Whitecaps 1-0 defeat to the Colorado Rapids was a bit like that.

Not the dead and the undead, fear and dread parts (although feel free to insert your own jokes here if you wish) but rather the idea that the substance of this team is still as indistinct as the the faded words on an abandoned typewriter ribbon.

Marc Dos Santos is still struggling to make his side into anything we would call meaningful. They are a ghost that has yet to be born, the echo of a song that is yet to be sung.

And the game on Sunday was full of echoes.

The inability to build on good results by losing to a team that was in a slump. The reluctance of the midfield to get forward. The insistence that the best players to play the searching forward balls were the two central defenders.

But the most haunting thing of all was the unwillingness to play the brave pass. The reluctance to challenge the opponent with anything other than a set piece or a pounced on error.

This wasn’t helped by the decison to play Caio Alexandre (roundly touted as a a box to box midfielder) in the number ten role, nor was it helped by asking Russell Teibert to play the Baldisimo role and dictate the play from deep.

Maybe, on another night, the Whitecaps would have won this game with a couple of set piece goals but that would have distracted from the fundamental flaws that still remain.

It was disappointing to see Vancouver once again shrink from the opportunity to gain a statement win that would have set them up nicely for the early part of the season.

But it was more troubling to watch yet another game where Dos Santos was incapable of sending out a team that could create chances from open play.

The words on his typewriter ribbon are growing feinter with each day that passes. But what if it turns out those words don’t form a tale that makes sense? What if they are just the random tappings of a malevolent spirit?

That would leave us all with nothing to do but scream helplessly into the endless void.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Crepeau-6*, Nerwinski-2, Veselinovic-3.5, Rose-3.5, Guttierez-5, Teibert-4, Bikel-3.5, Dajome-5, Caicedo-4.5, Alexandre- 3, Cavallini-4.5