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!

Vancouver Whitecaps: Stick a fork in them

If, at the start of the season, we had been told that Felipe and Jordon Mutch were penciled in to start a crucial home game in October we would no doubt think to ourselves “Hmm, they must have had good seasons”.

How wrong we would be!

The Whitecaps lost 4-1 to Sporting Kansas City at BC Place on Wednesday evening in a game that began with promise and ended as (yet another) neat summary of how terrible this season has been.

Not least among the issues was the number of players called up to international duty and also not least among the issues is that Vancouver have assembled a squad of some impressive depth (on paper at least) in which an astonishing number of players have barely kicked a ball in anger in the second half of the season.

Also not least among the issues is that they can’t keep a clean sheet even if their lives depended upon it. An issue that was beautifully highlighted by both central defenders, Aja and Maund, being shrugged aside by Kansas forwards as though they barely existed to give away two of the goals.

Also not least among the issues is that the best Vancouver player on the field is incapable of completing ninety minutes.

Brett Levis had a great game making challenge after interception after challenge but his obligatory onset of cramp in the last fifteen minutes forced Craig Dalrymple to make a final change at left back when energy up front was sorely needed.

It’s hard not to feel sorry for Dalrymple.

In the first half he got his side playing decent, even intelligent, football and if the odd chance here and there had been taken then perhaps the story would be a different one?

But in retrospect it simply felt as though the cannier Kansas were just waiting for the Whitecaps to tire before putting them to the sword.

Maybe it’s a shame that the relevance of season won’t be extended to one more game at least but really (and we all know this deep in our hearts) it doesn’t deserve to be extended.

If it were a dog this season would have been put out of its misery a good few weeks ago (or quarantined for suspected rabies sometime around May) so this quick ending is for the best.

All we can do now is look forward to the exciting new puppy that will be the 2019 season (while hoping more than a few of this squad get sent to the metaphorical farm to keep them out of harm’s way).

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Marinovic-5.5, Nerwinski-5.5, Levis-6*, Aja-3, Maund- 4.5, Mutch-5, Felipe-5.5, Shea-2, Mezquida-5.5, Hurtado-4, Kamara-5

Vancouver Whitecaps and the presence of absence

The Portuguese word Saudade superficially refers to the sadness we feel at the permanent absence of somebody or something from our lives.

But its meanings are far more layered than that.

It’s not quite grief because grief is mainly an expression of hollow emptiness whereas Saudade is a heady mix of nostalgia, sorrow and even the kind of strange pleasure we sometimes derive from thinking of things which make us sad.

But the best description of the word is “The presence of absence” because that acknowledges that some absences are tangible, palpable, things in and of themselves.

Almost separate entities from the object or person they derive from.

No doubt to many New Yorker’s the Twin Towers are still present by their absence and every displaced person will feel a sense of saudade for the land they were forced to leave behind and can never return to and we all have people or things that evoke a particular kind of loss that doesn’t quite fit the functional limits of the English language.

Saudade is such an evocative and useful word that I almost feel a sense of saudade for the absence of saudade in my life until now.

And the presence of absence will very much be a theme for the Vancouver Whitecaps in their game against Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday evening at BC Place.

Six regular first team players missing due to international call up is less than ideal for coach Craig Dalrymple as his side try to win the remaining three games that would clinch an unlikely playoff spot.

So what are his options?

Well Maund and Aja for Waston and Henry in central defence is a no brainer and the defence has been so prone to errors all season it doesn’t seem to matter who gets the start.

If he wants to continue with his 4-1-4-1 formation then Mezquida can fill in for Teibert as the high pressing forward.

Replacing Yordy Reyna isn’t quite so easy but this week Felipe expressed frustration that he wasn’t played further forward by Carl Robinson so this would be the ideal opportunity to slot the Brazilian in as the number ten.

He’s a very different type of player to Reyna but given the chance he has the ability to play a pass that can cut through a defence.

With Shea and Techera out wide (barring a surprise start for new signing Emnes) that just leaves the defensive midfield role up for grabs.

The obvious choice in terms of positioning and experience is Efrain Juarez but the Mexican has been such a wild card all season Dalrymple may think that’s too much of a risk. He could try Jordon Mutch as a kind of deep-lying playmaker but that would be at the expense of far too much defensive cover.

Another option is drafting in Sean Franklin to simply sit in front of the defence and operate as a kind of slightly further forward central defender.

Update: As pointed out by Glass City on Twitter de Jong is also an option here. My sources (my fevered imagination) had informed me that de Jong had been called up to the Canada squad but apparently not.

The Canadian has played there before without ever really convincing he was right for the role but he might well be the best of a bad bunch right now.

Or the coach could switch to a 4-3-3 and use the experience of Felipe, Mutch and Juarez in the middle to support Kamara, Shea and Techera up front.

None of these answers are wholly convincing and at least half the team will be faced with the challenge of being severely lacking in match fitness, but it’s not a bad starting eleven on paper and hints at just how much depth the Whitecaps have at their disposal.

But the season now rests on the shoulders of the players who were gradually left by the wayside as the year progressed.

Let’s hope they all feel they have something to prove.