Vancouver Whitecaps Swoon in Dallas

In many ways the Whitecaps 2-1 loss to FC Dallas was far more concerning than their previous 3-1 loss to the Portland Timbers.

The Portland game was just shambolic, but the performance against Dallas was far too reminiscent of all their failings from last year.

A lacklustre performance with hardly a player having their head in the game until they inevitably went behind and then rousing themselves to give Vanni Sartini just enough to clutch on to justify an argument that his team really deserved something from the game.

They didn’t.

The first sixty minutes was a throw back to the flat out unprofessional performances of 2022. With very few players really that bothered about doing the basics and certainly nobody willing to get their foot on the ball or link up with a colleague to make a passing move of more than two hasty touches.

The release of the salary figures is never a good time to have a bad game, but Cordova and Schopf in particular continue to look so far away from justifying their pay packets that one of the reasons they may be playing so badly is that they constantly have their heads hung in shame and can’t see where they are passing the ball to.

Although the real highlight (highlight reel) of the first half was Ryan Raposo somehow managing to run the ball out of play even though he had acres of space and ne’er an opponent in sight.

And, for the third game in a row, the substitutions effectively ended any attacking threat the Whitecaps had. This time by taking Julian Gressel away from the danger area and opting to hit aimless long balls from the centre of the pitch into an increasingly crowed Dallas penalty box.

It’s hard to know what Ali Ahmed needs to do to get more playing time. Be less creative? Get rid of the ball faster no matter who he kicks it to?

Recently Sartini claimed that this team was special. It could turn out that they are “special” in the same way that my second cousin Greg was special.

And nobody wants that.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Takaoka-5, Laborda-5, Raposo-3, Brown-4, Veselinovic-3, Cubas-4, Schopf-2, Gressel-5*, Cordova-1, Vite-4, White-4

Vancouver Whitecaps fade away

From last night but now with additional hot takes.

We can probably put the Whitecaps 3-1 loss to the Portland Timbers on Saturday evening as “just one of those nights”.

Vancouver started slowly, gathered momentum as the half went on, but then seemed to lose all attacking cohesion once the Timbers got their third goal.

Having a settled starting eleven is great but, for the second game in succession, the substitutions seemed to set the team back rather than refresh them. A weaker squad than it appears to be or just some players needing more playing time to settle in?

But tactical analysis be damned!

This result was as much about Cubas and Takaoka having their worst games for the Whitecaps as it was about Christmas Tree formations or strikers playing between the lines.

It was also the first start for some time for Sergio Cordova who looked slightly better than he has before without convincing (me) that he is the type of forward the Whitecaps need.

He still looks like a player who waits for things to happen rather than making them happen with his pressing.

What the team needed to sign in the offseason was a better version of Brian White, but instead they went for a variation on the Cavallini theme. A nice option to have. But as a Designated Player?

And Alessandro Schopf continues to be a somewhat ghostly presence in the midfield and a non-existent presence in the opposition penalty area. Maybe the stats shed light on something the eye doesn’t?

Dallas and Seattle up next so it doesn’t get any easier, but it does feel as though this team (and certainly the coach) need a reminder from time to time that they haven’t solved the conundrum of football completely and they still need to work on the basics and focus on every game for the full ninety minutes.

On the positive side this was still a performance where they tried to take the game to the opposition and that alone is an improvement on the passively defeatist displays we’ve seen in days of yore.

“Vancouver Whitecaps: No Longer Passively Defeatist!”

Put that on a scarf.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Takaoka-4, Brown-4, Martins-4.5, Vesenovic-4.5, Blackmon-4.5, Cubas-4, Gressel-5*, Schopf-3, Vite-4.5, Gauld-5, Cordova-4 (Becher-3.5).

Whitecaps almost give it away

It’s not often that a substitute makes an immediate impact.

Changing the flow of the game almost the instance they step onto the pitch.

But Russell Teibert’s introduction against Minnesota United on Saturday evening changed the game from a potential goal fest for Vancouver into a potential point gained for the visitors.

Anybody who has watched Teibert over the last few years will know that his time in MLS should have ended by now. Perhaps there is some value in him as an occasional substitute when the game is well and truly over or even a starter maybe in a cup cup competition or two.

But as the guy to bring on with thirty minutes to go to lock a game down? Well, he’s not that guy.

The Whitecaps held on for a 3-2 win but it really should have been much more comfortable than that.

This is all a slightly over zealous attack on Teibert of course. He is what he is.

But Vanni Sartini’s decision to switch to a more defensive set up just as his team seemed to have achieved maximum momentum was another frustrating moment of the coach wanting to “do something” when there was nothing that needed to be done.

We’re seeing those moments less often this season but they clearly still lurk within the psyche of the coach.

Although the whole thing was almost worth it just to see Andres Cubas (always alert for moments of danger for his team) seemingly take the ball away from Teibert deep in his own half for fear of what would happen next.

And Cubas was, once again, excellent. Breaking up the opposition midfield and responsible for turnovers that led to two of the Vancouver goals.

Pedro Vite shone too. This was probably his best game of the season on the ball so far and it was definitely his best season off it. Committing to the press in a way he’s not really done thus far.

Elsewhere, Brian White finally got the goals he’s deserved and Ryan Gauld finally got the assist he has craved and while Schopf didn’t offer the variety in the midfield that Ahmed has he did at least show that he can fill a role there.

That makes it eight games unbeaten for the Whitecaps and, while there are tougher games ahead, they have shown themselves to be by far the most balanced squad of their MLS era. Defensively sound, solid in the midfield and able to create chances going forward.

If Sartini continues to make selections and decisions that play to those strengths than the the playoffs should be comfortably attained.

If he reverts to being “interesting” it might turn out to be a much closer call.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Takaoka-5.5, Brown-5.5, Martins-5.5, Veslinovic-5, Blackmon-5.5, Cubas-7.5*, Gressell-5.5, Schopf-5, Gauld-5, Vite-6 (Becher-6, Teibert-3)

Whitecaps stare into a deep dark truthful mirror

On Saturday evening the Whitecaps came up against an opponent who was content to cede the possession, sit deep and rely on their ability to hit on the break and set pieces as the best means to get a goal.

And there were times during the first half when it felt as though Vancouver and the Colorado Rapids were so similar in their sporting philosophy that we may all disappear into the vortex of the space/time continuum as the universe imploded at the sheer logical contradiction of it all.

There was no such luck however but at least the second half improved somewhat. But it was still a salutary lesson that the Whitecaps need to learn how to break a team down with far more wit than they displayed in this game.

Javain Brown had success getting behind the Rapids backline but couldn’t find a decent final ball. Luis Martins had better delivery but didn’t get forward often enough and Vancouver failed to (or didn’t even try to) get Julian Gressel into areas where his delivery could cause problems.

Once again the greatest threat came from Ali Ahmed whose willingness to take players on offered the opposition something different to think about.

And the decision to replace Ahmed with Becher effectively ceded control to Colorado for the final twenty minutes and will hopefully be the final nail in the coffin of Sartini’s belief that a two man midfield is a good idea.

And whither Ryan Gauld?

Once again the Scot failed to impose himself on the game, seemed disconnected from his teammates with his passing and movement and was more interested in complaining about the refereeing decisions he didn’t get than causing Colorado concern.

Given their defensive solidity the Whitecaps are probably an in form Gauld away from moving out of the middle of the pack and into the upper third of the standings.

Somebody needs to cure what ails him.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Takaoka-6*, Brown-5.5, Martins-5.5, Veselinovic-6, Blackmon-6, Cubas-6, Ahmed-6, Gressel-4.5, Vite-4, Gauld-4, White-4.5

Vancouver Whitecaps: A new world struggles to be born

Heat domes, bomb cyclones, tornadoes and the Vancouver Whitecaps making the playoffs.

Things just get stranger and stranger.

The Whitecaps clinched the much coveted berth with a 1-1 tie against the Seattle Sounders on Sunday afternoon and now travel to Kansas in the next stage of their adventure.

Almost more impressive than that feat however was the way Vancouver approached the game.

We have all lived through the Whitecaps facing a Cascadian rival at home in a crucial game and immediately retreating into their shell. Playing with fear and a hope for the best attitude that admits defeat from the get go.

But, under Sartini, they are a different animal.

They attacked from the first whistle and didn’t allow the inevitable Fredy Montero goal to distract them from their purpose.

Sartini’s decision to play the same system no matter who was available has turned out to be the foundation for the resurgence of the team.

Okay we got to see Baldisimo as a central defender and Metcalfe as a wing back. But the message it sent to the players was that they were going to play their own way and if they lost then so be it. But no more emphasis on how good the opposition were and simply setting up to nullify them.

Sartini is the first Vancouver MLS coach (since Teitur Thordarson) to not go into every game with an inherent sense of inferiority.

He’s also the first coach since Teitur Thordarson to connect with the supporters.

Tom Soehn was an executive in a coach’s tracksuit, Martin Rennie was too out of his depth to think of such things, Carl Robinson didn’t think anybody in British Columbia understood the game as well as he did and felt such statecraft beneath him and Marc Dos Santos was too trapped in the purgatory of the way he wanted his team to play and the way it actually played.

No doubt Sartini’s willingness to connect with the fanbase is down to his personality, but it’s also a savvy PR move on his part.

A club with the need for as much positivity as it can get will find it immensely difficult to remove the most positive figure in the organization.

But would it be the right move from a purely footballing point of view?

It’s possible that Sartini is riding the wave of optimism the players have felt since returning to BC Place and it’s possible that once the fresh scent of change wears off they stop buying whatever he is selling them. It’s also possible that the addition of Ryan Gauld has been enough to propel the team on such a good run. And it’s possible that it could all end in tears and heartbreak before we know it.

But there seems to be more substance to Sartini’s coaching than merely good will and good quotes. He’s got the players to pass and move (it’s an indication of how poor the Whitecaps have been that passing and moving is seen as a major innovation) and suddenly the player on the ball has an option to pass to rather than staring down the blind alley of nothingness that induces the hopeful punt forward.

And do we really think Dos Santos would have used Gauld as anything other than a get out of jail free card from the regular backs to the wall defensive showpiece?

It would be a brave decision by the Whitecaps to replace Sartini and the role would perhaps be something of a poisoned chalice for the new incumbent to drink from.

For now though it’s on to Kansas with the knowledge that the Whitecaps will approach the game in the way it should be approached. An opportunity to be grabbed rather than an ordeal to be survived.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Crepeau-6, Brown-6, Gutierrez-6, Jungwirth-6, Nerwinski-6, Veselnovic-6, Teibert-5.5, Owusu-5.5, Gauld-6.5*, Dajome-5, White-4.5 (Bikel-3)

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.