Vancouver Whitecaps win the battle in Portland

Anyone who has seen the Bard on the Beach production of Macbeth this summer will no doubt have left the performance with the eternal question about the play circling through their mind.

Is the unfolding tragedy the unstoppable result of the will of malevolent supernatural spirits or is it the result of all too natural human beings latching on to the supernatural to justify their lust for power and glory?

Whatever answer you choose to that conundrum the inevitably of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth destroying themselves and others with every attempt to undo their own destruction makes for compulsive viewing.

And you know what else made for compulsive viewing?

The Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 victory over the Portland Timbers at Providence Park on Saturday evening.

For weeks now the Whitecaps have seemed to be slowly drifting out of playoff contention and prior to this game it felt as though it may well be the one to make the demise be done quickly but, for the first half at least, Vancouver produced some of their best football of the season.

They were a constant threat on the break against a Timbers team who lacked any real coherence going forward and goals from Kei Kamara and Cristian Techera either side of a Diego Valeri penalty miss gave the Whitecaps a surprisingly deserved two goal cushion to defend in the second half.

There were a number of standout performances in that first forty-five but Aly Ghazal stood out in particular. The Egyptian can be far too erratic with his passing at times but when he is on his game he is exactly the kind of defensive midfielder the team needs; breaking up play and providing the cover the back four has been lacking so often this year.

Praise too for Aaron Maund and Brett Levis who used their appearances as understudies to impress.

The second half though was less impressive.

Carl Robinson pulled his team back further toward their own goal with every substitution, eventually switching to five at the back in a move which only served to upset the solidity of the back four and invite more pressure and when the Timbers were awarded another penalty (“Out damn spot” indeed) which Valeri converted the remainder of the game was the kind of “backs to the wall”, “kick it anywhere”, “what is fair and what is foul?” defending that isn’t sustainable over the long term.

And while there’s something Shakespearean about Robinson finding short term success with the very tactic that is constantly his long term downfall nobody can deny that he is capable of sending out a team that is both bold and resolute when given something to hang on to although they still required something of a charmed life to come away with the three points that keep their regular season still relevant.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of this win however was that it was achieved without their two most potent attacking threats.

Neither Alphonso Davies nor Yordy Reyna featured which only serves to emphasise just how deep the squad really can be and the late season renaissance of Brek Shea has offered Robinson an option that wasn’t really there before.

Shea is capable of turning a renaissance into a new Dark Age faster than he can buy a new hat of course and he will no doubt once again become a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the field

The same can be said about the Whitecaps as a whole and it’s impossible to say just who they will be when they play Toronto in the second leg of the Voyageur’s Cup on Wednesday and at home to the New York Red Bulls next Saturday.

Before the Portland game it was clear that Robinson was targeting the cup as the main focus but that Cascadia derby victory may skew his thinking once more.

A win at BC Place followed by two games against the fairly terrible San Jose could make those post-season hopes more corporeal than they have been since it last rained in Vancouver.

For now though what’s done is done and only time will tell if that win in Oregon signifies anything at all.

Time for the Soccer Shorts Player Ratings.

Marinovic-6, Franklin-5, Waston-6, Maund-6, Levis-6, Ghazal-7*, Felipe-5.5, Shea-6, Techera-5.5, Mezquida-6, Kamara-6.5 (Nerwisnki-6, de Jong-5.5)

Vancouver Whitecaps: So good they scored twice

Now with additional “Hot dog takes” from the day after.

Any game in which Bernie Ibini is in the Vancouver Whitecaps starting eleven can safely be classed as a “I hope we get something but I don’t think we will” kind of game for coach Carl Robinson.

Ibini started in the 2-2 tie against New York City FC but the fact that Robinson made all three of his substitutions by the sixty-eighth minute indicated that he wasn’t quite so laid back about the result as his initial selection suggested.

And, in the end, his approach was able to bring home a fairly valuable point.

At this stage it would be nice to outline just what the thinking was to achieve that reward but, aside from introducing the pace of Davies and Reyna in the second half, that’s pretty hard to do.

Was that a harsh assessment of a point on the road against one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference? Possibly.

But we’ve sat through this movie before, or rather, we’ve sat through this scene of the movie before.

The Whitecaps sneak an undeserved win here, a late point there and everybody gets to say “well it wasn’t pretty but it worked” and the coach gets to say how much he loves the character of his players and just about everybody gets to ignore the fact that playing exactly this style of football has led to the Whitecaps limping out of the playoffs every time they manage to get there.

But false positives gleaned from small sample sizes will no doubt continue to be the theme.

Perhaps the real secret lies within ourselves?

There can’t have been many of us watching that game who saw New York score two goals either side of the half-time whistle who didn’t think that was essentially game over.

After all the Whitecaps had produced one shot of note in the first-half (a low Nicolas Mezquida strike from outside the area which gave his side the lead) and had produced absolutely nothing of attacking worth until the final ten minutes of the second half.

Maybe, like us, NYCFC were lulled into complacency and torpor and thus were surprised, like us, to see Erik Hurtado slot home from a Brek Shea cross?

That sentence certainly doesn’t get any more believable no matter how many times you read it out loud but Hurtado has done more this season than Anthony Blondell to earn the right to be the backup striker to Kei Kamara.

Blondell hasn’t set all that high a bar to be fair but if Robinson is really going to pick players based on their performance then it should be Hurtado over Blondell on the bench for the next game.

Elsewhere Aaron Maund had a decent enough game in central defence to make his continued absence seem even more perplexing than it already was and Franklin and Levis helped to confirm that Nerwinski and de Jong should remain the first choice full-backs.

It’s still baffling to make any sense from how Felipe is being used (he hit one pass into the New York area all game) but at least Stefan Marinovic seems to be back to his sharpest.

In the end it was a good point from a poor performance.

And that has become Carl Robinson’s stock in trade over his years with the club and those of us who watch the team consistently play ninety minutes of incoherent football probably have to resign ourselves to more of the same for the foreseeable future.

But this week feels pivotal for how we will remember the season.

Next week’s trip to Portland bookended by Voyageur’s Cup games agasint Toronto won’t be easy. Portland are arguably the best team in MLS right now and TFC are on something of an uptick following their horrendous start to the season.

But they played in Atlanta on Saturday and must have one eye on making a late run for the post-season.

So will the Whitecaps try to take the game to them at BC Place on Wednesday evening and give themselves a cushion for the second leg?

Probably not, and the tenor of the game will really hinges on how the visitors approach it. If they push for an away goal that will suit the pace of Davies and Reyna, but if they choose to sit back then we could be in for another one of “those” games where Vancouver treat the home crowd to ninety minutes of not really trying to score.

And speaking of not trying to score it was infuriating to see them spurn the chance of going for the three points by opting not to swing a last kick of the game free-kick into the NYCFC penalty area last night.

Sometimes footballers try to be too clever for their own good

It would be nice to see the Whitecaps play as a team rather than rely on individual moments of magic and opposition error but what we have is what we have.

That won’t be quite enough to get to the post season but it will be just enough to prevent anybody from having to make a tough decision.

One person’s purgatory is another person’s paradise I suppose.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Marinovic-6, Franklin-4.5, Levis-4.5, Ghazal-5, Maund-5, Felipe-5, Teibert-5, Ibini-3, Shea-5.5, Mezquida-6*, Blondell-4 (Davies-5.5, Reyna-5.5, Hurtado-5.5)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vancouver Whitecaps: Happy Days

The big question following on from the Alphonso Davies transfer to Bayern Munich was how the player himself would react to the move.

Would the excitement of joining one of the biggest clubs in the world weigh heavy on his shoulders?

Would the remainder of his time in Vancouver feel somewhat anti-climactic?

No.

Davies was subdued in the first half, but in the second he took the game by the scruff of the net and former Whitecap Michael Boxall must still be spinning in circles half expecting Davies to appear on his blind side.

Davies won’t face defenders of the calibre of Boxall in Germany but you can only beat what’s in front of you and that he did.

The rest of the game was a fairly neat summary of the issues still facing the Whitecaps.

In the first half they had Russell Teibert and Aly Ghazal as defensive midfielders and looked fairly comfortable when Minnesota pushed forward.

Then a Ghazal injury saw Felipe replace him and the defence suddenly felt much more vulnerable.

It’s hard to see what Felipe brings to the team when he is played so deep. He doesn’t have the defensive instinct of Ghazal or the hustle of Teibert, so a player who is best suited to finding the right pass to a forward becomes an amalgam of nothingness.

But at least Carl Robinson now seems to have settled on a regular back four with de Jong and Nerwinski both playing their best football of the season.

Nerwinski in particular is back to providing the attacking threat he did so often last year (and he may well be the best crosser of a ball in the squad) and that improvement is likely down to the fact those two defensive midfielders provide the cover he needs to make his forays.

Another good game for Yordy Reyna too.

The Peruvian has discovered the little bit of arrogance that’s been missing from his game all year and, for the first time in a long time, it feels as though he both wants the ball and wants to do something with it.

The lone forward position remains an issue however (this could be the new club motto given how perennial a problem it is).

Anthony Blondell stood in for Kei Kamara and was poor.

His hold up play was horrendous, his passing not much better and his connections with the rest of the team pretty much nonexistent.

That wouldn’t be such a huge problem if Kamara was firing on all cylinders but he’s been nowhere near that of late.

Perhaps his goal from open play last night will kick-start his form again?

Or it could be that the chances created by Davies will be all he really needs but the Whitecaps face two tough road games in New York and Portland (parenthesised by Voyageur’s Cup games against Toronto) and if the illusion of still being in the playoff hunt is going to be maintained they need more than they will probably get from their travels.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Marinovic-5.5, Nerwinski-6, de Jong-6, Waston-5.5, Henry-5.5, Ghazal-5.5, Teibert-6, Davies-7.5, Reyna-6.6, Techera-5, Blondell-4 (Felipe-5)

Vancouver Whitecaps: You say you want an evolution

Life must have been so much more simple back when Pangaea was the single super-continent on earth.

Everybody spoke the same language and there was no need for planes because you could just drive to wherever you wanted to get to (and the road trips must have been amazing).

Plus Netflix worked everywhere with none of that pesky regional blocking.

Then the decision was made to split Pangaea into separate smaller continents (possibly for tax reasons) and many historians now believe the first planet wide war was caused by people disagreeing over whether there should be five, six or seven of these.

But at first everybody seemed happy with this move.

Kangaroos flourished, tortoises frollicked and even the simple minded Dodo lived a life of uninterrupted bliss.

But gradually, over the course of dozens and dozens of years, people lost touch with all continents but their own and eventually new languages and subscription VPNs began to emerge.

But then, thanks to the invention of Duty Free alcohol and fragrances, humanity cast off their blinkers and began to explore their world anew.

Unfortunately this new found adventurousness coincided with the rise of the airline companies allowing Service Animals to fly free of charge and the introduction of several invasive species caused mayhem among the native population.

Sure, the kangaroos were fine; they can punch a hole in the side of a Buick.

But the tortoises were too slow for the newly arrived hares and the Dodos too stupid for their natural predator the owl.

It turned out that “Evolution and Unintended Consequences” wasn’t just the name of a new Vegan restaurant in Kitsilano, it also had real world implications.

Which inevitably brings us to the Vancouver Whitecaps.

When they first joined MLS the League was approaching the end of its Pangaea stage, but there was still enough uniformity and harmony to allow the lesser species to survive and even occasionally flourish.

But in the League of today the rifts and shake ups of the last few years have led to tectonic plate shifts of massive proportion.

The likes of Atlanta, NYCFC and Toronto bestride this new world with little fear of predators (Not even the Lethal Zone version).

And things remain fine for the species of team who have adapted well to this new reality; Kansas, Columbus, Portland and NYRB have all evolved to find a niche to keep them functioning and relevant.

But with each passing season some teams find themselves edging more and more toward the Dodo end of the spectrum.

Not necessarily because they aren’t spending money at all but because they aren’t spending money in the right way.

A big name signing to play among duds, a player beyond his prime to withstand the rigours of MLS travel, a badly scouted central American here, a converted inverted winger there.

And the Whitecaps have gradually been slipping down to the Dodo level with each passing season and with each badly thought through move.

But suddenly! Miracle of miracles!

They’ve been given the chance to turbo charge their own evolution, to upgrade their gene sequence and add lots of fancy new features to their defensive and offensive mechanisms.

The money arriving from the Alphonso Davies transfer is a “once in a species” opportunity to get things back on track.

And that means not rushing into moves just because a player is available (Jordon Mutch) or bringing in players in the hope they can be converted into something they are not (Efrain Juarez) or play in a role they are not suited to (Fredy Montero) or sign them just for the sake of signing them (Giles Barnes who subsequently evolved into Brek Shea).

But what it really really means is not allowing the people who made all of those decisions to now go on and make the next, all important, ones.

If a scientist recreated a killing machine of a dinosaur from prehistoric DNA leading to the deaths of hundreds of tourists and causing all round chaos you wouldn’t “give them another go” in the hope they would get it right next time (although that would be a good idea for a movie now I come to think about it. I’d call it Dinosaur Island!)

So if the Whitecaps think the Davies sale is convincing proof they are doing everything right and there is no need to change their ways at all then they are doomed to extinction.

But if they see it as the metaphorical equivalent of Peter Parker being bitten by a radioactive spider then they can use that insight to use their powers for good.

It just needs somebody at the club to have the humility to understand they need the advice and wisdom of their very own May and Ben Parker to prevent them from firing their web at the first available overpriced defensive midfielder they see.

Spiderman or Dodo? The choice is theirs.

Rooneymania wins the day

Now with updated “angry mutterings” from the day after.

Even on the next day it’s kind of hard to believe that the coach of a team fighting for a playoff spot and losing 1-0 thinks it’s okay to shake the hand of an opposition substitute.

But what else can we take away from that game?

The 4-4-2 system is no longer fit for purpose on the road. In the last two games away from BC Place the Whitecaps have conceded seven goals (against not particularly good teams) and while the openness it brings to their game is at least creating chances at home it’s killing the season when used anywhere else.

It’s also starting to feel as though the primary purpose of this season (Correction: the only purpose of this season) is for the club to hype up Alphonso Davies to a level that means they can sell him for the highest possible amount.

Nothing wrong that intention at all and yesterday he provided one more Giffable moment to add to the rest of the collection.

But from a supporter’s point of view what a waste of his young talent this season has been.

A team containing the talent of Davies and Reyna with the MLS experience of Kamara and Felipe around them could and should have been crafted into an exciting and coherent whole rather than the nebulous and ever-changing lineups we’ve been subjected to.

Heaven help us once the young phenom is gone.

So, after relying on having played more games to make the standings look respectable, the Whitecaps have sunk to their more or less correct level of eighth and it’s hard to see that improving in any meaningful manner given the schedule

But at least the coach should be able to snap up the autographs of some pretty good opposition players on the way.

Now back to your previous programming.

For most of the Vancouver Whitecaps 3-1 loss to DC United it felt like what it was.

A not very good Western Conference team visiting a not very good Eastern Conference team on the day they opened their new stadium.

Advantage Eastern Conference team for sure.

Then, at 1-0 in the second half, DC United brought on their new DP signing Wayne Rooney.

And what does Carl Robinson do?

He rushes to shake the hand of his opponent like a star struck fourteen year old grabbing at the hem of the clothes of the pop idol of the moment.

Our coach is so desperate to be accepted by somebody famous that he clearly doesn’t care about the result of the game anymore, he just wants to feel the glitter of the opposition.

It’s bad enough watching Robinson trying to ingratiate himself with opponents taking throw ins at BC Place (at least he can hide under the cover of “mind games” when that happens) but to see him fawn over the other team when the result is still in the balance is just flat-out embarrassing.

What’s the point in discussing tactics or formations when this is who is leading the Whitecaps?

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Rowe-5, Franklin-5, de Jong-5, Henry-5, Aja-5, Felipe-5, Juarez-5, Reyna-5, Mutch-5, Davies 5.5,  Kamara-5

Vancouver Whitecaps welcome Schadenfreude to BC Place

“Siri, show me a game that perfectly encapsulates the advantages and the disadvantages of the Vancouver Whitecaps playing the 4-4-2 system”

“Here is a list of cinemas in your area”

“Siri no, Whitecaps, 4-4-2, advantages and disadvantages”

“Plutonium is a radioactive chemical element with symbol Pu and atomic number 94”

“This isn’t really working is it?”

“You have to say ‘Siri’ first. I can’t hear you unless you say ‘Siri’ first”

“But I didn’t…..”

“Can’t hear you unless you say ‘Siri’ first”

Anyway the game that did encapsulate those advantages and disadvantages was the Whitecaps 3-2 win over the Chicago Fire at BC Place on Saturday evening.

The main advantage is they always look capable of creating some kind of scoring opportunity for themselves.

The main disadvantage is they always look capable of creating some kind of scoring opportunity for their opponents.

Back in the days when Carl Robinson was focussed on the defensive aspects of the game his philosophy was to turn every contest into a virtual coin toss by making the first goal more or less the game winner.

If the Whitecaps conceded first they found it hard to move out of their sit back and counter mode butif the Whitecaps scored first they were perfectly set up in their sit back and counter mode.

And strangely enough the games are still a virtual coin toss given how open this team is asnd how willing they are to trade chances with the oppoition.

Against Chicago we saw the experienced trio of Juarez, Felipe and Mutch start together for the first time and while none of them contributed consistently to the attacking play it was Juarez and Mutch who combined for the goal at the start of the second half which recalibrated the Whitecaps after they had squandered the advantage of being the better team in the first.

Mutch is clearly not a natural wide player and his presence out there reduces the opportunities for crosses in to Kamara (especially when the full backs gets forward as little as they did on Saturday) but his tendency to drift inside was one reason he got the opportunity to score his goal.

And it may be that having those three experienced players playing mostly conservative soccer and allowing Reyna and Davies to create chaos ahead of them is the best way to go from here on in.

That won’t solve the defensive issues however and it’s doubtful that even the return of Kendall Waston and Stefan Marinovic (remember him?) will fully paper over the cracks of a back line that has never really functioned correctly all season.

That may be partly due to the lack of a midfield shield in this current system or it may be due to the constant chopping and changing of personnel, but whatever the reason it will be the undoing of the team far more than all the chances they’ve missed going forward.

The schedule gets really tough from here on in and we will almosy certaily be looking back at the halcyon days of sitting in sixth place with affection come late August.

But the win over the Chicago Fire was an entertaining game of football and that was good enough for a pleasant summer evening.

“Summer is the period from the summer solstice to the autumn equinox”

“What?”

“You asked me about summer”

“No I didn’t. And I definitley didn’t say ‘Siri’ first”

“I thought you did”

“I didn’t”

“Can’t hear you unless you say ‘Siri’ first”

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Rowe-4.5, Nerwinski-5.5, Henry-5.5, Aja-5.5, de Jong-5.5, Felipe-5, Juarez-6, Mutch-5.5, Davies-6, Reyna-6*, Kamara-5.5

 

Whitecaps gotta go back to go forward?

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that the switch to 4-4-2 turned around the season for the Vancouver Whitecaps.

It certainly produced more exciting football and conveniently headed off at the pass the growing clamour of discontent swirling around the club.

But the reality is that in the nine games played this way the Whitecaps have won just two and haven’t kept a clean sheet in any of them.

It seems we’ve all been blinded by the superficial glitter and remained oblivious to the underlying flaws.

So does Carl Robinson stick with what isn’t working but kinda, sorta feels like it is or throw in his lot with another new formation?

It’s usually around this time in a season when Vancouver hit some kind of slump and that may well be because opposition coaches have worked out how the Whitecaps will play and have adapted to it.

So changing things around might not be that bad an idea no matter what the reason.

It’s still possible this squad could play three at the back very effectively but that would take time (and willingness) on the training field so it looks like our old friend 4-2-3-1 should probably raise its head again.

The benefits of this are many.

It allows the reintroduction of two holding midfielders to protect the back four (and if Felipe or Mutch fill one of those roles during games at BC Place it doesn’t have to be as defensive a system as was previously played).

It forces Kei Kamara to stay central and forward instead of somehow finding himself out wide and taking throw ins when the teams are attacking.

And it allows flexibility in the three behind the front man.

Davies, Reyna and Techera (when fit, not suspended etc.) look like the ideal players for the these slots but Mezquida, Felipe, Mutch or Shea could fill in when needed.

No mention of Anthony Blondell here because he’s starting to feel like another one of those signings that don’t get the field time they either deserve or need before being moved on having left barely a mark on our memories.

When he has played Blondell has looked raw but lively and effective and it’s odd to see just how little playing time he has had.

Chances are that Robinson will give 4-4-2 one last try for the upcoming home game to the Chicago Fire but it’s had a good run and soon needs to be replaced with something a little more substantial.