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.

Vancouver Whitecaps play badly

So the “Fire Carl Robinson and hope we get a new coach bounce and sneak into the playoffs” gambit didn’t really work did it?

The Vancouver Whitecaps lost 3-0 to the LA Galaxy while playing in a manner which suggested they were more interested in the beaches of California than the opposition net.

But perhaps that’s a little unfair?

Maybe the whole performance was the team paying a heartfelt farewell homage to their former coach?

Two needlessly conceded penalties, a stunning lack of ambition and a blatant inability to master even the basic fundamentals of the game were certainly nice call backs to Robinson.

It’s hard to know by now whether these players are incapable of mastering those fundamentals or whether those fundamentals have been systematically eradicated from their arsenal over the last few years.

Whatever the answer to that riddle is the new coach’s first job will be to reintroduce (introduce?) his squad to the concept of passing and moving and somehow persuade them that the ball isn’t something to be quite so terrified of.

Hopefully his second job will be to place a moratorium on any talk of “rising to the challenge”, “never giving up” or some similar nonsense until the team prove they can actually rise to challenges and not give up during the time period between the referee’s first and last whistle.

Any bright spots from that game?

Well at least we are all a step closer to being definitively put out of our misery regarding the playoffs and Alphonso Davies was lively at times and Russell Teibert hustled.

But most of the time it felt as if the Whitecaps were approaching the game in much the same way as most of us watching; drifting in and out of concentration depending on the game state.

I don’t think any of them were actually checking their social media timeline but they may as well have been.

Poor Craig Dalrymple must have woken up in a cold sweat this morning (if he slept at all) because he now has to take this team to Toronto next week before bringing them home to what will surely be a less than full and less than enthusiastic BC Place.

Oh and then back down to Los Angeles just to relive the nightmare.

Playing Teibert alongside Mezquida to press the Galaxy back line was at least an interesting idea but whenever that press was bypassed (and it was bypassed a lot) the Whitecaps were outnumbered to an alarming degree.

It’s tempting to suggest he should mix things up even more when it comes to team selection for the remaining games but “mixing things up” when it comes to team selection is exactly how we got to where we are now.

So the best we can hope for is a moderately quiet and somewhat dignified end to it all.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Marinovic-4, de Jong-3, Nerwinski-4.5, Waston-3.5, Henry-3, Teibert-5, Ghazal-4, Shea-3, Mezquida-3, Davies-5.5*, Kamara-4 (Felipe 3.5)

Craig Dalrymple: Searching for Adventure

Craig Dalrymple wouldn’t be human if there wasn’t a small corner of his mind which thought “You know what? If I get this team to go on a run and sneak into the playoffs then this job just might be mine for the taking”.

That’s a long shot to be sure but not beyond the realms of possibility.

So what are his main challenges as the team fly to Los Angeles to take on the slightly bizarre Galaxy on Saturday?

Getting the mood right- Maybe dim the lights, put on Sinatra’s “Songs for Swingin’ Lovers” and spend a buck or two extra on that bottle of wine…

No wait, that’s for a different mood.

What Dalrymple needs to do is to make sure the players are in the right frame of mind following Carl Robinson’s departure and, in particular, that goes for Captain Kendall Waston.

The Costa Rican was noticeably angry about that departure earlier this week and a noticeably angry Waston is a red card waiting to happen.

Dropping the Captain would be a huge statement but it needs to be done if his head won’t be in the right place (which is on the end of set-pieces).

Change formation or change the eleven?- The Whitecaps were good against Seattle and okay against Dallas but it really does feel like they need a shake up if they are going to make that near impossible run to the post-season.

Three at the back? A genuine 4-3-3?

That’s probably asking too much in such a short space of time but if Dalrymple were to take my advice (Which Robinson very definitely refused to do and look what happened to him) he would stick with the 4-2-3-1 for now but play Felipe as the number ten behind Kamara and move Reyna wide in place of Techera.

Techera can drift in and out of effectiveness in any game but he drifts an awful lot more away from home and Reyna’s best position may well be out wide anyway.

I’ve not been impressed by Felipe at all this year but he seems like the kind of player/person who enjoys proving people wrong so he may be capable of turning in a performance after being left out of recent games by Robinson.

It’s a roll of the dice but it’s still a better option than the status quo (although their early singles were quite enjoyable to be fair).

Make a change when change is needed- Dalrymple could become a legend overnight if he just made a substitution in the first half (or even at half-time).

After watching Robinson make changes that were clearly based upon some kind of five year plan it would be nice to see a coach react spontaneously to the actual game situation.

Enjoy it- These might be his only five games in charge of a club at this level.

He should relish the opportunity and do anything he wants to do and to hell with the consequences (Within reason obviously. Don’t play Techera in goal for example).

Taxi for Carl Robinson

So farewell then Carl Robinson.

The Vancouver Whitecaps coach was “Released” today by the Vancouver Whitecaps just five games before the end of the season and there must be a sense of “release” in more than a few hearts given how flat out strange this season has been.

But Robinson started his time with Vancouver well and gave the club the steadying hand and defensive rigidity it so desperately needed.

But since that first campaign there’s never really been the sense that any significant progress would ever be made under his watch.

When players of genuine quality were brought in they could never quite find a role, leaving the coach tinkering with formations and systems until, with grim inevitability, he would head back to the comfort of two defensive midfielders and the familiar steadying hand and defensive rigidity would return.

And perhaps that really is all his time here ever was?

A constant ebb and flow of chaos followed by order and then order followed by chaos and so on and so on. At best Robinson turned out to be the solution to problems of his own creation and at worst he allowed the constant churn of players to cover up the stasis that had enveloped the club for at least the last two years.

Because Robinson wasn’t just hamstrung by the limitations of the players at his disposal, he was also hamstrung by his absolute belief in those limitations. The comfort of their failings was clung to like unassailable catechisms to become an overarching “Get Out of Jail Free” card for his own tactical timidity.

And that timidity really came to the fore in two defining playoff series.

In the first the Whitecaps travelled to a Timbers team playing on two days rest after a physically demanding ninety minutes, plus extra time, plus penalties against Kansas and, instead of going for the jugular, Robinson settled for a stalemate and was undone by a quick away goal in the second leg.

A braver or more ambitious club would have looked at those games and decided that he just wasn’t the man for the job.

But the Whitecaps didn’t do that. They stuck with their man and we all got to sit through those two playoff games against the Seattle Sounders where Vancouver were barely interested in scoring a goal let alone wining the tie.

Once again Robinson had retreated into a sense of inferiority when the chips were down.

That really, really should have been that but, once again, the Front Office crossed their fingers and hoped for the best and that’s how we got to this debacle of a season.

Players signed for no apparent reason, players played with no regard to form or position and Robinson and his coaching staff becoming more and more embittered with every passing failure.

Firing him now isn’t a brave act at all, it’s the act of desperate people and nobody comes out of the situation looking good.

But what could/should Robinson have done differently? Or even do differently in his next appointment?

Well for one thing he should start coaching like the young coach he is.

More often than not his whole approach to the game is more akin to a sixty-eight year old grizzled veteran of one too many lower league relegation scraps than a man in his first lead coaching role.

Talk of pragmatism and effort and the “boys wanting it” aren’t really the done thing now and the best coaches in the world manage to convey a kind of joy about the game.

Imagine how great that would be?

Not only working in the game he loves but putting across that love through the way his team play on the field.

Trusting gifted players to use their gifts and encouraging limited players to move beyond their limitations.

He might even have fun.

And you know what else might be fun? Engaging with the fans.

I can’t think of a time where Robinson has celebrated a Whitecaps goal with the whole stadium. Losing himself in the collective joy of the moment.

Instead he celebrates within the insular world of the bench. All boys together proving all the world wrong.

True that sense of resentment can be put to good effect in the right circumstance but fans notice these things. They notice the half-hearted applause in their direction on the walk to the bench, they notice how little mention or thanks or acknowledgment they get in interviews and that absence costs a deal of goodwill at the times when a coach might really need it.

Only time will tell where Robinson goes from here and whether he prospers or falters but we need to remember to always keep the distinction between the human being and the job.

By all accounts Robinson was popular with the players, popular with the media who cover the Whitecaps and popular with opponents.

Why that popularity failed to translate in his public persona is hard to say but what we can say is that while we can happily bid “good riddance” to Carl Robinson the coach we can at least wish “good luck” to Carl Robinson the man.




Vancouver Whitecaps: All the leaves are brown…give

Now with added thoughts from the Dystopian present.

Even before the game against FC Dallas on Sunday there was an air of Autumnal ennui lingering around BC Place.

The fallen leaves on the journey to the ground, a sparser crowd than is usual and the cool breath of a northerly wind scattering the clouds to leave the evening spread out against the sky all added up to the sense of an ending rather than the resurrection in fortune the Whitecaps needed.

And an ending it turned out to be.

Vancouver were beaten 2-1 by a team more astutely assembled than they are, better coached than they are and who play as a team rather than a collection of individuals.

No doubt we’ll still hear talk of “great spirit”, “never say die” and “bravery” in the media scrums this week but there are all kinds of bravery in soccer.

In the post game question and answer session Robinson said that he thought his team were “playing in third gear” during the first half. If that’s not a a sign of systemic issues then I don’t know what is.

A game the team knew they had to get three points from and they play the first forty five minutes within themselves? And the coaches can’t do anything about that until the break? 

Make a substitution at thirty minutes just to let everybody know the performance isn’t acceptable (and it turns out the half-time switch which was made was because of injury to Levis rather than any desire to shake up the team).

There’s the bravery to always show for the ball no matter the game situation or personal form and there’s the bravery to trust your technique to make that tough one touch pass to a teammate making a run.

There’s also the bravery of a coach who wants his team to play with attacking intensity no matter the opposition, a coach who sets up his team to succeed rather than not to fail and a coach who trusts his players but isn’t afraid to make tough selection choices as soon as they need to be made.

The Whitecaps haven’t had any of those attributes for the longest time. Happy just to scrape by, swell a progress, start a scene or two and always, always be deferential and glad to be of use.

And the game against Dallas was a pretty neat summation of the season.

It wasn’t that they didn’t try, they did. It’s just that they didn’t have the cohesion or class to break down a team that had been organized.

Of course the Whitecaps conceded two goals from set pieces (a defensive coach who has been unable to organize the defence all season is a recipe for disaster on so many levels) and of course Davies and Kamara combined to offer some hope but by the final fifteen minutes the Whitecaps were, as always, reduced to hitting crosses into the box while still failing to get enough men forward.

Getting men forward to be on the end of crosses isn’t some next level Pep Guardiola tactical thought experiment. It’s one of the basics of football and the Whitecaps still haven’t figured out how to get it done. Go figure.

Random thoughts?

The recurring sequence where Russell Teibert passes the ball back to a central defender who passes it back to Russell Teibert who then passes it back to the central defender is my personal “Room 101”.

Carl Robinson has been relying on Jordon Mutch’s reputation to change things as a substitute in the last two games rather than anything the Englishman has ever done on the pitch this year.

The fact that none of Felipe, Juarez, or Blondell got even a minute of play between them in such a crucial game is about as damning of the acquisitions this season as it’s possible to be.

It seems Felipe is this year’s Tony Tchani. A central midfielder Robinson stuck with through thick and thin before completely abandoning come the tail end of the season. Weird.

And the Davies to left back gambit worked on the Kamara goal but also helped to unbalance an already disjointed defence.

This disjointedness was emphasized int the dying minutes when Henry and Marinovic couldn’t figure out who should go for the ball and a corner was conceded.

It might be worth hypothesizing that Marinovic is a significant cause of the defensive woes this year. He’s a solid, if unspectacular, goalkeeper but the players in front of him have never looked settled no matter what the combination.

It’s clear he’s not the sole culprit for the whole debacle but he certainly doesn’t seem to be the kind of keeper who can organize his backline effectively.

The season isn’t mathematically over of course but emotionally it feels as though we all need to move on now.

From this game, from this season and from this iteration of the Vancouver Whitecaps.

That would probably be healthier for all concerned.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Marinovic-4.5, Nerwinki-5.5*, levis-4, Waston-4.5, Henry-4, Teibert 5, Ghazal-5, Reyna-4, Techera-3.5, Davies-5, Kamara-5 (Mezquida-4, Mutch- 3)

Vancouver Whitecaps: Keys to the Game

Is there any object we use so often but pay so little attention to than the humble key?

Fishing it out of pockets and carelessly twisting it in a lock with barely a thought for the import of such a thing.

But try to imagine being alive when the first key was produced?

Suddenly secrets could be kept from prying eyes but, because human beings are human beings, suddenly those secrets must have gained a greater fascination. What can be so special that it needs to be locked away? What treasure must that humble box contain?

And perhaps we can even judge a person by their attitude to keys?

For some they are an implement all about openings and for some they are the tool of closure. Some regard them as a hindrance, an annoying scrap of metal that just adds weight to the pocket or pocket-book and for others that weight is reassuring. A reminder of at least some connection with the world, jagged little mementoes forged through form and function.

Yet we may well be living through the death of the key as we know it.

Apps and swipe cards and fingerprints and irises are slowly becoming the tool of choice (our own DNA granting and denying us access at every turn).

But perhaps we really shouldn’t say that keys are slowly becoming obsolete? Perhaps we should just say they are evolving?

Perhaps the final turn of the final physical key will be to turn into us?

But do you know which keys will never go away? That’s right! The keys to the game.

So this is what the Vancouver Whitecaps have to do against Dallas at BC Place on Sunday afternoon.

Same again please- The Whitecaps may have lost against the Seattle Sounders but they played with a level of energy and intent rarely seen under Carl Robinson. If they play in the same way against Dallas they will get the crowd behind them once again and they will win.

And the return of Yordy Reyna won’t hurt either.

Defend- Or perhaps that should really be “concentrate” because Vancouver are mostly fine at the back except when one of them switches off. And one of them will always switch off.

That’s clearly a systemic issue rather than a series of random aberrations and it’s doubtful the coaching staff will be able to figure out why it’s happening before the end of the season if they haven’t done so already.

But the Whitecaps are already behind the eight ball in the standings and they really can’t afford anybody to accidentally handle that eight ball in the penalty area for no apparent reason.

Get the best out of Alphonso Davies – Davies has been a match winner on more than one occasion this year but against the Sounders he was trying to force himself to be one.

Taking on one man too many, unnecessary stepovers and poor final decisions.

The return of Reyna should help distract Dallas from Davies but he needs to get back to the simplicity that’s worked so well for him this year.

The thing they can’t do- This isn’t going to happen but we can at least dream.

Under Carl Robinson the Whitecaps have almost never been able to play with a central midfielder who can also join the attack.

Pedro Morales came closest but his defensive frailties were laid too bare. Barry Robson could have been the man if he wasn’t Barry Robson (he was here under Rennie but I just like the line). Felipe was supposed to be the guy this year but ended up in the neither fish nor fowl position of being a defensive liability with little attacking threat and Jordon Mutch isn’t around often enough to count.

So we’re back to Ghazal and Teibert (which is the best pairing for this team) but it’s so frustrating to watch a side desperate for a goal and yet still have two central midfielders who are hesitant to leave the centre circle.

Oh well, the Dallas game is the most “must win” of all the “must win” games they’ve had thus far.

So they must win it.