Vancouver Whitecaps: Deep Breaths!

Within the last three thousand years (the merest blink of any eye in the history of life on the planet) the Tibetan people have evolved their bodies to deal with living at what, for the rest of us, would be abnormal altitudes.

Actually, let’s row that back a little.

“Tibetans have evolved their bodies” implies a degree of agency in the process. As though they have held a series of exploratory meetings and focus groups to determine the whole process.

“Right, the three remaining options on the table are “Being able to live at high altitudes”, “X-Ray vision” or “Being able to slow down time when facing attack”.

Mother Nature does not work like that I am afraid, for she is a fickle and capricious trickster playing games of chance with DNA and fertility.

But if the Tibetans lucked out in the lottery of the high life what can their good fortune tell us about the Vancouver Whitecaps this season?

Perhaps that sometimes the best way to achieve a desired result is to not over think things?

Yeah, let’s go with that.

Ironically there’s an alternate universe somewhere where the Professional Referee Organization (Hilariously shortened to PRO) doesn’t have to release a weekly edict announcing that a game deciding penalty kick was incorrectly awarded against the Whitecaps and, in that universe, Marc Dos Santos has seen his team earn two fairly impressive away points against Western Conference rivals.

But in our current universe the Whitecaps have zero points from three games with substantial issues to be addressed in all three areas of the field.

The defence can’t defend, the midfield can’t attack and the attack can’t score goals.

Given this existential threat to the very nature of what a football team should be there must be a part of the Dos Santos psyche that is clamouring for the security of two holding midfielders to sit in front of the back four or, at the very least, the reassurance of having a target man up front.

That elusive “out” ball that will give his defenders another option as they go through their “Bambi on Ice” routine of trying to play out from the back.

But the Dos Santos psyche needs to shut the f%#* up because if he has to be in this then he has to be in this for the long haul.

He wasn’t signed to simply “get results”, he was signed to change the DNA of the Whitecaps, to transform them from a lump of pragmatic dross into something that is worth watching.

The Tibetans will tell you that such a transformation takes time and a degree of fortune that MDS not yet enjoyed but, what you cannot do, is suddenly switch evolutionary horses in midstream in the vain hope of landing on a winner.

So patience is still the watchword for those of us who follow the team week in and week out.

But some kind of visible success in less than three thousand years would be the optimal outcome.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vancouver Whitecaps: Pressing on

A home game against a poor Conference rival. An early lead through a set piece goal. Failure to take the initiative and build on that early advantage and allow the opposition to grow in confidence. Concede an equalizer thanks to a defensive loss of concentration. Resort to hitting long balls to an isolated forward. Fall behind but then another set piece goal and a late attacking flurry creates the illusion that the game could have gone either way.

It’s hard to see how the Whitecaps can continue with Carl Robinson at the helm given the Groundhog Day nature of every game and….

Wait? What? When did that happen?

I’m joking of course. I exclusively found out about the Dos Santos hire a few weeks ago but, like all great art, that opening paragraph contains both truth and untruth. Hints of whispers of shadows that may or may not exist.

So what actually happened in the 3-2 loss to Minnesota?

Well, at times the Whitecaps played some very nice one touch football, kept the ball on the ground and moved for each other.

And, at times, they forgot all that and resorted to hoping Fredy Montero could out jump two large central defenders.

At times they pressed as a unit and forced Minnesota into dangerous turnovers.

And, at times, Hwang In-Beom was pressing alone and searching forlornly for a team mate who was thinking of doing the same.

Overall the Whitecaps were exactly what we knew they were; a work in progress.

Except…

The sense of optimism around the Dos Santos hire and the barrage of promos around his coaching style and ability kind of, sort of, created the idea that his Vancouver side would hit the ground running from day one so, in the grand scheme of things, a wake up call such as this may be best for all concerned.

And there were definitely some positives.

In-Beom looks the real deal. All quick passes and movement and dangerous around the opposition area.

New captain Jon Erice too looks a class player and there were already signs that he and In-Beom would form a decent understanding as the games go on.

Lass Bangoura showed that he had both pace and trickery and Erik Godoy looked a solid starter in central defence.

But what about the negatives?

Felipe looked out of place in this formation. Taking three touches when one was the better option, looking back when there were runners ahead of him.

And we can safely describe the choice to build from the back as a “work in progress” with Doneil Henry in particular seeming to do more thinking with the ball at his feet than is good for any of our blood pressures and Jake Nerwinski showed that he remains more valuable as an attacking full back than a defensive one.

Derek Cornelius gets a pass given he was played out of position at left back but the attacking set up of the midfield means the defence will have to be far more organized than they were on Saturday afternoon.

But the most concerning aspect was the inability to create chances from open play (not least because this was also an issue in the pre-season) with even In-Beom seemingly reluctant to get into the danger zone to meet the end of a cross or pick up on a scrap of a loose ball.

But patience will be required for sure and there’s enough things to be optimistic about to make watching this team this season a delight compared to what has gone before but, and this needs saying over and over again, it’s insane that the organization allowed themselves and the team to be in this position.

A tough decision taken a couple of years ago would have saved all this angst.

But avoiding tough decisions and hoping it will all go away and that nobody will notice seems to be par for the course.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Crepeau- 5.5, Nerwinski-4.5, Godoy-5.5, Henry-5, Cornelius- 3.3, Erice-5.5, Felipe-3, In-Beom 6*, Reyna-5, Bangoura-5, Montero-4 

 

 

Vancouver Whitecaps: You hum it, they’ll play it

A recent “news” story on the local “news” channel ran with the concept that, during the recent cold spell, humming-birds could only survive thanks to the hanging feeders a few kindly folk put out for them.

“Without these feeders” intoned the reporter solemnly “the birds would die”.

“That’s nice of those people” I thought to myself. But then I thought “Hang on a minute! If humming-birds can only survive thanks to feeders provided by humans then how did they survive before?”

Being a universally acknowledged major reporter this question prompted me to a fever of intense research (asking Twitter) and the result of my intense research (reading Twitter) is that of course they could survive before the feeders because they would migrate to warmer climes.

So have humming-birds become lazy?

Only some of them it seems.

Many do indeed still take the time and effort to travel south but a few indolent ne’er-do-wells simply choose to hang around the backyards of gullible humans to live off the sweet, sweet nectar of free handouts.

We may never really know what the birds who do make the effort to travel think of these stay behinds but safe to say they regard them in the same way we would regard a group of drunken teenagers hanging around a fast food joint at two in the morning while shouting foul abuse at any unfortunate passer-by.

With a mixture of fear, contempt and an almost Proustian rush of regret and envy which somehow tells us more about ourselves and the society we live in than we really care to articulate.

So can we all please stop enabling the worst aspects of the humming-bird population and allow this beautiful creature to return to the dignity of self-sufficiency?

A few deaths is a small price to pay for a better future.

 (Memo to self: Pitch this to the Whitecaps as a new slogan for next season).

Marc Dos Santos will clearly be hoping his team is humming when the season starts in two short weeks. But does the experience of Maurizio Sarri at Chelsea offer a stark reminder of how tough things will be? (Dos Santos has stated publicly that he is a huge admirer of “Sarri-ball” and will be using it as a template for his Vancouver team).

Sarri arrived with a pre-determined style of play and has since struggled to get his players to adapt. That’s not hard to understand when much of the season has seen the best defensive player in the world played in a more forward position and one of the best players in the world with the ball at his feet and running at defenders being asked to play with his back to goal.

Form over function has mostly led to dysfunction at Stamford Bridge.

Yet Dos Santos has one huge advantage over Sarri in that he has essentially been allowed to build his team from scratch. Discard the ones who don’t suit and recruit the ones who do.

But this is still Major League Soccer and it is still limited in terms of quality of play and player.

Sarri-ball relies on a number six who can pass the ball with unerring accuracy (Whither Pedro Morales?) and only time will tell if Jon Erice is capable of that kind of consistent quality.

And it also relies on a goalkeeper and back four who can play out from the back.

And that means really play out from the back and not just consist of two central defenders who pass it to themselves who then pass it to Russell Teibert who passes it back to them and one of them then hoofs the ball up field.

It means tight passing in confined spaces to lure the opposition forward and thus create space behind them.

When it works it is a thing of beauty. When it doesn’t it is not.

The brief glimpses we have seen of the pre-season indicates the back line are thinking one beat too many with the ball at their feet for the whole thing to work and the coach has astonishingly little time to coach that pause out of them.

The good news is that the attacking pieces seem to fit just right. Speedy wide players, a proven goal scorer and genuine attacking midfielders.

So if the back six can do their job and get the ball to the forward five when they are in space the whole season will be a hoot.

Come to think of it, it will also be a hoot if they can’t get the ball to them because it will be chaos back there.

Sounds like fun.

 

Vancouver Whitecaps: Definitely, Maybe

The current crop of Vancouver Whitecaps acquisitions and targets can be loosely lumped into the following categories.

Definitely might be good. Was good once but hasn’t been for a couple of seasons but maybe just needs a fresh start. Somebody once thought he was good but he never lived up to that potential.

There’s nothing wrong with trawling the databases and highlights for signings for a club that prides itself on not being among the bigger spenders in the league but, and this gets me an honorary degree in stating the bleeding obvious, bringing in so many players would be a challenge at the best of times.

But bringing in so many players with so much doubt swirling around their suitability is a huge ask.

Oh, and Marc Dos Santos also wants to completely revamp the style of play of the team so even the established players (“established” for the Whitecaps currently means they perhaps played a few games last season) will need to learn new ways of interacting with each other on the field (and off it too if the end of season media day was anything to go by).

So it’s all doom and gloom right? The Whitecaps will struggle to find their feet and scrape along near the bottom third of the Western Conference for the whole of the season?

Yes that’s correct. That’s exactly what will happen.

Wait? What? You want a more uplifting scenario on this greyish Sunday morning?

Okay then.

It’s not inconceivable that Dos Santos will knock it out of the park with all of his signings and everything turns out to be fine.

It’s also not inconceivable that he’s a good enough coach to meld the team together no matter what the weaknesses are and that the “established” players will be refreshed by his style of playing after toiling under the yoke of the previous incumbent.

It`s also not inconceivable that MLS will continue to be a forgiving enough league to allow a slow, find your feet, kind of start to not completely derail the season.

It`s also not inconceivable (and this is the Soccer Shorts hot prediction for the season ahead!) that opponents will be so discombobulated by facing a Whitecaps team they know little about and barely even recognize that Vancouver will hit the ground running, get off to a great start and that momentum will be enough to surf them to a spot somewhere near the bottom end of the playoff spectrum.

That would count as a huge win for both Dos Santos and the club.

And it would certainly be a vindication for the ruthless off-season purge of the playing proletariat that went on (there are those who would argue that lustration rather than purge was the way to go but we are where we are from a regime change point of view).

To summarize then.

Things could be worse!

 

Vancouver Whitecaps: We Know We Are, We’re Sure We Are

An expensive and poorly assembled squad of players that needs whittling down and re imagining to suit the needs of a new coach, an ultra rich owner who wants things run according to a strict financial diktat and a general sense that the club has been drifting aimlessly toward the rocks with nobody positioned on deck to spot the impending crash.

The Netflix documentary series “Sunderland ‘Til I Die” should probably carry some kind of trigger warning for supporters of the Vancouver Whitecaps or, at the very least, details of a phone number to call “if you have been affected by the issues raised in this program”.

Not that the circumstances are exactly the same of course.

The Whitecaps aren’t faced with the prospect of crippling relegation after relegation and they’re not quite living in the same cutthroat, dog eat dog, financially insane system as Sunderland inhabit but the series does give a chilling insight into how difficult it is to turn a club around once it has set sail on the wrong course.

And that’s why (no matter how welcome it might sound) the pledge by Marc Dos Santos that he will build “a model or identity for Vancouver” amounts to little or nothing.

Actually, let’s rewind that for a moment because I don’t think we’ve really taken into account how weird it is that the Whitecaps don’t already have a “model” or “identity”.

After seven years in MLS Dos Santos doesn’t think the model needs to change, he thinks there actually needs to be one established.

It’s hard to know how that can happen.

Either it’s failed to get on the agenda for countless Front Office meetings because nobody even considered it a requirement or it has made it to the agenda and subsequently been voted down.

“Those in favour of instituting a consistent working practice?” (No hands raised).

“Those against?” (Carried unanimously).

So Dos Santos needs to accept that he is facing a near impossible task if he wants to change the root and branch of the club because the root and branch of the club is planted firmly in the “whichever way the wind blows” philosophy of management.

Appoint somebody, let them take the praise and the blame and then move on to whoever is next and give them the freedom to do whatever they want in an endless cycle of diminishing returns and badly spent cash and goodwill.

Good football and good results will paper over the cracks for a while (and the signs are at least positive that Dos Santos has an intelligently thought through idea of how to achieve both of those) but “Sunderland ‘Til I Die” is a litany of good people being shackled by a bad environment and, while Vancouver aren’t quite at the irredeemable stage just yet, next season does feel like the last chance to get things right before there’s just no turning back at all.

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.