Gone Laba Gone?

Any good therapist will tell you that when faced with an unpleasant situation the best thing to do is to ignore it completely until it goes away.

And that’s how we must all deal with the Whitecaps 1-0 defeat to New England at the weekend.

We must never speak of it again.

But what will we speak of?

Well, let’s just shoot the breeze on a few different topics should we?


Here we go then.


Yes, now.

Laba leaving?- Rumours are a-swirling that offers are a-brewing for midfielder Matias Laba.

There was a time when losing Laba would feel like a hole being blown right through the heart of the team but now his salary hit and the acquisitions of Tchani and Ghazal would make his loss feel a lot less painful.

And, like quite a few others, Laba hasn’t really grown as a player during his time in Vancouver so it’s yet another move that might be best for all parties.

And not just Laba? The signing of Stefan Marinovic is clearly a move made to deal with the expected departure of David Ousted and with Jordan Harvey in the last year of his contract and Christian Bolaños failing to turn back the hands of time (and with a World Cup year coming up) it’s tempting to think that their recent omissions are as much to do with positioning for their leaving as it is to rest them.

All speculation of course but there does seem to be the odd sense that the Whitecaps are a team in transition just as the business end of the season kicks into gear.

It will be interesting to see how Carl Robinson manages such a situation.

VAR has a bad weekend-  This is a great summary of just what went wrong with the Video Assistant Referee program over the recent games.

I was innately sceptical of the move when it was announced but the first weekend reassured me somewhat given how effectively it was used.

There was always the fear of unintended consequences however and they have reared their ugly head(s) with a vengeance.

One of the skills of a referee is that he has to manage a game and that means that certain calls are made differently during different games (and even during the same game should the situation require it).

VAR offers no such subtlety and places the already pressurised ref under even more pressure by forcing him to make a decision he doesn’t really want to make.

Maybe a solution would be to always pair the same ref and  VAR together to allow them to build up some kind of working relationship?

But whatever the solution it needs to be addressed to prevent the somewhat ironic outcome of the man in the middle losing even more of his authority in the eyes of the players and the fans.

Doing the business at home- We’ve all spent countless hours wondering just why the Whitecaps are so bad at breaking down teams at BC Place but one obvious reason is that they are incapable of forcing the opponent to lose their defensive shape.

In theory the arrival of Jordy Reyna should help that.

His willingness to drop deep to pick up the ball offers far more of a challenge than the tried and tested low percentage long ball over the top of the defence.

And if he and Tchani and Jacobson can somehow find a way to link up the defence with the midfield and the midfield with the forward line then we may not be faced with the frustrating sight of Vancouver desperately hoping for a last minute set-piece to solve their inability to score goals in their own stadium.

Is that  it?

Yes, that’s it.

You sure?

Yes, I’m positive. You can go now.

You’re not going to carry on when I leave?


Okay. Bye.



The Laba Conundrum

Time for a tactical thought experiment in the mental laboratory (or should that be the Laba-ratory?).

No don’t stop reading now! It gets better! (Spoiler alert: It really doesn’t).

Matias Laba wasn’t alone in underperforming for the Vancouver Whitecaps in 2016 but it could be argued that his underperformance hurt the team most of all.

In the previous seasons Laba had been both a shield and midfield destroyer for the team and the absence of those qualities played no small part in the dreadful defensive performance of 2016.

But the kind of player Laba is offers its own problems for Carl Robinson.

Take a look at these two shots of his defensive performance against Seattle and San Jose at the tail end of the season



Laba may be a defensive midfielder but he’s not a holding midfielder. He doesn’t just sit in front of the back four protecting them because his game is about following the ball.

Perhaps the player Laba most resembles (in style if not in quality) is N’Golo Kanté the former Leicester and now Chelsea midfielder.

Like Laba, Kanté is about chasing down the opposition rather than waiting for them to come to him and he was hugely successful playing that style with Leicester and is developing similar success this year with Chelsea.

So what can the Whitecaps learn about the way Kanté has been used to get the best out of Laba? There are probably three main options.

Kanté worked for Leicester because they were primarily a counter attacking team and his ability to break up play was invaluable in such a system. But this was reliant on there always being defensive cover for Kanté no matter where he was on the field (usually Danny Drinkwater).

Of course Laba was equally successful last season in a counter attacking team because he had Gershon Koffie to cover for him.

So one option is for the Whitecaps to revert to what they were good at; put Jacobson, Teibert or McKendry alongside Laba and hope that a new number ten and a new striker are more capable of breaking down packed defences than the team were at the tail end of 2015.

Kanté’s success at Chelsea is partly because he has Matic as defensive cover and partly because Chelsea have now adapted to play three central defenders.

So Kanté can wander wherever he needs to because the middle of the pitch is always covered.

Playing three central defenders would solve one of Carl Robinson’s major selection headaches and allow him to field all three of Waston, Parker and Edgar (and the current backups of Dean and Seiler are more than adequate for MLS).

He also has the players to play as more attacking wing backs in Harvey and Levis on the left and Aird on the right (although an upgrade and cover on the right certainly wouldn’t hurt).

Again this would eliminate the need for a “box to box” midfielder and make the acquisition of a number ten and a striker the sole priorities.

The third option is to not use Laba at all.

Despite a poor season he’s still highly thought of in MLS and there would no shortage of teams willing to trade.

So cashing in on Laba and (hopefully) finding a central midfielder who can chip in with six or more goals a season and add a much needed attacking string to the Whitecaps’ bow isn’t an impossible dream.

The best option of these three?

That entirely depends on how Carl Robinson wants his team to play but the very worst thing he could do is to ignore the type of player Laba actually  is and leave both him and the team caught between the rock of a misused DP and the hard place of carelessly wasted salary spending.