The Bizzaro Whitecaps

I must have walked past this doorway thirty times
Just trying to catch your eye
You made it all worthwhile when you returned my smile

Back in the day it was often said of The Wedding Present that they were every Smiths’ fans second favourite indie guitar band.

But, now that time and trouble have turned Morrissey’s heartfelt paeans to the sweetness of loneliness into something more akin to the bitter rantings of white privilege, it’s safe to say that The Wedding Present have moved up a place in the odes to unrequited love standings.

And watching the first game of of football played at BC Place since all this began carried the heady scent of lost love amid the sound of the ball hitting a boot and the steady hum of fake crowd noise.

Did I just get a glimpse of where I usually sit? Maybe if the camera pans around a little more I can see it? Was that somebody from the TV crew sitting where I should be? A strangers behind in my favourite seat?

Of all the games since sport resumed this one felt the most disconcerting.

It probably also felt disconcerting because the Whitecaps won a game and, while the performance didn’t merit the three points it behooves us to concentrate on the good given how long it’s been since anything good happened just about anywhere.

Firstly, Lucas Cavallini scored a goal. The kind of close range finish that was supposed to be his trademark by now. Perhaps that will kick start a scoring run? But he is still mostly isolated up front with nobody to link up with. No Bogart to his Bacall. And Ali Adnan’s crossing can’t do all the heavy lifting when it comes to creating chances.

The real standout player though was Michael Baldisimo. He sat deep. He wanted the ball. He wanted to play the ball forward when he got it. He scored a pile driver from the edge of the box.

If the Whitecaps can figure out how to give him options to pass to when he is in possession then Baldisimo may grow as a player in the next few months. But he needs the ball at his feet and not to be constantly chasing back as the opposition mount yet another attacking foray (Memo to Self: Remember to keep it positive!)

It was also good to see Erik Godoy back, even if it was out of position and for just one half and Derek Cornelius looks more and more like the kind of solid central defender the team need him to be.

And while Thomas Hasal’s ability to save shots was never in doubt, last night he looked more comfortable coming for crosses and set-pieces than he has done thus far.

So, in the end, it was a much needed three points and, while even the staunchest supporter surely wouldn’t have the brass neck to claim that all was now right in the Whitecaps world, even a dalliance with victory is a reminder that anyone can make a mistake and we just need to continue to be honest in how we assess this team.

Thanks.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Hasal-6, Godoy-4, Adnan-6, Cornelius-5.5, Rose-4.5, Teibert-4.5, Owusu-5, Baldisimo-6*, Milinkovic-4.5, Cavallini-5.5, Bair-4 (Nerwinski-5)

Vancouver Whitecaps: Accepting Chaos

The MlsisBack tournament is a terrible idea.

Sending a bunch of professional athletes to live and work in one of Americas hottest of Covid hotspots is spectacularly dumb.

Throw in the ingredients that two of the teams have had to drop out entirely, many of the league’s bigger stars have decided that not attending was the wiser course of action and that games are being rearranged on a seemingly hourly basis and the whole thing should be a recipe for disaster and embarrassment.

And yet the games have been stupidly entertaining.

The combination of player exhaustion, ill prepared defences and the general chaos that encircles many an MLS game has led to a mixture of tension and laugh out loud comedy that have made the whole thing somewhat irresistible.

It may all still collapse in a heap of metaphorical rubble of course but, for now, the whole thing is a testament to how sport continues to overcome the ineptitude of sport administrators.

So, given all this madness, should we be too harsh on the Whitecaps following their 4-3 debacle against San Jose? They were without key forwards who could have held the ball up and bought the defence time as well as taking even more advantage of a disaster prone San Jose defensive system.

A Cavallini, Montero or Ricketts could have been a difference maker.

But the problem for those of us who follow the Whitecaps is that we have been through this move before.

Failure to take advantage of the weakness of the opposition, failure to think that leading in a game gives players freedom rather than imposing asphyxiating restrictions and failure to use the players on the bench in a way that makes any kind of sense.

Marc Dos Santos has claimed that he is reluctant ti use young players who haven’t earned their time. But that shouldn’t be at the expense of older players who are out on their feet.

The final minutes against San Jose were crying out for fresh legs who could close down the opposition and protect the defence. Sometimes it’s okay to be pragmatic rather than principled.

And speaking of pragmatism.

The news that Russell Teibert has signed a new contract through to 2023 can only be met with a shrug of vague indifference.

No team who want to be challengers in MLS would have Teibert as a regular starter, but most teams would probably be happy to have him in the squad.

And the Canadian has become the footballing equivalent of an annoying Christmas song.

You start off thinking “What’s the point of this?”, transition to “Oh this again?”, before settling on the realization that its continued occurrence provides a strangely comforting sense of familiarity and nostalgia in a world that is constantly changing.

The Whitecaps “journey” through the tournament could end tonight against the Seattle Sounders.

The Sounders have been as poor as the Whitecaps in their two games so far, but it’s likely that the extra game under their belt and the general sense that they want to win the tournament rather than survive, it doesn’t bode well for Vancouver.

Maybe there’s another night of craziness ahead to confound our expectations, but nobody could really blame the Vancouver players if they weren’t thinking longingly of a flight back to Canada and the sweet, sweet release of fourteen days of quarantine.

Whitecaps fail to press home their advantage

The final home game of the Vancouver Whitecaps regular season turned out to be the perfect distillation of Carl Robinson’s coaching philosophy.

Call it “fine lines” if you want to, but really it’s about creating a game state in which the team will possibly win but, more importantly, probably not lose.

That’s worked well over the regular season with the odd bounce here and there determining the difference between a top two or a top six finish, but as we found out two years ago in the playoffs it really doesn’t work so well when a win is needed.

That’s because there’s no extra gear to turn to, no change of pace or plan to throw the opposition off balance and that’s what was missing in the 1-1 tie with the Earthquakes on Sunday afternoon at BC Place.

The Whitecaps got a precious first half lead thanks to a well worked goal involving Techera, Nerwinski and a Reyna finish but the second half  was all about San Jose pressing forward and Vancouver looking to hit on the break.

Robinson will probably point to the chances his team missed in that second period but if you live by the sword of fine lines you will eventually die by it too.

The visitors inevitably drew level and, apart from a five minutes surge of desperation at the end, the Whitecaps offered nothing to indicate they could turn the game around.

Put that down to the insistence on maintaining two central midfielders who aren’t capable of getting forward or playing incisive passes (and in the case of Tony Tchani often not capable of playing simple passes) and the decision to once again use Alphonso Davies as the first substitute when he’s offered nothing of attacking value since his appearance in the Gold Cup.

Robinson may have a legitimate reason to want his players to play by the numbers but that shouldn’t mean his coaching decisions have to be equally unimaginative and predictable.

In the end the Whitecaps hung on for a point and no doubt retired to the locker room to discover that their Cascadian rivals had each won their own important home games by the score of four goals to nil.

No way the Whitecaps are going to be lulled into that kind of goal scoring madness but the way they once again retreated into the shell of defensive passivity when the game was on the line bodes ill for next week’s trip to Portland.

Lose that and they face the home “play in” game that seemed impossible to achieve just a couple of weeks ago.

Robinson was at least brave in making the decision to replace Ousted and Harvey with the more in form Marinovic and de Jong,  but that courage counts for nought if the whole ethos of the team remains the same.

Who knows what dramas and horrors await us in the next couple of weeks but we can at least enjoy the rich irony of knowing that Robinson’s inherent caution is once again the very thing that has imperilled the chances of his team.

And what’s the point of sport if it’s not to enjoy rich, rich irony?

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Marinovic-6.5, de Jong-6, Parker-6, Waston-6, Nerwinski-6, Ghazal-5.5, Tchani-4.5, Techera-5.5, Shea-5.5, Reyna-6, Montero-6

 

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?

Yes.

Here we go then.

Now?

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?

No.

Okay. Bye.

Bye.

 

MLS: A Journey in Space and Time

The news that the BBC have announced Jodie Whittaker (A woman!) to play the role of the thirteenth Doctor Who means two things.

Firstly, it’s probably best to avoid Twitter for a while as many “traditionalists” will be undergoing a collective meltdown.

Secondly (And far more importantly) it also means that the BBC seem to have rejected my idea for a new time travelling hero “Doctor Today! (It’s always today where he is)”.

But never mind for I will now be pitching a series of scripts for the new Doctor based around characters in Major League Soccer.

The crossover potential is huge and should also enable the BBC to tap into a whole new demographic of transatlantic sports fans.

I don’t want to give too much away at the moment but here are just a few of the villains the new Doctor will be encountering in the upcoming season.

The Dempsey- Raised in the mining caves of the planet Thworg the Dempsey are a sullen and hollow-eyed race of slow-witted workers who unexpectedly stumble upon the plans to a cyber technology that will transform them into unstoppable killing machines.

Too stupid to realize this however they immediately tear up these plans and go back to working in the caves.

In the final scene the Doctor makes a moving speech about how humanity can still be found in even the simplest of alien life forms before blowing up the whole planet and sending the Dempsey into sweet, sweet oblivion.

The Bradley– A super race of dome-headed killers from the planet Thwug the Bradley hound the Doctor to the very edges of time itself, constantly complaining about her decision to park the Tardis a little bit to the left of where the Bradley thought it should be.

The Doctor eventually defeats the Bradley by using her Sonic Screwdriver to remove their vocal chords thus taking away their sole reason to exist.

The Teibert- Perhaps the most terrifying of all the Doctor’s new foes the Teibert are a shape-shifting race of mind-melders from the planet Thwog.

The Doctor’s attempts to interrogate the Teibert on why they are so hell-bent on destroying the universe receives nothing but the bone chilling and soulless reply “That question is canceled” over and over again.

The younger kids will be having nightmares after this one.

The Porter- The Porter are an obnoxious and paranoid race from the planet Thwag. Their constant attempts to ingratiate themselves with species of a higher intellect provides one of the more comic episodes of the new season.

And the final scene in which the Doctor rebuffs an attempted high-five from the Porter should be a gift to GIF makers for many a year to come.

The Robinson- The Robinson are a race of super androids created by the former rulers of the planet Thwig many light years ago.

But the Thwig civilization has long since perished and the Robinson programming has now degraded to such a degree that they are only able to utter a few random and meaningless phrases.

“Fine lines”, “This will make us stronger” and “You have to get that right” are just a few of the catchphrases destined to be chanted in the playgrounds of Britain in 2018.

The Doctor finally defeats the Robinson by changing her plan of attack halfway through the episode.

There will be more updates on the new Doctor and MLS crossover franchise accord as they become available, but don’t forget to also look out for the Doctor’s new companion VAR, a sentient computer system who somehow manages to get far more things wrong than he really should.