Vancouver Whitecaps set sail in the playoffs

Who are you and what have you done with the Vancouver Whitecaps?

The Whitecaps finally did what they’ve never really threatened to do all season and took an opposition team apart at BC Place as they cruised to a 5-0 victory over the San Jose Earthquakes in the post-season “play in” game on Wednesday evening.

In retrospect the game was only really a cruise for the final thirty minutes because up until that point it had been more of pedalo ride on a park lake; not in any way threatening but not really promising high jinx and parties either.

The first half was stereotypically tense for a playoff game but a Fredy Montero headed goal from a set-piece was enough to give Vancouver the lead at half-time.

The Earthquakes began the second-half with purpose but then a fantastic Cristian Techera free-kick effectively ended their resolve.

Throw in a Kendall Waston tap in (also from a set-piece) and two Nicolas Mezquida strikes and everybody following the home team headed out into the Vancouver night with a song in their heart and a spring in their step.

Perhaps the only real surprise in Carl Robinson’s starting eleven was the inclusion of Christian Bolaños who was particularly poor in Portland but clearly the coach felt the night was made for experience over tactical experimentation and though the Costa Rican didn’t completely cover himself in glory his ability (compulsion?) to slow the game down proved particularly useful once the lead was achieved.

Shout out too to Marcel de Jong who was a frequent outlet on the left side and even offered more than one dangerous foray forward as a nice counterweight to Jake Nerwinski on the right.

The only area of concern from such a great evening is that Yordy Reyna followed up his own poor performance against the Timbers with another game where he searched in vain to find his touch and though his set-piece delivery was still top-notch it seems likely the Whitecaps will need at least one moment of magic from Reyna if they are to progress beyond the Seattle Sounders in the next contest.

Can they do that?

Well the worst case scenario is that the club as a whole feel that the elusive playoff win is achievement enough and take their foot off the gas and eye off the ball for the next two games.

The best case scenario is that they use this win as a springboard to even better things.

And, for a few hours at least, we’re all allowed to believe that the best case scenario is entirely possible.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Marinovic-6, Nerwinski-6, de Jong-6.5, Waston-6.5, Parker-6, Ghazal-6, Tchani-5.5, Bolaños-6, Techera-6, Reyna-5.5, Montero-6, (Mezquida-6.5, Shea-6) 



Vancouver Whitecaps Win Again

Carl Robinson’s “Year of Great Experimentation” continued in the Canadian Championship on Wednesday evening as the Whitecaps beat the Montreal Impact 2-1 in the first leg of the tie.

This time around Robinson went with three at the back (de Jong, de Wit and Seiler)and then “something else” for the rest of the positions.

Jake Nerwinski was playing right wing back, Alphonso Davies was a midfielder with defensive responsibilities on the left, Teibert and McKendry were sitting in the middle and Rosales and Mezquida were constantly switching positions behind Brek Shea.

For the sake of simplicity let’s call it a 3-1.25-1.25-1-1.25-0.5-1.75-1 formation.

Whatever it was though it certainly worked well in the first half as the Whitecaps cruised to a 2-0 lead thanks to goals from Davies and Mezquida.

Nerwinski was a constant danger on the right, Teibert and McKendry were busy and neat (In that order) in the centre and the front three/four always looked capable of unlocking the Montreal backline.

Things changed for the worst in the second half however and that was down to one of three, two of three or three of three things.

Maybe the Impact worked out how to get behind that back three by playing diagonal balls out wide, maybe Mezquida, Rosales, Shea and Davies all tired quite suddenly or maybe the youngsters at the heart of the defensive effort suddenly found themselves lacking a little big game experience?

By the final whistle Spencer Richey (Who often looked a little reticent when coming out to meet the ball) had saved a penalty and made a last-ditch last-minute save with his feet to keep the lead alive.

Retrospect may tell Robinson that having one or two experienced players on the bench may have been a better move than completely filling it with youngsters and hopefully retrospect will also mention that Brek Shea definitely isn’t a lone target man.

The American was often caught offside when there was no need to be and just doesn’t possess the physicality or skill set to play that role.

In the end though it’s another win at BC Place in a largely entertaining game and though the second leg still hangs precariously in the balance the weight of that balance is just about tipped to the side of the good guys.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Richey-6.5, Nerwisnki-7*, de Wit-6, Seiler-6, de Jong-6.5, Teibert-6, McKendry-6, Rosales-6.5, Davies-7, Mezquida-6, Shea-5.5


Whitecaps soar before falling in San Jose

Ken Loach isn’t a great movie director but he has directed some great movies.

True, there’s a certain Cinéma vérité about his style but, primarily, he’s concerned with substance over style and that substance is mostly about the heartbreaking futility of working class people trying to negotiate a system that is explicitly set up to thwart their dreams.

A generation of British schoolchildren grew up watching Loach’s film “Kes” in which a boy escapes the trials of his mining village upbringing by finding, nurturing and training a young kestrel.

In those moments in which he watches the bird soar he glimpses a kind of redemption for himself; the possibility that a frail and injured thing can somehow live magnificently in the world.

Then one day he comes home and finds that his elder brother has snapped the kestrel’s neck and left it dead in a trash can.

Cheers Ken! Life lesson learned!

Anybody who has seen the new “Rise Up Rain City” segment that’s played on the big screen before the Whitecaps home games this season will have noticed the Loachian influence.

The dreariness of the city, the players miserable and clearly pining for warmer climes they will never attain and a bedraggled pigeon standing sadly in a dirty puddle.

It doesn’t quite end with Alphonso Davies finding the pigeon in a trash can with a snapped neck but that’s the general tenure.

The system, it seems to say, will always thwart your dreams.

And that feels apt for the team this season because they are still battling to find a way to get the best out of themselves.

In San Jose on Saturday evening they raced into a two goal lead over the Earthquakes before a defensive mix up between Kendall Waston and Christian Dean enticed David Ousted to rush out of his penalty area and leave a trailing leg to bring down Chris Wondolowski and earn a red card.

At that time nobody thought that the player to bring off was Nicolas Mezquida. After all the Uruguayan is one of the hardest working players in the team and often proves to be a very effective first line of defence.

Much better to remove one of the more defensively limited forwards such as Techera  or Manneh.

I say “nobody” thought that but it’s actually not true because one person did think exactly that and, unfortunately for the Whitecaps, that person happened to be Carl Robinson and his reputaion for not being able to make effective in game decisions took yet another hit.

There was a sense of inevitability about the subsequent three goals with Manneh failing to track back for the second and Russell Teibert failing to close down for the third and a bright start was left amounting to nothing.

Robinson does get some credit for fielding a weakened starting eleven that was able to make such an impressive start but he was as complicit in undoing that good start just as much as his players were.

And right now it feels as though he’s forcing those players into a system that seems explicitly designed to thwart their strengths.

In the post game interview Robinson went on at some length about how important it was for the officials to make the correct call on the big decisions.

Right back at you Carl.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Ousted-4, Nerwinski-5.5, Waston-5, Dean-5, Harvey-5.5- Teibert-5, McKendry-5.5, Manneh-4, Techera-4.5, Mezquida-6, Hurtado-6* (Tornaghi-5)