Vancouver Whitecaps end the season on a high

The Vancouver Whitecaps game against the Portland Timbers on Sunday afternoon at BC Place felt a bit like the last day of a particularly disappointing vacation.

That day trip to the historic village? Tourist trap full of tourist tat. That fish restaurant everybody recommended? Food poisoning. That cruise around the charming harbour? Thirty minutes on a barely renovated car ferry.

Yet on the last day of the whole vacation you not only stumble across the best beach party ever but you also finally get some “quality time” with that guy/gal you’ve been helplessly staring at for the last seven days.

Okay, the Whitecaps 4-1 win over the Portland Timbers wasn’t quite that good but it did at least ease away a little bit of the pain of all that had gone before.

And that easing of pain was helped even more thanks to four of the best goals of the season; a left foot rocket and a right foot pass into the net from Giles Barnes, a howitzer from Pedro Morales and a twisting run from Nicolas Mezquida.

A churl would say that the Timbers (who haven’t won on the road all year) just weren’t very good, but Vancouver have managed to lose to not very good teams all season.

That same churl would also say that being able to produce your best performance when there was nothing of any significance on the line was actually a sign of weakness rather than strength.

But the Cascadia Cup and a little bit of pride were on the line and the trick for Carl Robinson and his coaching staff is to learn the right lessons from the game and not the wrong ones (and if there were an end of season award for stating the obvious then that sentence would easily sweep all before it).

The wrong lesson to be learned is that there are no fundamental issues with this team that can’t be fixed with a small attitude adjustment and a little bit of luck.

The issues run far deeper than that.

The right lesson to be learned is that playing a lone striker can work if the lone striker works as hard as Erik Hurtado (but with a better end product) and if each one of the three behind him is constantly willing to offer support when the ball goes forward.

It also doesn’t hurt to actively try to add to a lead rather than to hope one goal will always be enough.

But there’ll be time enough in the coming weeks and months to delve into what needs to change (a lot) and who needs to leave (a few) because today we can all sit back and relax as our metaphorical plane takes off from our metaphorical runway and our metaphorical whimper of  a vacation comes to an end with an unexpected metaphorical bang.

But seriously let’s never go back to that place again.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings

Ousted-6, Aird-7, Waston-6, Parker-6, Harvey-6, Laba-6, Morales-7, Bolaños 7, Mezquida-7, Hurtado-6, Barnes-7*

 

A fitting end to a fitful season for the Whitecaps

It was fitting that the Vancouver Whitecaps shambolic season ended in a game which featured two red cards, two penalty kicks, some dubious refereeing decisions and a finale which found the home team adopting chaos theory as a form of tactical approach.

Carl Robinson may be fond of arguing that “formations don’t matter” but this was taking things to the nth degree.

The game ended with a 2-1 defeat to the Seattle Sounders meaning that Vancouver are finally and officially eliminated from the playoff picture and that their current home record is an astonishingly bad five wins, five losses and six ties.

Five home wins in an MLS season is one way to guarantee a terrible year and the Whitecaps have nothing left to play for in their remaining two games other than the pride that too few of them have shown throughout the season thus far.

The game actually began quite well for Vancouver as a nice piece of play from Alphonso Davies resulted in a penalty kick which Pedro Morales slotted home with ease.

So this would be the perfect opportunity to go ahead and try to finish off a Sounders team who were missing both Dempsey and Lodeiro right?

On the contrary.

The Whitecaps immediately lost all interest in attacking and sat back to allow the visitors to find a foothold in the game, which they did through an Ossie Alonso goal in the thirty-ninth minute.

For the rest of the half the Whitecaps suddenly woke up again but when Jordan Harvey spurned a great chance to restore the lead just before the break the omens weren’t good.

It’s hard to know if their reluctance to press on after taking the lead is down to the players on the field or the instructions off it but, whatever the reason, it’s a flaw that desperately needs to be remedied next season.

The Whitecaps began the second half in their characteristically lethargic style and the game only really came back to life once Pedro Morales was red carded for an “elbow” in the fifty-third minute.

I say “elbow” because it was the kind of challenge that would have been a yellow card (at most) in a CONCACAF game, but the Captain has been around the league long enough to know how MLS refs operate so he probably has less cause to complain than it initially seemed.

Even down to ten men the Whitecaps weren’t that troubled by a prosaic Seattle side but a hard hit cross hit Jordan Harvey on the hand and the subsequent penalty-kick was dispatched to drive the final nail into the Whitecaps playoff coffin.

To be fair to Robinson he did throw all hands on deck at this stage (too little too late?) as he moved to three at the back but by now the game more resembled a pick up game in a local park than it did any kind of professional display.

It’s tempting to say that this was the latest in a long line of disappointing performances from this Vancouver team but the time for disappointments has passed.

We can no longer be disappointed because this is exactly who they are; a group of players who collectively just aren’t good enough for Major League Soccer.

Big changes are needed in the next few months.

Time for the Soccer Shorts Player Ratings.

Ousted-6, Smith-6, Edgar-6-, Parker-5, Harvey-5, Laba-6, Morales-5, Bolaños-6, Davies-6*, Hurtado 5, Barnes-4

 

 

The Vancouver Whitecaps accept chaos

There are some games of football that can be broken down into tactical match ups or can easily be seen to have turned on a specific incident or two.

Then there are those that seem only to exist to confirm the fact that we live in a meaningless universe devoid of meaning and/or coherence.

The Vancouver Whitecaps 3-3 tie with the Colorado Rapids at BC Place on Saturday slotted firmly into the latter category.

In (yet another) must win game the Whitecaps were (yet again) listless and unimaginative in the first half and (yet again) conceded a goal in which at least three players probably had some kind of culpability and (yet again) Carl Robinson decided to give all eleven of those listless and unimaginative players another fifteen or twenty minutes to put things right.

This time around though that philosophy actually worked as Kendall Waston headed home a Bolaños corner in the fifty-first minute and suddenly it was game on again.

Except it wasn’t because less than five minutes later a simple ball over the top of the Whitecaps defence induced Waston into bringing down Badji and Gashi slotted home the resulting penalty kick.

Then just when it felt as though the whole stadium was drifting into a pleasant autumnal slumber Pedro Morales cropped up in the opposition penalty area and scored a goal from open play and suddenly it was game on again.

Except it wasn’t because less than five minutes later Gashi slammed home a great free-kick for the Rapids and that was that.

Except it wasn’t because with the last meaningful touch of the game Erik Hurtado headed home a Jordan Harvey cross and we were level once again.

Never was a last minute equalizer greeted with such a mixture of consternation, celebration and confusion. Mainly because it was all too little too late to save the season.

If this game does anything then hopefully it will finally put to rest any lingering ideas that this Whitecaps squad has any kind of genuine fight or character in them.

It’s remarkably easy to show fight and character when you are down to ten men with your backs against the wall.

There’s noting to lose and nobody will blame you if you fail.

Teams with actual fight and teams with actual character display those virtues from the first whistle and take games like this one by the scruff of the neck and wrestle them to the ground until they are begging for mercy.

The current Whitecaps squad wouldn’t know the scruff of the neck of a game if it came up to them in the street and slapped them in the face with a wet fish (although to be fair such an occurrence would be both terrifying and symptomatic of some kind of psychotic and hallucinatory episode so we should probably give them a pass on that particular scenario).

Should we mention the substitutions?

Parker for Smith and Jacobson for Bolaños felt odd in a game that the team simply had to win but then again they worked in that the Whitecaps did get back into the game.

Leaving Mezquida on the bench until the eighty-fourth minute felt equally odd when he provides energy, work rate and the possibility of creating a goal scoring threat but, as we posited at the start, this wasn’t a game that made much sense at all anyway.

All the Whitecaps have to play for now in MLS is the Cascadia Cup and three games against teams who are battling for playoff spots which at least gives the opportunity to enjoy an element of schadenfreude (insert joke about Schadenfreude being a decent box to box midfielder here).

Time then for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Ousted-5, Smith-5, Edgar-5, Waston-4, Harvey-5, Morales-6, Laba-6, Bolaños-6, Davies-6, Barnes-6*, Hurtado-5

Vancouver Whitecaps as good as done

Carl Robinson has clearly decided that the fate of the 2016 season will hinge on the form of Pedro Morales.

The captain has done nothing in recent weeks (or months) to justify a starting position but a starting position was once again handed to him for the crucial Cascadia derby against the Seattle Sounders.

Did the Whitecaps lose 1-0 specifically because Morales was in the starting eleven? No. But his presence lessened the possibility of such a win.

For whatever reason Morales has become incapable of providing any kind of attacking threat or even creativity and so he (once again) became an attacking and defensive void during the game at Century Link Field.

Andrew Jacobson isn’t the greatest player in the world but he does at least provide a little bit of everything when he’s on the field and, given that the Whitecaps looked most threatening on the counter attack, an additional player who could break up Seattle’s forward moves could have been invaluable.

Yet for all that Vancouver did create chances and, on anther day, may have come away with at least a point but a forward line led by Erik Hurtado is probably always going to need more than one or two gilt edged opportunities to seal the deal.

And the crux of the problem is right there.

A journeyman midfielder feels like a better option than the highest paid DP and a journeyman forward is keeping far higher paid attackers on the bench (Kudo and Barnes in particular).

The Whitecaps just aren’t getting value for their money in a league where every dollar spent needs to be spent wisely.

Whether that’s down to the individual players, coaching decisions or just poor recruitment is a debate for another day.

Yet it’s not inconceivable that the Whitecaps could win their four remaining games (they may even play better once the pressure is perceived to be off) but realistically those games are about reclaiming the Cascadia Cup and restoring a little bit of pride in the overall standings.

Some players are probably playing for their place at the club next season too but if they only decide to start playing for that place at the dog end of a season gone by then they won’t be worth keeping anyway.

So don’t put a fork in this team or this season just yet but you can definitely open the cutlery drawer and start selecting your implement of choice.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Osuted-6, Smith-5, Waston-6*, Edgar-6, Harvey-6, Laba-6, Morales-4, Techera-5, Bolaños-5, Mezquida-6, Hurtado-6 (Barnes-6) 

 

 

Whitecaps still searching for the formula

Okay here we go.

The Whitecaps 1-0 defeat to the New York Red Bulls on Saturday afternoon was the latest installment in Carl Robinson’s “How can I mess around with the lineup and formation in order to play an out of form and out of sorts Pedro  Morales?”.

In this episode Morales was back to the number ten role he has struggled with whenever he has played there and this also meant a move away from the two up front system which has actually been somewhat successful in the last two games and a return to the dreaded 4-2-3-1 which has been somewhat less than successful for the whole of the season.

So in a game the Whitecaps had to win they began with two defensive midfielders, a number ten who isn’t very good in the number ten role and a lone striker (Erik Hurtado) who isn’t very good at finishing.

Can you guess how it went?

Well it turned out that all those other times when Pedro Morales had been ineffective as the forward most play maker weren’t aberrations at all and he was once again ineffective and was substituted with thirty minutes still remaining.

And it also turned out that all those other times when Erik Hurtado hadn’t been very good at finishing weren’t aberrations either as he put in one of the most astonishing forward displays you will ever see.

Hurtado missed glorious chance after glorious chance (and “glorious” really isn’t hyperbole in this instance) and what made those misses even more amazing is that not once did he force the goalkeeper to make a save.

By the time he missed his final opportunity in the dying seconds he had taken us through a range of emotions including, anger, hilarity, despair and empathy. In a strange way it was almost great art.

But we all know what Erik Hurtado is. He’s a limited striker who never stops running and never stops working who has proven himself useful as one of a pair up front, especially in recent weeks.

So playing him as the sole focal point of the attack is akin to setting him up to fail and after sixty minutes (probably earlier) it was clear that Saturday wasn’t going to be his day and while leaving him on the field probably felt supportive it was actually the worst decision that could have been made for the player and his confidence.

Speaking of bad decisions referee Sorin Stoica put in one of the worst officiating performances you will ever see as his whistle constantly cut through the air like a whistle cutting through air.

If no blow of the accursed instrument was needed he opted for one, if just one was required then Stoica went for two or three.

There was also his bizarre decision to have a lengthy chat with at least one player before every set piece which certainly didn’t help the flow of the game and exacerbated one of the worst examples of in game management you will ever see.

The highlight of his night though was presumably sending Carl Robinson to the stands for disputing a throw in call just before the interval.

As it turned out Robinson should probably send him a note of thanks as at least it offered the coach something else to talk about other than his team’s appalling form and if the incident persuades both him and the rest of the bench to spend as much time telling their own players what they are doing wrong as they do the game officials then maybe some good will come of it.

Needless top say the Red Bulls scored with their only real chance of the game and with ten minutes remaining the Whitecaps pulled out all the stops by putting on two attacking players (effectively for two other attacking players while still maintaining those two vitally important defensive midfielders but still).

Whenever the word “mathematically” is used in a sentence about a team’s season then that season is pretty much over and that’s where we are now with the Whitecaps.

And all before Labour Day too. Who would have thought?

 

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Ousted-6, Smith-6, Harvey-6, Parker-6, Jacobson-5, Teibert-5, Laba-6, Morales-4, Techera-5-Aird-6*- Hurtado-\infty .

 

Pedro Morales: There he goes…

We can probably all agree that the Nick Cave song “There She Goes My Beautiful World” is a song about song writing.

Or, at the very least, we can agree that it’s a song about searching for the inspiration to write a song even though we may disagree about who or what the object of the song actually is.

There are those who would argue that it’s a straight forward love song with the minor twist that his love is founded on the fact the woman is the inspiration for his writing.

Then there are those who would say that the “she” in the song is actually the song itself and that what Cave is really in love with is the act of creativity (much of the lyrics are taken up with describing the circumstance in which other writers created their craft).

There’s no right answer of course although the latter interpretation is more satisfyingly pretentious (which kind of suits Cave’s music in a way).

But how on earth does this relate to Pedro Morales?

Well there are certainly times when he feels like the only “interesting” Whitecap to write about from a tactical point of view if only because what you see isn’t always what you get and what you get isn’t always what you see.

Take the recent road game in LA for example.

If asked after their game how involved Morales was then I would almost certainly have gone with “barely”, “marginally” or “sporadically” depending on my linguistic mood at the time.

Yet when I look at the actual stats it turns out that no Whitecaps player played more passes than Morales throughout the game (and it`s not even particularly  close as to who comes second).

Now I could certainly argue that many of those passes were ineffectual and lacking incisiveness in the final third, but the superficial notion that Morales was barely, marginally or sporadically involved was clearly wrong.

But that does make me hark back to something Jason de Vos (former TSN analyst and now Director of Development of Canada Soccer) said last season.

Namely that the Whitecaps were too reliant on their Captain to the extent that almost everything went through him and that made them both easier to defend against (because they were too predictable) and effectively nullified Morales’ greatest strength which is his ability to hit the first time unexpected pass.

After watching him for almost three seasons it’s fair to say that Morales is one of those players who looks better the better the players around him are (he only really “clicked” with Kenny Miller among all the forwards he’s played with in Vancouver) and while few would describe the Scot as “world class” he did at least make the kind of runs Morales could predict and pick out.

Who is to blame for his failure with the other forwards is a moot point because in MLS the Designated Player has to be able to make an average team good rather than a good team better and Morales just hasn’t done that in the last two seasons.

Yet even though the indications are that Morales will be leaving at the end of this year I doubt that Carl Robinson will be leaving him out of the starting eleven for the remainder of the campaign.

Instead the coach will be hoping that Morales (like Nick Cave) finds that spark of creativity almost from out of the ether but it’s worth bearing in mind that, in the middle of all his pleas to the spirits of writer’s past and muses present, Cave throws in the lines

“If you’ve got a field, that don’t yield, well get up and hoe it
I look at you and you look at me and deep in our hearts know it
That you weren’t much of a muse, but then I weren’t much of a poet”

Finding that indefinable spark isn’t just about waiting for the magic to happen; it’s also about the perspiration over the inspiration and while I think Morales gets a rough ride for the amount of work he puts in (it may not always be effective from a defensive point of view but it is always there) it may be that Robinson just can’t get the best out of him while operating within the limits of the league.

Maybe no coach in MLS could?

 

 

 

Whitecaps fail when the chips are down

Perhaps the worst thing to happen to Carl Robinson at the start of his career as head coach was that so many of his early signings produced positive results on the field.

Morales, Beitashour, Laba, Mezquida, Waston and even Sebastián Fernández provided valuable contributions to Robinson’s first season in charge and created the sense that the Whitecaps had a coach who could pick up quality Designated Players from the lower end of the salary cap spectrum along with bargain buys from Central and South America.

But as the seasons have progressed that has proved to be less and less the case as the likes Rivero, Rodriguez, Smith and Flores have all turned out to be busted flushes when it comes to MLS play.

And the decisions to sign Smith and Flores after both of them struggled for the previous season felt a little like watching a Blackjack player who once got lucky by hitting a two when he already had nineteen in his hand try to recreate that moment with more and more desperation.

Recent signings have indicated a move away from the philosophy that all problems can be solved by a Uruguayan but they are too little too late for this season (and may well be too little for next as well) and when every new player is designed to fix a problem rather than improve the team then glory is most certainly not on the horizon.

Perhaps the best thing to happen to Carl Robinson at this stage of his career as a head coach (and I’m talking long term here) is how much of a disaster this season has been.

If we had to define his core philosophy it would probably be that a happy team is a good team; if a coach stands up for the players then the players will stand up for the coach.

Well that isn’t happening this season as time after time the Whitecaps fade out of games once they fall behind or fail to kill off a team once they get the lead (it is possible for the Whitecaps to take the lead, I’ve checked the record books).

Now there are those who will say, who do say, that these failings are caused because the players don’t care enough about the team or the shirt or the crest, but it seems to be less about caring and more about the lack of concern any of them really have with regard to their position at the club or in the team.

Even the decision to drop Matias Laba for the game in Kansas was signaled so far ahead of time that it can’t really have shaken the player up all that much.

But sooner or later Robinson is surely going to realise (going to have to realise) that some players play well when they are happy and some players play well when they are scared and there just isn’t a one size fits all to getting the best out of a team.

If that message sinks home then the off season should at least be interesting as both he and the Front Office need to come up with a new vision as to what this team actually wants to be.

Anyway all this rambling is to avoid mentioning the 2-0 defeat in Kansas on Saturday evening where the Whitecaps didn’t play that badly but never really looked like scoring and always looked capable of conceding.

That’s how far the bar has fallen this season. A performance like that counts as “not bad”.

Time for the Soccer Shorts Player Ratings.

Ousted-6*, Aird-5, Waston, 5, Edgar-5, de Jong-5, Jacobson-5, Morales-4, Mezquida-4, Bolaños-5, Barnes-6, Perez-4