Copa Del Rey

The year is almost over (I assume you know this already but one must never underestimate the ignorance of one’s readers) and, an inevitable consequence of year end, are those interminable “Best of” lists outlining the “Top 100 YouTube Commercials of 2019” or “The 20 Tweets That Defined The Decade” or some such zeitgeist defining cultural landmarks.

Back in the day, when it came to the “Albums of the Year” lists I would probably own half of them and have a very definite opinion (Unfavourable) on the rest of them. But these days I haven’t even heard the latest from Lil Gel Boy & MC Louis XIV and so feel mostly unqualified to pronounce on this particular list in any meaningful manner.

Except this year one album kept cropping up at the top of said lists. “Norman Fucking Rockwell” by Lana Del Rey.

“Don’t want to listen to that.” I sullenly said to myself, assuming we were dealing with unbearably pretentious angst at best, or unbearably derivative dirges at worst.

But, eventually, I did give it a listen and Jesus fucking Christ “Norman Fucking Rockwell” is a great album.

It certainly could have veered toward pretentious angst and it certainly could have turned into a series of dirges.

But instead NFR avoids the pitfalls and exists in a world of an older, better America. An America where cars and boys were the only things a girl needed and where music held the answer to pretty much every meaningful question.

In many ways the whole album is music about music. Songs about songs. A Beach Boys reference here, an Eagles reference there, a Joni Mitchell hat tip everywhere. A 2019 woman yearning for the simpler times that used to be.

Except Lana Del Rey is too smart for that.

“Give me Hallmark
One dream, one life, one lover
Paint me happy and blue
Norman Rockwell”

She knows those old songs weren’t celebrating real life, but instead offering greeting cards versions of what might be or have been.

“Norman Fucking Rockwell” isn’t an album that yearns for something that is just out of reach but attainable, it’s an album that mourns the loss of what never was.

A lifestyle, a culture, a country that only ever existed within the contact of needle on vinyl.

It’s great songwriting and, in particular, it’s great American songwriting.

And maybe all great American songwriting, maybe all great American art, can only ever live in that purgatory between the America that is and the America that is not?

The Vancouver Whitecaps aren’t specifically mentioned in the album but I do wonder if Lana Del Rey was contemplating the 2019 season when she wrote some of these songs.

For the whole season was marked by a longing for something else.

The ideal idea of a team, a club, that could never exist but offered itself as stark contrast to the forest fire of a season we lived through.

That conflagration combined with the knowledge that such an ideal will never be attained has turned some against the club (possibly forever). But what do those of us who will be back in 2020 want from the year?

Well, setting aside the blatantly obvious and necessary signings, we want an actual on field plan.

You know?

Coach the team toward a system and style of play during the preseason and stick with that for more than one or two games before deciding to revert to a “this might work” philosophy for the rest of the campaign.

Treating every game seriously might help too. Every year the Whitecaps adopt the attitude that the early season games don’t count as much as the late season games and everybody shrugs off a dour 0-0 tie with a visiting east coast team as not really that important.

All the games matter! Three points is three points is three points.

Off the field the club just has to be so much better at pretty much everything. Paying lip service to being better doesn’t count.

Oh well, 2019 is a year everybody around the Whitecaps will be happy to move on from and 2020 still doesn’t exist so we can be optimistic about it until it walks through the door and throws ice cold water into our face.

To paraphrase Lana Del Rey “Hope is a dangerous thing for a Whitecaps fan to have.”

Vancouver Whitecaps out punch the Galaxy

In many ways the LA Galaxy are the Platonic deal of what an MLS team shouldn’t be.

No recognizable tactical plan. No sense of how to defend in anything approaching an organized manner. But shed loads of money thrown at big name forwards who are able to do just enough to force the team into the playoffs and so give them a puncher’s chance of winning the whole caboodle.

But wait.

Because in many ways it’s the Vancouver Whitecaps who are really the Platonic ideal of what an MLS shouldn’t be.

A tactical plan that doesn’t take into account the strengths of the players available.  No sense of how to set up a midfield in anything approaching an organized manner. And no money thrown around to sign big name forwards who are able to do just enough to force the team into the playoffs and so give them a puncher’s chance of winning the whole caboodle.

And the two competing philosophies met in a surprisingly entertaining game in LA on Sunday evening with, somewhat improbably, the Whitecaps beating the Galaxy 4-3 in a contest of who could score the most in a ludicrously open game.

That’s probably being a little harsh on Vancouver in this particular instance because they did at least look as though they had a game plan, which was to negate Ibrahimovic and to always look to hit the Galaxy on the break as quickly as possible.

And it worked (just).

Possibly because for the first time in a long time the Whitecaps were playing a team with a midfield as poor as their own, with both Rose and Teibert finding themselves in the kinds of open spaces they haven’t enjoyed all season.

Jasser Khmiri finally made his debut in the centre of defence and had a decent game (although one of the weirder tropes of this season is that most defenders can often be said to have “had a decent game”, while the team concede goals with astonishing regularity. Individual competence doesn’t equate to collective cohesion I suppose).

And Erik Godoy offered another example of why he should return next season as he filled in at right back and already has one more assist in 2019 than Nerwinski and Sutter combined.

Goals for Chirinos and Ricketts surely won’t tip the balance when the decision comes to stick or twist on them in the off season, but anything that makes any of us feel a little bit better about this team is very welcome indeed.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Crepeau-5, Godoy-5.5, Henry-5, Khmiri-5.5, Levis-4.5, Rose-5.5, Teibert-5.5, In-Beom-6*, Bair-5, Chirinos-5, Ricketts- 4.5 (PC-5, Montero-5).

 

Vancouver Whitecaps still a not so solid crew

Of all the dispiriting games of a dispiriting season the 1-1 tie with the Columbus Crew on Saturday afternoon at BC Place was perhaps the most dispiriting of all.

And not even a, right at the very death, Fredy Montero equalizer could prevent anybody’s spirit feeling well and truly dissed.

There was always the faint hope that being relieved of the pressure of needing to get points would allow this team to relax and finally find some coherence and fluidity, but such hopes have proven to be in vain.

Whether that’s down to players switching off for the season or just not being good enough whatever the circumstance is up for debate.

But the main cause remains the issue that the Whitecaps are so badly constructed that, no matter how much effort and how little tension they felt, the players couldn’t put together a consistently good performance anyway.

And so the only positive moments the Whitecaps produce (with “moments” being the operative word) come when an individual or two do something out of the blue.

And on Saturday, as it was the Saturday before, it was Ali Adnan creating a late goal for Fredy Montero. Which is great. But there is still no structure for the players to fall back on when things don’t go well. No default setting to see them through the tougher times.

Against Columbus Russell Teibert nearly created a goal for himself by pressing the opposition defence.

But he was the only one doing any consistent pressing all game. Is that the plan? Just a one man press? Because if so it won’t work.

And, if it isn’t the plan, is Teibert going rogue or are the rest of the team just not following instructions?

These are all rhetorical questions because it’s impossible to tell from watching Vancouver play just what the plan is. Or if they even have one.

Oh well, t’s nearly all over and soon we can all spend the off season fretting over which signings will work instantly and which ones will have had a tough year previously and will need a full season in MLS to get used to the rigours of the league.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

MacMath-4, Sutter-4.5, Adnan-4.5*, Henry-4.5, Cornelius-4.5, Rose-3, Teibert-4, In-Beom-4.5, Bair-3, Reyna-4, Ricketts-3 (Chrinos-4, Montero-5)

 

 

A Brief History of the Vancouver Whitecaps: From 2019 to the present day

 

The Expansion Season

At the time it felt strange that an expansion team would begin their season with only four games of the campaign remaining, but everything seemed a little bit strange back then.

We’ve all got used to it now.

That expansion season began with the Vancouver Whitecaps appointing Marc Dos Santos as head coach and, with his squad somehow already in place, most of the early attention was on events off the field.

During the opening game for instance, some members of BC Place security forced placards supporting the Iron Front into the hands of unwilling fans and, shortly afterwards, the Front Office announced that Bob Lennarduzzi would be moving from his role as Club Liason to the more senior role of Club President.

On the field things were going splendidly as Dos Santos and his coaching staff fielded a team full of attacking intent and one that frequently spent much of the game camped inside the opposition half.

Teibert and Felipe were a joy to watch in midfield as their freakish ability to always find the quick forward pass kept opponents far from the ball and the Whitecaps soon led the league in attempted shots.

The race to the end of the season was a thrilling one (as it always is these days) and it sensationally finished with every team in the Conference level on points and goal difference (as it always does these days).

No wonder wealthier teams sought out the services of Dos Santos and so, after a highly successful year, he was lured to LAFC to be Bob Bradley’s assistant coach.

At the time that move felt like the kind of bitter blow that could derail the club completely. But how wrong the naysayers were.

The Carl Robinson Years.

The decision to appoint Robinson as head coach was controversial to say the least. After all, this was a man with no history within the game whatsoever.

What were the club thinking?

Well, it turned out that the club were (as always) getting things absolutely right.

In his first year in charge Robinson brought in the likes of Kei Kamara, Efrain Juarez and Canadian phenomenon Alphonso Davies and quickly proceeded to produce some remarkable and innovative football.

“Robboball” as it came to be known throughout the world consisted of his team camping within the opposition final third for lengthy periods of time before hoofing a long ball backwards to an isolated central defender who was frequently surrounded by four or five opposition forwards.

It seemed madness at the time but somehow it worked and Robinson led the Whitecaps to joint top of the Western Conference (alongside every other team).

This was a feat he was able to reproduce in all of his subsequent seasons as he demonstrated an uncanny knack to bring in and let go of players at just the right moment.

But in many ways he was a strange man and his almost pathological fear of human contact made him an odd and lonely figure on the sideline; recoiling from any opposition player if they even looked as though they were approaching his technical area.

And, in one now much viewed and retweeted incident, he quickly ran away in horror when Wayne Rooney offered him his hand to shake when appearing as a substitute for DC United.

But his quirks aside Carl Robinson presided over a remarkably successful period which included two legendary playoff performances against Cascadian rivals Seattle and Portland in which his team ruthlessly pressed their opponents back from the first whistle to the last.

So when the club announced that Robinson would be stepping down to become assistant coach to Martin Rennie he had already written his name large in the pantheon of Vancouver sports history.

Martin Rennie’s first year

The Scotsman arrived from a stint in Korea where he was coaching Seoul E-Land and he certainly had big boots to fill, but this first year has been one of huge promise and excitement.

His eye for talent was clear when he snapped up Brazilian striker Camilo (exactly the kind of pure finisher the Whitecaps had missed since their very first year) and his style of play was, if anything, even more exciting than Robinson’s.

A style of play that persuaded captain Barry Robson to fly to his now beloved Vancouver voluntarily in the hope of being signed by Rennie.

And Rennie proved to be a match for his predecessor by also leading the Whitecaps to a joint top finish in the Conference (alongside every other team).

How he develops from here will be fascinating to see, but how reassuring to know that the club has an ownership group who know how to pick exciting young coaches and who always seem to act just before any potential issue befalls the club.

Who knows what MLS will turn into in the coming years or even if the League can survive? But thankfully the Vancouver Whitecaps seem to have safe and steady hands at the tiller for years to come.

And how reassuring is that? After all, none of us are getting any older.

Go Whitecaps!

Vancouver Whitecaps still in a bad place

Earlier in the week Marc Dos Santos had complained that his side suffered more than certain other teams when it came to decisions by VAR.

So it was inevitable that during the 3-1 loss to New York City FC VAR would do what it does best.

Two human beings looked at an incident and decided it was a probably a penalty. Then two other human beings looked at in slow motion and from various different angles and decided it probably wasn’t. Then one of the first human beings looked at in the same way and decided it probably wasn’t either.

The exponentiation of human error is the greatest gift that VAR has given us.

Not that the Whitecaps lost because of that one incident of course.

They committed a series of individual errors and were severely punished for each one by a well drilled and well set up team and this was also episode thirty in the “Can you spot the Whitecaps midfield?” sitcom.

Finding that midfield has to be the main priority for the new Sporting Director.

And excitement at that particular appointment reached fever pitch this week as the club followed up their announcement of two weeks ago that they were beginning the search with the further announcement that they had now hired Nolan Partners, a sports executive search firm, to conduct the search.

Once Nolan Partners announce who they will be appointing to conduct the search the process can really begin in earnest.

On the pitch it will be interesting(ish) to see how both Dos Santos and the team handle the brutal reality of their season being over with four games remaining.

And at least a couple of players should probably have played their last game for the club.

Montero and Erice won’t be back next season (surely) so leave them on the bench and give others the chance to at least get a better feel for MLS and BC Place.

It might even be a good idea for Dos Santos to select who he wants to be his captain for next year since neither Montero or Erice will be back (surely) and hand the armband over to Doneil Henry as a start to instilling a different mentality in the team.

But really we’re just throwing ideas at the wall to see if they stick right now.

Because the squad will, once again, be vastly different next year and both the coach and his new Sporting Director need to ensure that player recruitment is based around a particular playing style and not just bringing in random players because they are available.

That sounds obvious, but the Whitecaps have a nasty habit of ignoring the obvious and going their own sweet way when it comes to running a football club.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Crepeau-4, Nerwinski-5, Henry-6*, Rose-5, Adnan-5, Erice-3, In-Beom-5, Teibert-4, Montero-4, Reyna-6, Ricketts-5 (Sutter-5, Chirinos-4)

 

 

Vancouver Whitecaps: Thank goodness it’s nearly all over

It has been one step back, one step forward and then one more step back for the Vancouver Whitecaps this season.

And Saturday’s 3-1 loss to San Jose was one of the more dispiriting backward lurches.

After a spell of five games where Vancouver looked to have found at least a modicum of coherence they played this game as though the very concept of passing the ball to another member of their own team was the athletic equivalent of explaining the existence of the  u=5/2 state in the fractional quantum Hall effect.

It wasn’t a surprise they were pushed back against a home team who were rebounding from being humiliated in LA earlier in the week and it wasn’t a surprise they were out possessed.

But what was surprising was just how deep they sat and just how poor they were in virtually every aspect of the game (we are betting without Max Crepeau here of course).

Marc Dos Santos’ post game interview summed the tactical nuances of the game up perfectly. San Jose were by far the better team and that’s that.

So where does this leave the Dos Santos project right now?

Worryingly it means it is in urgent need of another overhaul and, given the Whitecaps recruitment policy is to mostly take punts on untried players, they are going to have to hit the mark with almost all their transfer gambles in the off season.

How many players are we talking about?

Well, we can probably keep the defence as is (although an upgrade at right back would be nice if not the most pressing priority).

In the midfield only Hwang In-Beom should be starting next season as Russell Teibert and Andy Rose once again disappeared into oblivion in San Jose, offering neither defensive cover nor attacking support.

And, up front, only Yordy Reyna (with Theo Bair as a bench player) should be back.

That leaves four positions (ideally five) to be filled for 2020 and these can’t be players who make up the numbers; they have to be players of genuine quality who can play football in the manner that just about everybody else in MLS is doing right now.

For the last four years (probably five) the Whitecaps have been staring at the “Important updates are available. Please restart your organization” button and asking the world to remind them again in four months.

Now they suddenly discover the rest of the league has moved to an entirely new operating system run by expensively recruited IT teams while they still rely on family members to try and install the whole thing with a disc they bought at that that pop up stall in the mall.

At least the off season will be “interesting” in an apocryphal Chinese curse kind of way.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Crepeau-7*, Nerwinski-3, Adnan-3, Henry-3, Cornelius-3, Teibert-2, Rose-2, In-Beom-3, Montero-2, Bair-3, Reyna-4

Vancouver Whitecaps give it all they got

From yesterday but now with some MLS quality additions.

We’re grading on a curve here, but the Vancouver Whitecaps 0-0 tie in Minnesota was one of the more accomplished performances of the season and a vast improvement on anything else they have done since May.

Marc dos Santos mixed things up by trying the Christmas Tree formation and, miracle of miracles, it actually worked.

This formation is very much not the one that Dos Santos has said he wants to play long term, but needs must when the devil drives and if  it somehow instills a sense of belief into the team for the remainder of the year and leaves the off  season more about adding to the squad than rebuilding shattered confidence then it will do.

All season the Whitecaps midfield has existed in a state of purgatory; neither able to offer attacking assistance to the forwards nor defensive cover for the defenders.

And anybody who saw the names of Felipe, In-Beom and Teibert announced as starters will have been left in little doubt that a transition to a footballing nirvana was not likely any time soon.

And yet.

All three played with a level of simplicity and effectiveness we haven’t seen all season. That’s probably down to the fact that, in this game, they had options when they  were on the ball and weren’t forced to play either a one in a hundred chance pass forward or a simple pass back that just leads the team nowhere.

It’s amazing how much easier the game can be when players do the basics right.

Oh to have been a fly on the wall in the Whitecaps dressing room over recent weeks because it’s clear that something happened to completely alter the DNA of the team. Dos Santos is quick to claim the Gold Cup for the loss of focus but the issue seems to have run deeper than that. The next big test will be when they concede a goal. Do they revert to the shambolic indifference of recent weeks or are they back to being made of something stronger?

The Whitecaps even offered the possibility they might score a goal with Fredy Montero looking livelier than he has in months, and Yordy Reyna always being willing to run at the opposition defence with the ball at his feet.

Theo Bair still looks out of place in the starting eleven however, but maybe time and confidence are all he needs?

The three main areas in which Vancouver need to upgrade their squad are a forward who can produce more than Montero, a midfielder who likes to get into the box and score goals and a right back who can attack in a manner similar to Ali Adnan. Those three changes wouldn’t make them unbeatable, but they would make them a decent MLS side.

None of this means all is well in the world of Whitecaps of course.

This club still has more issues than Vogue, but everybody needed at least a hint that the on field problems weren’t irredeemable beyond repair and the hope now has to be that Dos Santos can use the next two road games to establish a playing system that works and thereby convince his players to fully buy into it.

Oh to have been a spider on the wall of the Whitecaps locker room in recent weeks. Not least because there’s a nice juicy fly in there, but also to see how the coaching staff dealt with the way the players switched off from what they were being told. Dos Santos gives the impression that his coaching style is based on talking and listening to players rather than hammering them in to how he wants them to play. Is this the first time in his career that a group of players have needed to be hammered and not heard? Whatever the truth of that it’s clearly a learning curve he needs to get through.

The season is over in terms of achieving anything of note, but at least we might be able to see the hint of the outline of the shadow of a blueprint of what we can possibly, perhaps, maybe expect next season.

That’s not much, but it’s all we’ve got and it’s more than we had before this game.

Time for the Soccer Shorts Player Ratings.

Crepeau-6, Nerwinski-5, Adnan-6, Henry-5, Cornelius-6, In-Beom-6, Felipe-6*, Teibert-5.5, Bair-4.5, Reyna-5.5, Montero-5.5 (Godoy-6)