Vancouver Whitecaps: And Breathe…

Finally!

The Vancouver Whitecaps earned their first win of the season versus LAFC at BC Place on Wednesday with an impressive, if tad nervy, 1-0 win.

The second half was a little too “every hand on deck in defence” for anybody’s genuine liking but there were enough positives about the whole performance to convince that this team is still very much a work in progress rather than regress.

The front three of Reyna , Venuto and PC provided far more movement than we have seen thus far this season and Reyna gave easily the most accomplished central striker performance of the campaign. Winning headers, holding up the ball and linking well with his teammates.

And the insertion of In-Beom for Felipe in the centre of midfield gave the forward three much needed support (and produced an actual goal form an actual midfielder).

Ali Adnan was great again at left back and Jake Nerwinski had his best game of the year at right back.

And while it may be too soon to say that Henry and Godoy are becoming a reliable central defensive pairing they do at least provide a degree of comfort for the anxious viewer. With Godoy in particular being the unsung hero. Henry may be all last ditch clearances and rash tackles but Godoy has an ability to simply ease through the game unnoticed.

And a word for Jon Erice too.

The captain was subbed with about ten minutes to go and immediately became an additional coach on the bench, constantly leaping up to direct teammates where to run and who to close down.

In fact, the animation of the whole bench gave an indication of just how important this win was for the team; a psychological barrier overcome for sure.

If we wanted to be critical (and of course we do) we could point out the lack of composure in possession as the pressure increased, but that desperate desire for the first three points can be taken as a mitigating factor in this instance

And, once again, more clinical finishing would have made the game far less stressful for all concerned.

But this performance felt like something to really build on and we can all finally exhale with relief at seeing Marc Dos Santos obtain his first victory as coach of the Caps

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Crepeau-6, Nerwinski-6, Adnan-6.5, Godoy-6.5, Henry-5.5, Ereice-5.5, Teibert-5.5, In-Beom-5.5, PC-5.5, Venuto-5.5, Reyna-6.5* 

 

 

Vancouver Whitecaps: Let’s talk about it

Yesterday I produced the notes from my regular Saturday morning trip to see my analyst. Today, with his permission, I’ve added his own contemporaneous notations.

Due to circumstances beyond my control there will be no review of the Vancouver Whitecaps 1-1 tie with the Chicago Fire on Friday evening.

So, instead, I’ve decided to post the notes from the regular Saturday morning trip to see my incredibly expensive analyst.

Analyst: And how are we feeling this morning?

(As if I need to ask. The patient is clearly in an agitated frame of mind. But what will it be this time? MLS officiating, the Whitecaps inability to get a midfielder into an attacking position or, please no, a return to his debilitating obsession with Robbo).

Me: Fine.

Analyst: Oh dear, what’s the matter now?

Me: VAR.

Analyst: (sighing heavily) What’s happened this time?

Me: Well, the Whitecaps were winning 1-0 with about five minutes to go when, out of nowhere, the referee or the VAR official or somebody gave Chicago a penalty out of nothing. Then I spent the rest of the evening arguing with people on Twitter about whether it was a PK, what “clear and obvious” really means and the definition of a “missed incident”.

Analyst: We’ve spoken about this kind of behaviour before haven’t we?

(I find his search for answers and clarity within the confines of the world of Social Media both touching and bizarre. Why will he never go to his nice place?).

Me: Yes, yes yes.

Analyst: And what are you supposed to do in those situations?

Me: Go to my nice place.

Analyst: So why didn’t you?

Me: It’s weird because the vagaries of normal refereeing decisions don’t bother me. “Part of the game” and all that. But every VAR decision that’s even a little bit contentious sends me into paroxysms of incandescent fury.

Analyst: Why do you think that is?

Me: Well, I don’t know if I told you but I was against VAR even before it was introduced…

Analyst: Yes you did mention it (Looks at notes). That was in sessions fifty eight through eighty three.

(And what tedium those sessions brought upon me. Hour after hour of “What if?” scenarios until the patient began to twist himself into knots of internal logic. I had hoped that the introduction of VAR would have eased these thoughts but instead it appears to have accelerated them).

Me: Right. So I think there’s a part of me that feels a kind of vindication. I just want to shout “I told you this would happen!” at everything and everybody. But I think it goes deeper than that really.

Analyst: How so?

Me: I think VAR represents just one more way in which we as a society are getting our priorities wrong and looking for all the wrong answers in all the wrong places. I mean, in the grand scheme of things, it matters not one jot whether Doneil Henry handled the ball but we waste time and energy and resources on deciphering exactly that. But genuine miscarriages of justice that destroy people’s lives barely register with us at all.

Analyst: So you think VAR is as a symptom of a sick society?

Me: No, I think VAR is the cause.

Analyst: That’s insane.

Me: Should you be using words like that?

(I probably shouldn’t but who cares? He is insane if he thinks that. I think I will tell him so and see how he reacts).

Analyst: If you think video review has created all the ills in society then I’m perfectly entitled to use such a word.

Me: Fair point.

(That went better than I thought it would).

Analyst: So what about the rest of the game? Talk to me about that.

Me: Well that’s kind of the point. The Caps didn’t really deserve the win. They were pretty awful, didn’t really look like creating anything from open play and the midfield was, once again, bereft of any creativity. I mean, I don’t think Russell Teibert has ever seen a back pass he didn’t immediately fall head over heels in love with.

(And always he comes back to Teibert’s passing. My working theory is that it has come to represent the patient’s own inability to move forward in his life and so every backward pass made by Teibert is a sharp sting of recognition toward the patient’s own failures).

Analyst: What have we said before about Teibert’s passing?

Me: (sighing). To let it go, to accept it.

Analyst: And with acceptance comes?

Me: Tranquility.

Analyst: Very good. So who played well?

Me: Nobody really. I guess they were defensively sound, but only because they sat so deep. And I don’t get why In-Beom is being played out wide. Or rather I do get it but it isn’t working. Asking him to drift inside to become an occasional number ten is nice in theory but we need him there all the time offering some kind of attacking threat because right now the opposition defenders only have Fredy Montero to worry about and he’s nowhere near his best form.

(He’s right about Montero but he’s so wrong about In-Beom. He needs to be playing as a central box to box midfielder not as a creative number ten).

Analyst: Still, a point on the road isn’t bad is it?

Me: I guess not, but it still feels like one step forward and one step back right now.

Analyst: Oh well, let’s hope they do better against LAFC on Wednesday evening.

Me: Ha!

Analyst: Right. That’s your time up I’m afraid. I think we made progress today. I’m sensing that you’re beginning to come to terms with your mistrust of VAR and with that comes acceptance.

Me: I don’t want to accept it!

Analyst: Yeah well tough luck because your time is up. Goodbye. Oh, but just before you go.

Me: Yes?

Analyst: Could you give me the Soccer Shorts player ratings?

Me: Sure.

(Always fascinating to see the patient judge others far harsher than he ever judges himself. I will be surprised if Teibert even gets above four).

Crepeau- 6*, Sutter-5.5, Adnan-5.5, Godoy-5.5, Henry-5.5, Teibert-4, Felipe-4, Erice 4.5, Reyna-4, In-Beom-4, Montero-3.5 

 

 

 

Vancouver Whitecaps: Apart from that…

It’s not entirely clear if Ali Adnan is fully conversant with the karma surrounding the Vancouver Whitecaps and penalty kicks this season, but even a cursory knowledge of the genre would indicate that attempting a panenka in the first minute of a home game against the LA Galaxy wasn’t the best of ideas.

Yet try it he did.

And karma took a sideways glance at his attempt and metaphorically punched him hard in the metaphorical face.

Adnan played pretty well for the rest of the game but that feels a little like the old “Apart from that how was the play Mrs. Lincoln?” line as the Whitecaps slumped to a 2-0 defeat.

Ironically they played their best football of the season in the first half. Genuine passing and movement and even the odd glimpse of goal from open play.

But Fredy Montero had been left out for the more robust Joaquin Ardaiz and this felt like exactly the kind of game Montero had been waiting for (including the early PK) as Ardaiz got the support up front the Colombian has been sadly missing.

Ardaiz did okay. But his hold up play wasn’t stellar enough or his movement sharp enough to convince Marc Dos Santos that he should be a permanent starter in the team just yet.

The second half was fairly terrible for Vancouver.

It felt as though the half-time break gave them all time to reflect on the chances missed and suddenly the Galaxy were in control, chances were falling to Ibrahimovich and there was nothing the coach could do to turn it around.

Things aren’t going to get any easier in the coming weeks and it’s a fine line between developing a style of play and picking up points that Dos Santos has to tread.

But the biggest problem to solve remains the midfield.

Both Felipe and Teibert were neat with the ball but neither played a successful pass into the opposition penalty area (or even touched the ball in said space) and that issue has to be figured out sooner rather than later.

Maxime Crepeau has been good in a goal (spill to Ibrahimovich notwithstanding) but good grief he needs to be quicker with his distribution.

There were multiple occasions on Friday evening when a Whitecaps player was running into open space and desperately calling for the ball while Crepeau surveyed his options with all the lack of urgency of every single person who orders before me in a coffee shop.

The assumption has always been that Vancouver will splash more cash in the summer transfer window, but that will be throwing good money after bad if they can’t keep at least vaguely in touch with the playoff picture.

It’s still nowhere  near time to panic, but the pathway to a decent season is getting steeper and narrower with every missed opportunity.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Crepeau-5.5, Nerwinski- 4.5, Henry-5, Godoy-5, Adnan-5.5, Erice-5.5*, Teibert-5, Felipe-5, In-Beom-5.5, Bangoura-5, Ardaiz-5 (Venuto-5.5)

 

 

 

 

 

Vancouver Whitecaps: Tiny Steps

Every story has to be about something I suppose.

And perhaps the big story of the Vancouver Whitecaps goalless tie with the Seattle Sounders was that the Whitecaps bench had been moved significantly to the left.

Was Marc Dos Santos making some kind of subliminal point about the steady rightward drift of contemporary politics? That, no matter how many beasts slouch toward Bethlehem to be born, the Whitecaps will remain steadfastly on the side of good?

Or maybe he just wanted to be closer to the fourth official?

Hard to say really.

The game itself was by far the most promising of the Dos Santos era.

His team were (finally) defensively sound with Godoy and Henry being outstanding in the centre and Ali Adnan making an impressive debut at left back.

But the absence of In-Beom was felt in the centre of the field where both Felipe and Teibert kept the ball well but never with any meaningful forward momentum.

Maybe that’s partly down to the options available to them?

Fredy Montero was frequently left isolated and outnumbered and, even when he did receive the ball with his back to goal, was unable to hold up play long enough for his teammates to join him.

On the showings so far this season Ardaiz is the better option in the current system, strong and just about skillful enough to pose problems with the ball at his feet.

PC and Bangoura did decent work on the flanks but those areas only real came alive with the introduction of Lucas Venuto who showed a willingness to run directly at the Sounders defence with the ball at his feet.

And once again we are faced with the prospect of an impact sub making a case to start the next game.

The good news is that it creates healthy competition within the squad. The bad news is that it may well be the case that the Whitecaps have amassed a group of players who only function at their best as impact subs.

Time will tell.

Elsewhere it’s becoming clear that Jon Erice is a new type of captain for the Whitecaps.

He’s not in the “He’s the best player so make him captain” mold of Pedro Morales nor the “He shows a lot of passion so make him captain” mold of Kendall Waston.

Rather Erice seems to be Dos Santos’ voice on the field, directing the tactical nuances of the team as the match goes on. He’s an interesting player to focus on a for a few minutes of any game.

Overall this was a hugely promising leap forward for the Dos Santos era with signs that the players are buying into the system he is trying to sell.

And I guess we also have to mention VAR (sigh).

Say what you want about the excitement of a potential game winning penalty kick being awarded in the final minute of a Cascadia Derby but, for the paying customers, that pales into insignificance compared to the sight of a man holding his finger to his ear for several minutes before trotting over to a TV screen for another minute and then trotting back to announce that the penalty kick isn’t going to happen after all.

That’s entertainment!

Or maybe the officials saw Dos Santos’ clever attack on the current political culture and countered with their own?

A populace having their lives altered by a group of men using technology in a way that doesn’t quite fit the original remit says far more about modern society then simply moving a bench a few metres to the left.

Dos Santos must do better next time!

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Crépeau- 6, Nerwinsky-5.5, Henry-6.5, Godoy-6.5*, Adnan-6.5 Erice-6, Teibert-5.5, Felipe-5, PC-5, Lass-5, Montero-4 (Venuto-6, In-Beom-5, Ardaiz-5.5)

 

 

 

Vancouver Whitecaps: Deep Breaths!

Within the last three thousand years (the merest blink of any eye in the history of life on the planet) the Tibetan people have evolved their bodies to deal with living at what, for the rest of us, would be abnormal altitudes.

Actually, let’s row that back a little.

“Tibetans have evolved their bodies” implies a degree of agency in the process. As though they have held a series of exploratory meetings and focus groups to determine the whole process.

“Right, the three remaining options on the table are “Being able to live at high altitudes”, “X-Ray vision” or “Being able to slow down time when facing attack”.

Mother Nature does not work like that I am afraid, for she is a fickle and capricious trickster playing games of chance with DNA and fertility.

But if the Tibetans lucked out in the lottery of the high life what can their good fortune tell us about the Vancouver Whitecaps this season?

Perhaps that sometimes the best way to achieve a desired result is to not over think things?

Yeah, let’s go with that.

Ironically there’s an alternate universe somewhere where the Professional Referee Organization (Hilariously shortened to PRO) doesn’t have to release a weekly edict announcing that a game deciding penalty kick was incorrectly awarded against the Whitecaps and, in that universe, Marc Dos Santos has seen his team earn two fairly impressive away points against Western Conference rivals.

But in our current universe the Whitecaps have zero points from three games with substantial issues to be addressed in all three areas of the field.

The defence can’t defend, the midfield can’t attack and the attack can’t score goals.

Given this existential threat to the very nature of what a football team should be there must be a part of the Dos Santos psyche that is clamouring for the security of two holding midfielders to sit in front of the back four or, at the very least, the reassurance of having a target man up front.

That elusive “out” ball that will give his defenders another option as they go through their “Bambi on Ice” routine of trying to play out from the back.

But the Dos Santos psyche needs to shut the f%#* up because if he has to be in this then he has to be in this for the long haul.

He wasn’t signed to simply “get results”, he was signed to change the DNA of the Whitecaps, to transform them from a lump of pragmatic dross into something that is worth watching.

The Tibetans will tell you that such a transformation takes time and a degree of fortune that MDS not yet enjoyed but, what you cannot do, is suddenly switch evolutionary horses in midstream in the vain hope of landing on a winner.

So patience is still the watchword for those of us who follow the team week in and week out.

But some kind of visible success in less than three thousand years would be the optimal outcome.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vancouver Whitecaps: Pressing on

A home game against a poor Conference rival. An early lead through a set piece goal. Failure to take the initiative and build on that early advantage and allow the opposition to grow in confidence. Concede an equalizer thanks to a defensive loss of concentration. Resort to hitting long balls to an isolated forward. Fall behind but then another set piece goal and a late attacking flurry creates the illusion that the game could have gone either way.

It’s hard to see how the Whitecaps can continue with Carl Robinson at the helm given the Groundhog Day nature of every game and….

Wait? What? When did that happen?

I’m joking of course. I exclusively found out about the Dos Santos hire a few weeks ago but, like all great art, that opening paragraph contains both truth and untruth. Hints of whispers of shadows that may or may not exist.

So what actually happened in the 3-2 loss to Minnesota?

Well, at times the Whitecaps played some very nice one touch football, kept the ball on the ground and moved for each other.

And, at times, they forgot all that and resorted to hoping Fredy Montero could out jump two large central defenders.

At times they pressed as a unit and forced Minnesota into dangerous turnovers.

And, at times, Hwang In-Beom was pressing alone and searching forlornly for a team mate who was thinking of doing the same.

Overall the Whitecaps were exactly what we knew they were; a work in progress.

Except…

The sense of optimism around the Dos Santos hire and the barrage of promos around his coaching style and ability kind of, sort of, created the idea that his Vancouver side would hit the ground running from day one so, in the grand scheme of things, a wake up call such as this may be best for all concerned.

And there were definitely some positives.

In-Beom looks the real deal. All quick passes and movement and dangerous around the opposition area.

New captain Jon Erice too looks a class player and there were already signs that he and In-Beom would form a decent understanding as the games go on.

Lass Bangoura showed that he had both pace and trickery and Erik Godoy looked a solid starter in central defence.

But what about the negatives?

Felipe looked out of place in this formation. Taking three touches when one was the better option, looking back when there were runners ahead of him.

And we can safely describe the choice to build from the back as a “work in progress” with Doneil Henry in particular seeming to do more thinking with the ball at his feet than is good for any of our blood pressures and Jake Nerwinski showed that he remains more valuable as an attacking full back than a defensive one.

Derek Cornelius gets a pass given he was played out of position at left back but the attacking set up of the midfield means the defence will have to be far more organized than they were on Saturday afternoon.

But the most concerning aspect was the inability to create chances from open play (not least because this was also an issue in the pre-season) with even In-Beom seemingly reluctant to get into the danger zone to meet the end of a cross or pick up on a scrap of a loose ball.

But patience will be required for sure and there’s enough things to be optimistic about to make watching this team this season a delight compared to what has gone before but, and this needs saying over and over again, it’s insane that the organization allowed themselves and the team to be in this position.

A tough decision taken a couple of years ago would have saved all this angst.

But avoiding tough decisions and hoping it will all go away and that nobody will notice seems to be par for the course.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Crepeau- 5.5, Nerwinski-4.5, Godoy-5.5, Henry-5, Cornelius- 3.3, Erice-5.5, Felipe-3, In-Beom 6*, Reyna-5, Bangoura-5, Montero-4 

 

 

Vancouver Whitecaps: You hum it, they’ll play it

A recent “news” story on the local “news” channel ran with the concept that, during the recent cold spell, humming-birds could only survive thanks to the hanging feeders a few kindly folk put out for them.

“Without these feeders” intoned the reporter solemnly “the birds would die”.

“That’s nice of those people” I thought to myself. But then I thought “Hang on a minute! If humming-birds can only survive thanks to feeders provided by humans then how did they survive before?”

Being a universally acknowledged major reporter this question prompted me to a fever of intense research (asking Twitter) and the result of my intense research (reading Twitter) is that of course they could survive before the feeders because they would migrate to warmer climes.

So have humming-birds become lazy?

Only some of them it seems.

Many do indeed still take the time and effort to travel south but a few indolent ne’er-do-wells simply choose to hang around the backyards of gullible humans to live off the sweet, sweet nectar of free handouts.

We may never really know what the birds who do make the effort to travel think of these stay behinds but safe to say they regard them in the same way we would regard a group of drunken teenagers hanging around a fast food joint at two in the morning while shouting foul abuse at any unfortunate passer-by.

With a mixture of fear, contempt and an almost Proustian rush of regret and envy which somehow tells us more about ourselves and the society we live in than we really care to articulate.

So can we all please stop enabling the worst aspects of the humming-bird population and allow this beautiful creature to return to the dignity of self-sufficiency?

A few deaths is a small price to pay for a better future.

 (Memo to self: Pitch this to the Whitecaps as a new slogan for next season).

Marc Dos Santos will clearly be hoping his team is humming when the season starts in two short weeks. But does the experience of Maurizio Sarri at Chelsea offer a stark reminder of how tough things will be? (Dos Santos has stated publicly that he is a huge admirer of “Sarri-ball” and will be using it as a template for his Vancouver team).

Sarri arrived with a pre-determined style of play and has since struggled to get his players to adapt. That’s not hard to understand when much of the season has seen the best defensive player in the world played in a more forward position and one of the best players in the world with the ball at his feet and running at defenders being asked to play with his back to goal.

Form over function has mostly led to dysfunction at Stamford Bridge.

Yet Dos Santos has one huge advantage over Sarri in that he has essentially been allowed to build his team from scratch. Discard the ones who don’t suit and recruit the ones who do.

But this is still Major League Soccer and it is still limited in terms of quality of play and player.

Sarri-ball relies on a number six who can pass the ball with unerring accuracy (Whither Pedro Morales?) and only time will tell if Jon Erice is capable of that kind of consistent quality.

And it also relies on a goalkeeper and back four who can play out from the back.

And that means really play out from the back and not just consist of two central defenders who pass it to themselves who then pass it to Russell Teibert who passes it back to them and one of them then hoofs the ball up field.

It means tight passing in confined spaces to lure the opposition forward and thus create space behind them.

When it works it is a thing of beauty. When it doesn’t it is not.

The brief glimpses we have seen of the pre-season indicates the back line are thinking one beat too many with the ball at their feet for the whole thing to work and the coach has astonishingly little time to coach that pause out of them.

The good news is that the attacking pieces seem to fit just right. Speedy wide players, a proven goal scorer and genuine attacking midfielders.

So if the back six can do their job and get the ball to the forward five when they are in space the whole season will be a hoot.

Come to think of it, it will also be a hoot if they can’t get the ball to them because it will be chaos back there.

Sounds like fun.