Vancouver Whitecaps and the presence of absence

The Portuguese word Saudade superficially refers to the sadness we feel at the permanent absence of somebody or something from our lives.

But its meanings are far more layered than that.

It’s not quite grief because grief is mainly an expression of hollow emptiness whereas Saudade is a heady mix of nostalgia, sorrow and even the kind of strange pleasure we sometimes derive from thinking of things which make us sad.

But the best description of the word is “The presence of absence” because that acknowledges that some absences are tangible, palpable, things in and of themselves.

Almost separate entities from the object or person they derive from.

No doubt to many New Yorker’s the Twin Towers are still present by their absence and every displaced person will feel a sense of saudade for the land they were forced to leave behind and can never return to and we all have people or things that evoke a particular kind of loss that doesn’t quite fit the functional limits of the English language.

Saudade is such an evocative and useful word that I almost feel a sense of saudade for the absence of saudade in my life until now.

And the presence of absence will very much be a theme for the Vancouver Whitecaps in their game against Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday evening at BC Place.

Six regular first team players missing due to international call up is less than ideal for coach Craig Dalrymple as his side try to win the remaining three games that would clinch an unlikely playoff spot.

So what are his options?

Well Maund and Aja for Waston and Henry in central defence is a no brainer and the defence has been so prone to errors all season it doesn’t seem to matter who gets the start.

If he wants to continue with his 4-1-4-1 formation then Mezquida can fill in for Teibert as the high pressing forward.

Replacing Yordy Reyna isn’t quite so easy but this week Felipe expressed frustration that he wasn’t played further forward by Carl Robinson so this would be the ideal opportunity to slot the Brazilian in as the number ten.

He’s a very different type of player to Reyna but given the chance he has the ability to play a pass that can cut through a defence.

With Shea and Techera out wide (barring a surprise start for new signing Emnes) that just leaves the defensive midfield role up for grabs.

The obvious choice in terms of positioning and experience is Efrain Juarez but the Mexican has been such a wild card all season Dalrymple may think that’s too much of a risk. He could try Jordon Mutch as a kind of deep-lying playmaker but that would be at the expense of far too much defensive cover.

Another option is drafting in Sean Franklin to simply sit in front of the defence and operate as a kind of slightly further forward central defender.

Update: As pointed out by Glass City on Twitter de Jong is also an option here. My sources (my fevered imagination) had informed me that de Jong had been called up to the Canada squad but apparently not.

The Canadian has played there before without ever really convincing he was right for the role but he might well be the best of a bad bunch right now.

Or the coach could switch to a 4-3-3 and use the experience of Felipe, Mutch and Juarez in the middle to support Kamara, Shea and Techera up front.

None of these answers are wholly convincing and at least half the team will be faced with the challenge of being severely lacking in match fitness, but it’s not a bad starting eleven on paper and hints at just how much depth the Whitecaps have at their disposal.

But the season now rests on the shoulders of the players who were gradually left by the wayside as the year progressed.

Let’s hope they all feel they have something to prove.

Vancouver Whitecaps play badly

So the “Fire Carl Robinson and hope we get a new coach bounce and sneak into the playoffs” gambit didn’t really work did it?

The Vancouver Whitecaps lost 3-0 to the LA Galaxy while playing in a manner which suggested they were more interested in the beaches of California than the opposition net.

But perhaps that’s a little unfair?

Maybe the whole performance was the team paying a heartfelt farewell homage to their former coach?

Two needlessly conceded penalties, a stunning lack of ambition and a blatant inability to master even the basic fundamentals of the game were certainly nice call backs to Robinson.

It’s hard to know by now whether these players are incapable of mastering those fundamentals or whether those fundamentals have been systematically eradicated from their arsenal over the last few years.

Whatever the answer to that riddle is the new coach’s first job will be to reintroduce (introduce?) his squad to the concept of passing and moving and somehow persuade them that the ball isn’t something to be quite so terrified of.

Hopefully his second job will be to place a moratorium on any talk of “rising to the challenge”, “never giving up” or some similar nonsense until the team prove they can actually rise to challenges and not give up during the time period between the referee’s first and last whistle.

Any bright spots from that game?

Well at least we are all a step closer to being definitively put out of our misery regarding the playoffs and Alphonso Davies was lively at times and Russell Teibert hustled.

But most of the time it felt as if the Whitecaps were approaching the game in much the same way as most of us watching; drifting in and out of concentration depending on the game state.

I don’t think any of them were actually checking their social media timeline but they may as well have been.

Poor Craig Dalrymple must have woken up in a cold sweat this morning (if he slept at all) because he now has to take this team to Toronto next week before bringing them home to what will surely be a less than full and less than enthusiastic BC Place.

Oh and then back down to Los Angeles just to relive the nightmare.

Playing Teibert alongside Mezquida to press the Galaxy back line was at least an interesting idea but whenever that press was bypassed (and it was bypassed a lot) the Whitecaps were outnumbered to an alarming degree.

It’s tempting to suggest he should mix things up even more when it comes to team selection for the remaining games but “mixing things up” when it comes to team selection is exactly how we got to where we are now.

So the best we can hope for is a moderately quiet and somewhat dignified end to it all.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Marinovic-4, de Jong-3, Nerwinski-4.5, Waston-3.5, Henry-3, Teibert-5, Ghazal-4, Shea-3, Mezquida-3, Davies-5.5*, Kamara-4 (Felipe 3.5)

Craig Dalrymple: Searching for Adventure

Craig Dalrymple wouldn’t be human if there wasn’t a small corner of his mind which thought “You know what? If I get this team to go on a run and sneak into the playoffs then this job just might be mine for the taking”.

That’s a long shot to be sure but not beyond the realms of possibility.

So what are his main challenges as the team fly to Los Angeles to take on the slightly bizarre Galaxy on Saturday?

Getting the mood right- Maybe dim the lights, put on Sinatra’s “Songs for Swingin’ Lovers” and spend a buck or two extra on that bottle of wine…

No wait, that’s for a different mood.

What Dalrymple needs to do is to make sure the players are in the right frame of mind following Carl Robinson’s departure and, in particular, that goes for Captain Kendall Waston.

The Costa Rican was noticeably angry about that departure earlier this week and a noticeably angry Waston is a red card waiting to happen.

Dropping the Captain would be a huge statement but it needs to be done if his head won’t be in the right place (which is on the end of set-pieces).

Change formation or change the eleven?- The Whitecaps were good against Seattle and okay against Dallas but it really does feel like they need a shake up if they are going to make that near impossible run to the post-season.

Three at the back? A genuine 4-3-3?

That’s probably asking too much in such a short space of time but if Dalrymple were to take my advice (Which Robinson very definitely refused to do and look what happened to him) he would stick with the 4-2-3-1 for now but play Felipe as the number ten behind Kamara and move Reyna wide in place of Techera.

Techera can drift in and out of effectiveness in any game but he drifts an awful lot more away from home and Reyna’s best position may well be out wide anyway.

I’ve not been impressed by Felipe at all this year but he seems like the kind of player/person who enjoys proving people wrong so he may be capable of turning in a performance after being left out of recent games by Robinson.

It’s a roll of the dice but it’s still a better option than the status quo (although their early singles were quite enjoyable to be fair).

Make a change when change is needed- Dalrymple could become a legend overnight if he just made a substitution in the first half (or even at half-time).

After watching Robinson make changes that were clearly based upon some kind of five year plan it would be nice to see a coach react spontaneously to the actual game situation.

Enjoy it- These might be his only five games in charge of a club at this level.

He should relish the opportunity and do anything he wants to do and to hell with the consequences (Within reason obviously. Don’t play Techera in goal for example).

Vancouver Whitecaps: All the leaves are brown…give

Now with added thoughts from the Dystopian present.

Even before the game against FC Dallas on Sunday there was an air of Autumnal ennui lingering around BC Place.

The fallen leaves on the journey to the ground, a sparser crowd than is usual and the cool breath of a northerly wind scattering the clouds to leave the evening spread out against the sky all added up to the sense of an ending rather than the resurrection in fortune the Whitecaps needed.

And an ending it turned out to be.

Vancouver were beaten 2-1 by a team more astutely assembled than they are, better coached than they are and who play as a team rather than a collection of individuals.

No doubt we’ll still hear talk of “great spirit”, “never say die” and “bravery” in the media scrums this week but there are all kinds of bravery in soccer.

In the post game question and answer session Robinson said that he thought his team were “playing in third gear” during the first half. If that’s not a a sign of systemic issues then I don’t know what is.

A game the team knew they had to get three points from and they play the first forty five minutes within themselves? And the coaches can’t do anything about that until the break? 

Make a substitution at thirty minutes just to let everybody know the performance isn’t acceptable (and it turns out the half-time switch which was made was because of injury to Levis rather than any desire to shake up the team).

There’s the bravery to always show for the ball no matter the game situation or personal form and there’s the bravery to trust your technique to make that tough one touch pass to a teammate making a run.

There’s also the bravery of a coach who wants his team to play with attacking intensity no matter the opposition, a coach who sets up his team to succeed rather than not to fail and a coach who trusts his players but isn’t afraid to make tough selection choices as soon as they need to be made.

The Whitecaps haven’t had any of those attributes for the longest time. Happy just to scrape by, swell a progress, start a scene or two and always, always be deferential and glad to be of use.

And the game against Dallas was a pretty neat summation of the season.

It wasn’t that they didn’t try, they did. It’s just that they didn’t have the cohesion or class to break down a team that had been organized.

Of course the Whitecaps conceded two goals from set pieces (a defensive coach who has been unable to organize the defence all season is a recipe for disaster on so many levels) and of course Davies and Kamara combined to offer some hope but by the final fifteen minutes the Whitecaps were, as always, reduced to hitting crosses into the box while still failing to get enough men forward.

Getting men forward to be on the end of crosses isn’t some next level Pep Guardiola tactical thought experiment. It’s one of the basics of football and the Whitecaps still haven’t figured out how to get it done. Go figure.

Random thoughts?

The recurring sequence where Russell Teibert passes the ball back to a central defender who passes it back to Russell Teibert who then passes it back to the central defender is my personal “Room 101”.

Carl Robinson has been relying on Jordon Mutch’s reputation to change things as a substitute in the last two games rather than anything the Englishman has ever done on the pitch this year.

The fact that none of Felipe, Juarez, or Blondell got even a minute of play between them in such a crucial game is about as damning of the acquisitions this season as it’s possible to be.

It seems Felipe is this year’s Tony Tchani. A central midfielder Robinson stuck with through thick and thin before completely abandoning come the tail end of the season. Weird.

And the Davies to left back gambit worked on the Kamara goal but also helped to unbalance an already disjointed defence.

This disjointedness was emphasized int the dying minutes when Henry and Marinovic couldn’t figure out who should go for the ball and a corner was conceded.

It might be worth hypothesizing that Marinovic is a significant cause of the defensive woes this year. He’s a solid, if unspectacular, goalkeeper but the players in front of him have never looked settled no matter what the combination.

It’s clear he’s not the sole culprit for the whole debacle but he certainly doesn’t seem to be the kind of keeper who can organize his backline effectively.

The season isn’t mathematically over of course but emotionally it feels as though we all need to move on now.

From this game, from this season and from this iteration of the Vancouver Whitecaps.

That would probably be healthier for all concerned.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Marinovic-4.5, Nerwinki-5.5*, levis-4, Waston-4.5, Henry-4, Teibert 5, Ghazal-5, Reyna-4, Techera-3.5, Davies-5, Kamara-5 (Mezquida-4, Mutch- 3)

Vancouver Whitecaps: Keys to the Game

Is there any object we use so often but pay so little attention to than the humble key?

Fishing it out of pockets and carelessly twisting it in a lock with barely a thought for the import of such a thing.

But try to imagine being alive when the first key was produced?

Suddenly secrets could be kept from prying eyes but, because human beings are human beings, suddenly those secrets must have gained a greater fascination. What can be so special that it needs to be locked away? What treasure must that humble box contain?

And perhaps we can even judge a person by their attitude to keys?

For some they are an implement all about openings and for some they are the tool of closure. Some regard them as a hindrance, an annoying scrap of metal that just adds weight to the pocket or pocket-book and for others that weight is reassuring. A reminder of at least some connection with the world, jagged little mementoes forged through form and function.

Yet we may well be living through the death of the key as we know it.

Apps and swipe cards and fingerprints and irises are slowly becoming the tool of choice (our own DNA granting and denying us access at every turn).

But perhaps we really shouldn’t say that keys are slowly becoming obsolete? Perhaps we should just say they are evolving?

Perhaps the final turn of the final physical key will be to turn into us?

But do you know which keys will never go away? That’s right! The keys to the game.

So this is what the Vancouver Whitecaps have to do against Dallas at BC Place on Sunday afternoon.

Same again please- The Whitecaps may have lost against the Seattle Sounders but they played with a level of energy and intent rarely seen under Carl Robinson. If they play in the same way against Dallas they will get the crowd behind them once again and they will win.

And the return of Yordy Reyna won’t hurt either.

Defend- Or perhaps that should really be “concentrate” because Vancouver are mostly fine at the back except when one of them switches off. And one of them will always switch off.

That’s clearly a systemic issue rather than a series of random aberrations and it’s doubtful the coaching staff will be able to figure out why it’s happening before the end of the season if they haven’t done so already.

But the Whitecaps are already behind the eight ball in the standings and they really can’t afford anybody to accidentally handle that eight ball in the penalty area for no apparent reason.

Get the best out of Alphonso Davies – Davies has been a match winner on more than one occasion this year but against the Sounders he was trying to force himself to be one.

Taking on one man too many, unnecessary stepovers and poor final decisions.

The return of Reyna should help distract Dallas from Davies but he needs to get back to the simplicity that’s worked so well for him this year.

The thing they can’t do- This isn’t going to happen but we can at least dream.

Under Carl Robinson the Whitecaps have almost never been able to play with a central midfielder who can also join the attack.

Pedro Morales came closest but his defensive frailties were laid too bare. Barry Robson could have been the man if he wasn’t Barry Robson (he was here under Rennie but I just like the line). Felipe was supposed to be the guy this year but ended up in the neither fish nor fowl position of being a defensive liability with little attacking threat and Jordon Mutch isn’t around often enough to count.

So we’re back to Ghazal and Teibert (which is the best pairing for this team) but it’s so frustrating to watch a side desperate for a goal and yet still have two central midfielders who are hesitant to leave the centre circle.

Oh well, the Dallas game is the most “must win” of all the “must win” games they’ve had thus far.

So they must win it.

Whitecaps face the final curtain

So that’s just about it then.

After the 2-1 loss to the Seattle Sounders at BC Place on Saturday evening the Whitecaps sit four points off the playoff places with only six games left to play and a remaining schedule leaning very much to the “Yikes!” end of the spectrum.

But at least this time Vancouver lost to Seattle displaying some ambition and heart and, on another day, they might have won the game, could have won the game and probably should have won the game.

If anything the Whitecaps were trying too hard.

Mezquida snatched at almost every chance that came his way (including a golden opportunity when the score was still tied), Nerwinski over hit every cross, Davies tried to win the game single-handed instead of using his threat to create space for others and just about everybody took the wrong option when getting anywhere near the Seattle net; an extra touch here, a misplaced pass there.

Thoughts will inevitably turn to what difference the presence of the suspended Yordy Reyna would have made.

The Peruvian would certainly have given the opposition less time and manpower to concentrate on Davies and he would also have injected the elements of quality and pace that neither Mezquida nor Techera bring to the frontline.

And there still remains the frustrating sight of the Whitecaps failing to get enough men in the box to be on the end of the inevitable cross no matter how desperately they need a goal but that’s a result of only being able to function effectively with two defensive midfielders on the pitch

So this game didn’t exist in isolation.

If the disciplinary issues had been dealt with effectively earlier in the year then maybe Reyna wouldn’t have been suspended for his fifth yellow card?

And if the team had worked more on passing and moving over the last few seasons then maybe they would have finally figured out how to break down a deep lying defence beyond relying on set-pieces and a lucky drop of the ball here and there?

And let’s not even think about how much of the salary cap was sitting on the bench last night (You’re thinking about it right now aren’t you!) or how long it took Carl Robinson to find a starting eleven that worked instead of sticking with square pegs in round holes for far too long.

But if the game on Saturday proved anything it’s that BC Place can be a decent place to watch football if the fans have a team they can believe in, a team that wants to win games no matter who they are playing and doesn’t treat the opposition (any opposition) with too much respect.

Hopefully that knowledge can be built upon for next season but for now it’s down to hoping against hope that this team can string together four or five wins and that either Portland or Real Salt Lake fall off a metaphorical cliff (or an actual cliff too I guess).

That’s not going to happen but at least the Whitecaps look like they will go down fighting..

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Marinovic-5, Nerwinski-5.5, Levis-4, Waston-5, Henry-4.5, Teibert-5, Ghazal-5.5, Techera-4, Mezquida-4.5, Davies-5, Kamara-6* (Shea-5, Mutch-5)


Vancouver Whitecaps making history

In his book “1491” Charles C. Mann paints a picture of an American continent already utterly transformed by the human hand.

Long before Columbus and his crew touched land people had been shaping the surface of their home to fit their needs; forest fires to create vast clearings to make hunting easier, redirecting rivers and changing the very fabric of the world that grew around them.

But the myth of the continent being an untouched Eden inhabited by the “noble savage” before 1492 has served so many people so well it’s somehow endured in the collective memory.

After all, history is nothing but the recording of change and if a People can be portrayed as never-changing then they don’t really have a history and if they don’t have a history then they are a blank canvas upon which any social or political point of view can be painted.

But even Mann’s book is replete with assumptions and self-projection. Because that’s what history is.

Just as all good Science Fiction is about trying to understand the present then so is all good history. Who were these people? In what ways were they like us? In what ways did they differ? Why are we making the exact same mistakes as they did?

The tragedy of it all though is that we remain incapable of examining our own societies in the same kind of forensic and detached detail. We seem condemned to be forever wise about the past and forever stupid about the present.

Which brings us to the Vancouver Whitecaps.

We can’t know what future historians will say about the 2018 iteration of the team but from the contemporary point of view it’s a difficult narrative to get your head around.

The team have a player with the most “Big Chances created” in the League (Reyna) and a player with the most successful dribbles in the League (Davies) and yet many at the club seem to think they are overachieving by even being within sniffing distance of the playoffs (and that scent is getting fainter by the day).

The status of Carl Robinson and his coaches also remains shrouded in weirdness. The main man still has time to run on his contract but his assistants have yet to have their contracts renewed leading to speculation that this will be his final year in charge no matter what the results from here on in.

It certainly feels as though it should be his final few games because there’s an air of weariness and rancour permeating through everything right now.

The weekly fines for Cristian Techera are one thing, but goalkeeping coach Stewart Kerr has taken to Twitter after he last few games berating naysayers and insisting that everybody at the club is “UNITED”.

Hard to say if this is a genuine expression of solidarity or some kind of Trumpian attempt at proving what can never be proved.

It certainly hints at the kind of edgy malaise behind the scenes and in the locker room that we see reproduced on the field with regularity.

Yet we remain too close to the whole thing to make any kind of objective assessment of the season. That will come later.

But if we were forced to form a coherent narrative of what we have seen we would perhaps say that the whole thing has been a foreshadowing of collapse and change.

Just as there must have been at least one Inca who looked at yet another mountainside eroding and thought to themselves “I don’t know, this seems like really bad news to me” then so some Whitecaps fan must see the inability to keep a clean sheet, the discipline issues, the controversy over how players are attained and the seeming sense of isolation that is engulfing the coaching staff as portents of seismic events that are too late to stop now.