Vancouver Whitecaps: Accepting Chaos

The MlsisBack tournament is a terrible idea.

Sending a bunch of professional athletes to live and work in one of Americas hottest of Covid hotspots is spectacularly dumb.

Throw in the ingredients that two of the teams have had to drop out entirely, many of the league’s bigger stars have decided that not attending was the wiser course of action and that games are being rearranged on a seemingly hourly basis and the whole thing should be a recipe for disaster and embarrassment.

And yet the games have been stupidly entertaining.

The combination of player exhaustion, ill prepared defences and the general chaos that encircles many an MLS game has led to a mixture of tension and laugh out loud comedy that have made the whole thing somewhat irresistible.

It may all still collapse in a heap of metaphorical rubble of course but, for now, the whole thing is a testament to how sport continues to overcome the ineptitude of sport administrators.

So, given all this madness, should we be too harsh on the Whitecaps following their 4-3 debacle against San Jose? They were without key forwards who could have held the ball up and bought the defence time as well as taking even more advantage of a disaster prone San Jose defensive system.

A Cavallini, Montero or Ricketts could have been a difference maker.

But the problem for those of us who follow the Whitecaps is that we have been through this move before.

Failure to take advantage of the weakness of the opposition, failure to think that leading in a game gives players freedom rather than imposing asphyxiating restrictions and failure to use the players on the bench in a way that makes any kind of sense.

Marc Dos Santos has claimed that he is reluctant ti use young players who haven’t earned their time. But that shouldn’t be at the expense of older players who are out on their feet.

The final minutes against San Jose were crying out for fresh legs who could close down the opposition and protect the defence. Sometimes it’s okay to be pragmatic rather than principled.

And speaking of pragmatism.

The news that Russell Teibert has signed a new contract through to 2023 can only be met with a shrug of vague indifference.

No team who want to be challengers in MLS would have Teibert as a regular starter, but most teams would probably be happy to have him in the squad.

And the Canadian has become the footballing equivalent of an annoying Christmas song.

You start off thinking “What’s the point of this?”, transition to “Oh this again?”, before settling on the realization that its continued occurrence provides a strangely comforting sense of familiarity and nostalgia in a world that is constantly changing.

The Whitecaps “journey” through the tournament could end tonight against the Seattle Sounders.

The Sounders have been as poor as the Whitecaps in their two games so far, but it’s likely that the extra game under their belt and the general sense that they want to win the tournament rather than survive, it doesn’t bode well for Vancouver.

Maybe there’s another night of craziness ahead to confound our expectations, but nobody could really blame the Vancouver players if they weren’t thinking longingly of a flight back to Canada and the sweet, sweet release of fourteen days of quarantine.

Vancouver Whitecaps Play a Game of Football!

Absence is a house so vast that inside you will pass through its walls and hang pictures in the air

Pablo Neruda

The year 2020 has been many things. So many things. But perhaps when we look back on it in the years to come we will remember it most as the year of absence?

Absence from our workplaces, absence from our streets and restaurants and also the absence of sport. That modern day religion that measures out our weeks and months in anguish and joy.

But gradually we are creeping back toward our normal lives. Like animals being released from months of captivity we blink our eyes toward the light and tread softly on the path that leads to freedom.

Are we not in many ways experiencing our own rebirth? Both as individuals and as a society. Sensing a new beginning that…..what? You want me to write about the game? But I don’t want to write about the game! I hate football!

Sigh okay.

The Whitecaps began the MLSisback/MLSIsBack/mlsisback tournament in typical style. Almost like they’d never been away really.

Having been gifted two of their three goals by laughable San Jose defending, the Whitecaps decided that, just for shits and giggles, they would sit as deep as they possibly could and allow San Jose the freedom to both run at them while simultaneously conceding more corners than you’d find in Rubik’s Cube factory on dexamphetamine.

That plan didn’t work and they, with crushing inevitability, conceded in the 154th minute to a former player to lose the game 4-3.

Yes, yes, yes it was their first competitive game for the longest time. Yes, yes, yes they were missing many key players. But no, no, no there’s still no excuse for playing so naively. So contrary to everything that works when defending a lead.

On the positive side Adnan and Veselinovic played well and the latter may turn out to be a ball playing defender of genuine quality, but on the negative side In-Beom once again failed to persuade anybody that his longed for move to Europe is anywhere near to being a reality and too many players gave the ball away when attempting a simple pass.

These aren’t the symptoms of the situation, they are seemingly innate problems that exist within the team.

These problems can be (and should be) solved on the training ground (“Not if they’re innate they can’t be!” scream the pedants at the back). And if a team is constantly not doing what the coaching staff want them to do then the way the team is being coached needs to change.

But perhaps we shouldn’t be too harsh on players and coaches who are facing a situation that most of us would find close to intolerable?

Nah. Part of the fun of it all is venting irrational anger for nonsensical reasons.

And, to end on a really positive note, if the Whitecaps lose to Seattle in the next game there will probably be no need to get up early for the final game of the group that starts at the ungodly hour of 6.a.m.

Hurrah!

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Crépeau-4, Nerwinski-5, Adnan-6, Veselinovic-6*, Khmiri-4, Owusu-5, Teibert-4, In-Beom-3, Dájome-3, Milinkovic-5, Reyna-4

 

Vancouver Whitecaps: Feel the Love Go

The CEO of a sports team shouldn’t be an important figure.

Correction.

The CEO of a sports team shouldn’t be a publicly important figure. Their role should be to keep the operation ticking over quietly and not have their every action or interaction clanging an alarm that awakens all.

When a CEO does become a public figure it’s usually a sign that something somewhere has gone awry in the way things should be.

Which brings us neatly to the the Vancouver Whitecaps announcing that their CEO Mark Pannes had been fired from his role last week.

The mere fact that this news hit harder than the run of the mill Front Office shenanigans is indicative of the fact that Pannes had been a breath of fresh air pumped in to a Whitecaps culture that had long been a stale and noxious fug.

He interacted with supporters, he initiated schemes that were both beneficial to the community and to the club and he allowed everybody the breathing room to just be a fan of the team and stop worrying about what the Whitecaps would manage to mess up next.

So, given all that, it’s probably not surprising that the reaction on social media was vehemently opposed to the move. And I’m using the phrase “vehemently opposed” here in the sense of “frothing at the mouth angry”.

The Whitecaps had finally overstepped the mark and retribution and/or remorse were demanded.

And yet.

When the histories of our age come to be written there surely has to be at least one tome entitled “Twitter Was Not Real Life: A Study of how Trending Topics Failed to Predict the Glorious Rise of Our Esteemed World Leader Barron Trump“.

Because if we have have learned just one thing over recent years, it is surely that the echo chamber of a bubble set in the void of irrelevance that is all our lives on social media doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. It’s just that our incoherent noise is reflected back as some semblance of coherent signal and we feel less alone.

And, much like an episode of The Murdoch Mysteries, Twitter has both good and bad actors, with Whitecaps Twitter being no exception to that rule.

It sometimes feels as though many of us should invest in a Victorian fainting couch so dramatically do we react to any instance in which the Whitecaps fall below our Platonic ideal of how the club should be run.

The anger is always bubbling and is always dialed up to eleven making it nigh on impossible to distinguish the petty squabble from the insurgency (But special mention to the people who thought a Whitecaps tweet celebrating Juneteenth was still fair game to attack the Pannes decision) and there are those who seem to have cancelled more season tickets than a Network TV executive has cancelled intelligent and darkly witty Sci-Fi seasons.

But real change comes in the streets not the tweets or, in the case of the Whitecaps, the seats not the tweets and, while it’s hard to be certain if this is really a Franz Ferdinand moment for the club or not, it doesn’t feel like it. It feels more like a phony war brought on by a mixture of incompetence, boredom and anger in need of an outlet.

But what the Whitecaps should be worried about it is the apathy that could set in from the larger fan base given the lack of soccer for the last few months and perhaps their continued enforced physical absence for over a year.

Will it be a case of that absence making the heart grow fonder or will it be a case of out of sight being out of mind?

Sooner or later the club will need to actively engage with all their fans in an effort to get them back on board.

And do you know who would have been great at that? Who would have really understood what needed to be done and how to do it in a way that made ticket holders feel valued and appreciated?

You can take that as a rhetorical question.

We don’t know the ins and outs of exactly why Pannes was fired, but we can at least file it into one of two categories.

It was either a rational business decision the reasons for which the people who made it are incapable of articulating, or it was an irrational business decision that can’t be articulated.

Viel Glück Axel!

Time Added On

Toward the end of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey the astronaut “Dave” experiences Time as a series of jump cuts. Scenes flashing by devoid of any kind of narrative structure. He is eating a meal, he is watching a glass of wine fall to the ground, he is laying on his bed.

Life in the lock-down can be a little like that.

We move from place to place wondering less about where we are and more about when we are. “Was it yesterday I went to the supermarket or last Friday?” “Why have I lost track of regular meal times?”

And that’s a reminder that Time only seems linear because we try to make it so.

Like fishing vessels adrift on an endless ocean we throw out marker buoys to create the illusion of progress.

The religions of the world have tried to solve the problem of understanding Time by adding circularity to the linear. With their Passovers and Easters and Ramadans and May the Fourth’s and so on and so on ad infinitum.

But those of us who only experience these events as secular points of vague interest are  forced to turn to the only true religion of the modern era.

Sport.

For every sport there is a season and each new season is a reassuring marker buoy to be noted and logged.

But, now that even sport is gone, what is there to give us anchor?

We can no longer make sense of Time because Time doesn’t make sense. Or rather, our senses can’t make sense of Time without the filter of all the “static” events we have carefully manufactured.

Our reality is only comprehensible when viewed through the filter of our illusions.

Gradually though we are creeping back toward the normal, or the “new normal” at least, and we will once again find ourselves secure in the footholds of schedules and tables and team sheets.

We will once again live through Time and not in it.

The last few weeks will no doubt change the way we think about many things. But will it also change the way we think about the way we think about many things?

An Open Letter to September 2020

Dear September,

It’s me, April. I’m writing to you because I’m heading your way and I’m eager to know what the world is like where you are.

You probably know by now that over here we are still self isolating, social distancing and all those other phrases that have become everyday parlance by now. Do those things still exist there? I’m sure they do, but I hope they’re not as all encompassing as they are where I am.

I’m sure you’ve also heard that there are no sports here. What about there? I’d like to think there will be sports to watch when I get there and I’d like to think that people can go and watch them. Be a part of a crowd again.

But I won’t get my hopes too high.

Some sports here are talking about June as a time to be back up and running (pun intended!) but that seems wildly optimistic to me. Especially given how things are in America right now.

What is America like there?

No wait. Don’t tell me. I don’t want to know.

Are your sidewalks still scarred with duct tape? Measuring out the distance between us all?

And what about the bars and restaurants? Does it feel “normal” to walk into a bar there?  Or has our new normal just become the normal everywhere now?

One of the things I’m most looking forward to when I get there is being able to look back at where I am now and seeing how it looks from your vantage point. A new perspective  never does anyone any harm right?

But what would be even better, although I’m sorry to say this is something neither me nor you will be able to do my good friend September, would be to read the historians of the future.

What will they say about me in fifty years time? In one hundred years time? What will they say about you? Or will the two of us just blend into one? What if we’re not as momentous as we feel we are? Indistinguishable and unimportant within the arc of the story?

The Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of the whole affair.

Is it too early to say which way the dice will roll from where you are?

Will people turn in on themselves and hide from the world and the “other”, or will they turn away from the system that led them to this? Maybe when I get there I will have a clearer idea?

I suppose the whole thing is fascinating in an “interesting times” kind of a way. A worldwide experiment that still has a long, long way to run. But let’s just hope that me and you are in the placebo group!

Anyway, I have to go now.

I can hear May begin to stir somewhere downstairs and he will be knocking at my door before I know it. All disheveled and weary, but with the light of the summer to be bursting out of his eyes.

Between you and me September, I’m dreading the moment when I have to sit him down and tell him about the world he will find out there. But what can you do?

Sorry for all these questions. I’m sure you have your own troubles to navigate, but stay safe and I’ll see you sooner than you know.

I really hope we can catch a game together when I get there.

Your friend,

April.

Oh Whitecaps, Where Art Thou?

A Max Crepeau reflexive save
Not standing for the the accursed wave
A penalty shout, an offside call
I miss them all, I miss them all

A referee in need of glasses
Russell Teibert’s backward passes
A careless gap in a defensive wall
I miss them all, I miss them all

The wins the ties, the brutal losses
Jake Nerwinski’s hopeful crosses
A forward who can’t help but fall
I miss them all, I miss them all

A journeyman with two left feet,
A well timed and sarcastic tweet
A melee that becomes a brawl
I miss them all, I miss them all

Yordy Reyna’s legs like pistons
I much prefer to social distance
The line for beer that seems to crawl
I miss them all, I miss them all

Though quarantine may lead to purity
I yearn for the touch of BC Place Security
A cold and broken washroom stall
I miss them all, I miss them all

An In-Beom Hwang goal celebration
Appeals much more than isolation
A decision that’s too close to call
I miss them all, I miss them all

The supporter’s flags as they’re unfurling
A game delayed because of curling
These things held me in their thrall
And I miss them all, I miss them all

I’m sick of Crave, I’m sick of Netflix
I want corners and I want free-kicks
I can watch no more of Better Call Saul
So I miss them all, I miss them all

An Ali Adnan shot that’s blasted
The joyful shout of “You fat bastard”
A misplaced pass, a nice through ball
I miss them all, I miss them all

When they return I’l be more forgiving
For what’s a life without the living?
And what’s a foot without the ball?
I miss them all, I miss them all

Vancouver Whitecaps show the quality we were looking for

Well that was better.

After the home opener debacle of last week the Vancouver Whitecaps put in a perfectly competent performance to defeat a particularly poor LA Galaxy side on Saturday evening.

This time around the Whitecaps played as though they had a game plan.  They didn’t allow themselves to be dominated in midfield and didn’t allow each individual section of the team to become isolated from the others.

There was much talk before the game about the introduction of Andy Rose to provide experience and calm to both the back line and the side as a whole.

It’s hard to quantify just how calming that influence was, but it may be worth the BC Government keeping Rose on call so that he can helicopter in to any of the various Costco locations where people seem to be under the impression that toilet paper is the key to survival.

“Hello everyone, I’m Andy Rose and I’m here to tell you that five rolls of toilet paper per day is enough for even the most highly strung of families.”

Elsewhere, Janio Bikel made the kind of debut at right back that makes one think he will be a regular starter sooner rather than later and Ryan Raposo made the the kind of substitute appearance that makes one think that if it wasn’t enough to make him a regular starter, it was enough to make him one of the first options from the bench in future games.

Not that there weren’t still issues.

The Whitecaps can’t keep relying on Ali Adnan to be their main provider and In-Beom once again displayed a remarkable ability to make the wrong decision whenever he did get in to any kind of dangerous position.

Perhaps is is time for him to adopt the “Costanza Strategy’?  If every instinct he has is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.

Vancouver also got lucky in playing a team who have bought a star forward who is specifically known for his prowess at finishing without really seeming to have thought about how those chances will be created for him.

But, on a completely different note, it was another unremarkable outing for Lucas Cavallini. One that he topped off with a penalty miss that was only somewhat less embarrassing than Ali Adnan’s against the same opponent last season.

Have the Whitecaps scouted the Galaxy and somehow decided that kicking the ball slowly toward the goalkeeper is an effective spot kick technique? If so, they are very, very wrong.

But now is not the time to dwell on negativity. There will be ample opportunity for such wallowing in future games.

Now is the time to enjoy a performance that indicated the Whitecaps can play in the style that Marc Dos Santos wants them to, that the new arrivals and the young players can make the team better and that they may not be the pushovers they so often were last season.

The next big test is to see whether they can perform as effectively at home when the onus will be on them to make the running.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Crepeau-6, Bikel-6, Adnan-6, Rose-6, Khmiri-6, In-Beom-5, Teibert-5, Milinkovic-4, Dajome-5, Ricketts-6*, Cavallini-4, (Raposo-6)

 

Vancouver Whitecaps can’t change their habits

If Marc Dos Santos had taken the trouble to contact me for advice before the start of the season (And, like you, I’m slightly baffled as to why that call was never made) the first thing I would have said following my 3½-4 hour PowerPoint presentation would have been to emphasize that the buzz phrase for 2020 would need to be “Buy in”.

Buy in to his tactics from the players and buy in to the project as a whole from the supporters.

After all, before the 2019 season we were promised an exciting side that would play an aggressive high press but, once the cleats hit the turf, the team turned into an incoherent mess of individuals playing in their own sweet and sour way.

So this season things had to be different.

Thus we were promised an exciting side that would play an aggressive high press but, once the cleats hit the turf, the team turned into an incoherent mess of individuals playing in their own sweet and sour way.

Oh dear.

The 3-1 loss to Sporting Kansas City wasn’t disheartening because the performance was so poor, it was disheartening because it felt as though not one single lesson had been learned.

The Whitecaps faced their home opener with a 22,000 crowd as though the main objective was just to get through the whole experience without doing anything too ambitious.

As though the crowd and the occasion were things to be blocked out rather than built on.

The whole performance was marked by nothing less than lack of courage. Lack of courage when not on the ball as, once again, the press disintegrated when faced with the harsh reality of a game that mattered and lack of courage when on the ball.

Most of the time the man in possession was left with no out pass other than a speculative forward ball making Lucas Cavallini the most recent resident of the solitary island that only exists in the world of the Whitecaps. An island beyond heat maps, an island in which the inhabitants crane their necks as random footballs fall from the sky with unpredictable frequency.

Not that the formation or tactics helped anybody.

Playing out of the back isn’t really playing out of the back if it just consists of Russell Teibert collecting the ball from the central defender and then giving it back to him but, if we have to play that way and if In-Beom has to play so deep, then why isn’t he the one in charge of distribution?

Not that he was any good either of course. In most recent interviews In- Beom seems to have the urge to mention Europe as a future destination. We can only assume that this is in relation to vacation planning rather than as a career prospect given the way he shirked any real responsibility on Saturday.

And there was something enervating about watching Cristian Dajome plow his furrow on the right wing.

The latest in a long line of Vancouver wide players who flatter with their pace while being blissfully unaware of those around him or paying attention to the final ball.

Were there any good points?

Milinkovic did well for the goal and it was astonishing to see a full back in the opposition six yard box during open play to complete the move.

But, just as the Whitecaps relinquished the advantage to Kansas at the start of the game, then so they relinquished the advantage once they equalized.

Forever happy with trying to get by on just enough and never pushing themselves to do more.

There are still players to come in and this was only the first game of the season, but we’ve all been through this movie before.

The occasional three points on the road thanks to backs to the wall defending and an against the run of play counter-attack. A late equalizer at home that is somehow argued exhibits the character of the team and makes us all think that a turnaround is coming.

But the turnaround isn’t coming and it never will. Not if the foundation of what happens on the field is so flawed.

The Whitecaps have spent the off season making hay on the fact that their off the field operations will no longer tolerate under performance or the abdication of responsibility that have characterized the club for years.

But that culture still seems to be a long way away from the on field product.

Because the performance on Saturday reeked of a group of coaches and players who aren’t brave enough to push through to the next level.

They were out-thought, out-worked and out-played.

It was embarrassing to watch.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Crepeau-4, Nerwinski-5, Khmiri-2, Cornelius-3, Teibert-3, In-Beom-2, Dajome-2, Milinkovic-5*, Cavallini-4, Reyna-4

 

Are the Vancouver Whitecaps ready to fight?

The best thing on the internet this week, possibly the best thing on the internet ever, was the wildlife camera footage of a coyote and a badger using a culvert to cross a major highway.

Apparently it is common for the two species to hunt together, but reading the phrase “Badgers and coyotes sometimes work together to hunt.” is a very different experience than seeing the relationship in action.

Because this isn’t just some random coyote calling some random badger to hurry up because there are things to do. This is a particular coyote calling a particular badger to hurry up because there are things to do.

There is, for the want of a better word, an established relationship between the two and while we must always avoid anthropomorphism in circumstances such as this it’s hard not to think that these two critters can’t teach us all a valuable life lesson.

The lesson that if you find the right partner in life it doesn’t really matter how ill suited you may appear, it doesn’t really matter what the world may think about your compatibility and it doesn’t really matter if similar relationships never seem to last for any length of time.

Because what really matters is that if you do find the right partner in life then you too can spend the dark nights searching for unsuspecting prey and killing it.

And is there any sport in the world in which the coyotes and badgers of this world can coexist quite as effectively as soccer?

A physical specimen like Ronaldo can compete with an unkempt waif like Messi for the title of best player in the world.

The speed of Henry can compete with the languid Zidane for the title of best French player ever.

And a giant of a man like Kendall Waston can compare with the diminutive Cristian Techera as both being competent Major League Soccer players.

And is there any other league ion the world in which the coyotes and the badgers are so very much coyote and badger as Major League Soccer?

A world superstar up front being fed through balls by a journey man midfielder. An international defender combining with a goalkeeper who barely makes enough money to afford a Compass card, or a World Cup winning number ten looking exasperated as a winger from Panama consistently fails to make the right runs.

We won’t really know what the Whitecaps coyote/badger ratio is until the season begins but, as of now, and judging from the (admittedly brief) pre-season performances, they are a 4-3-3 team being forced to play 4-2-3-1 due to the weaknesses in midfield.

If that isn’t remedied then we will probably be left with In-Beom playing too deep as one of the defensive two and a series of players who qualify as a “Yes, but he can actually play as a number ten.” selection.

There’s still time for that deficiency to be remedied, but not as much time as there used to be.

That’s just basic science.

Vancouver Whitecaps: No Easy Way Up

“Turn off your mind relax and float down stream
It is not dying, it is not dying
Lay down all thoughts, surrender to the void
It is shining, it is shining”
 
 
I can’t say for certain that John Lennon’s missive on the power of hallucinogens as the most effective method of finding inner peace with regard to Ringo’s vocals was the Mission Statement by which the Vancouver Whitecaps ownership and Front Office lived up until this season, but they did accept the vagaries of life in a way that would make even Zhàozhōu Cōngshěn wonder if he wasn’t maybe getting bogged down a little too much in the mundanities of everyday life.
 
But, eventually, the time and the tide of events must swallow up even the most obstinate of empires and the last few months have been marked by changes of both personnel and tone that some historians have compared to Mikhail Gorbachev’s attempt to transform the Soviet Union via the concepts perestroika and glasnost.
 
Restructuring and openness weren’t words one associated with the previous regime, but the arrival of Axel Schuster as Sporting Director and Mark Pannes as Chief Executive Officer gave physical embodiment to what had previously been nothing more than empty promises and lip service.
 
So things are looking up?
 
Yes they are. And next week I will look at the squad in full detail.
 
Wait? What? That can’t be the end.
 
Why not?
 
Well, it wasn’t fully formed and left me feeling a vague sense of promise unfulfilled.
 
Maybe I was foreshadowing the Whitecaps season?
 
Ooh that’s clever!
 
Thank you.
 
But go on. It’s Sunday morning, there’s nothing else to do. Give me some detail!
 
Well, no doubt there have been changes in the way the ownership and the Front Office are run. Huge changes, the kind of changes that many have been wishing and hoping for for the longest time.
 
But they have only just happened and you don’t change the culture of a club overnight and, even if you do, those changes don’t seep down into the roots for a long, long time.
 
So we’re still just looking at surface changes that are essentially a version of a Chris Rock routine.
 
“You’re supposed to have a scouting network! You’re supposed to interact with the supporters! You don’t get credit for this!”
 
Which leaves us with the coach and the team on the field.
 
The signings certainly seem more ambitious and coherent this time around. As though it hasn’t just been left to the coach to do all the legwork and, more importantly, the core of the team is in place in time for the preseason to allow Marc Dos Santos time to mould them into the shape he wants.
 
We can still look at the midfield with a vague sense of terror, but hopefully there will be additions there too before long.
 
The summation of all this is that the Whitecaps have given themselves a chance to succeed and that if they fail this time around they will have failed for the right reasons rather than the wrong.
 
That’s more than we had before.