It Takes A Village

I live in a village now.

Strange that it would take a global event to limit our lives to the local. To lower our horizons to two or three blocks.

But in days like this the coffee shop knows my order, the bar knows my beer, the store knows I don’t need a bag and ID is no longer required when collecting a parcel from the post office.

They know me and I know them.

But not really.

All we really know are the three dimensional avatars that drift in and out of each others lives from time to time.

But that’s enough to create a connection. A shared experience. A common thread.

So maybe the Whitecaps were on to something with their “It Takes a Village” marketing campaign? Maybe they were right to try and turn the the team into an emblem for belonging?

But then the world changed and a connection got severed.

How could it not?

We were all so busy burying our heads in our own lives that we didn’t have the energy (physical/emotional) to spare for a team that barely even played in Vancouver.

That wasn’t their fault. But the necessary distance this year and the constant change of personnel over the last two has made it hard to to turn the majority of the team into those three dimensional avatars we need them to be.

Ali Adnan has been around long enough for us to know that he will argue with anybody while a game is ongoing and we know that Russell Teibert will listen to the coach’s instructions with all the sombre seriousness of a toddler trying to button up a raincoat.

But Bikel, Veselinovic and Owusu?

We barely know them outside of pixels on a screen and disheartening heat maps.

All the indications from the club are that there will be less turnover of the squad in preparation for next season and, while that may be a disputable decision from a footballing perspective, it’s almost essential in terms of a sense of kinship.

In an ideal world we love the players in our team, in a good world we root for them and in an acceptable world we hate them for the pain they cause.

It’s a cruel world in which we don’t even know who they are.

Vancouver Whitecaps tread softly into the dying of the light

The Vancouver Whitecaps 2020 season was always going to be more interesting for the questions it raised in retrospect than it was to watch in real time.

Questions such as, what conclusion can we draw about any player or coach given the circumstances?

In more “normal” times would Marc Dos Santos have been able to shape this squad into one that resembled an effective unit or not?

The season was put out of its misery (barring more Covid related nonsense) by a 1-0 loss to the Portland Timbers on Sunday evening. A loss that encapsulated the year as whole.

The Whitecaps played the game as though trying to win it was a little bit too ambitious. Best to keep it tight and hope the lucky break fell their way rather than to their opponent.

But it didn’t.

And that’s the price you pay when you live your life by the coin toss.

If the limit of your dreams is to squeak into the playoffs then don’t be surprised if your dreams get trodden on.

If you don’t try to beat a terrible LA Galaxy team, then don’t be surprised if they steal a last minute winner.

If you rest almost the whole team for a game against Seattle then don’t be surprised if that defeat turns out to be as important as the defeat you suffered with all the rested players back.

There are mitigating circumstances flying around like murder hornets in a vacuum tube of course.

But, in the end, the Whitecaps never really controlled the things they could control and that was their undoing.

There will be time enough to go over what all of this means in the coming weeks and months but, right now, no one would blame the coaches and the players if they forewent the final meaningless game against the LA Galaxy and got out of Dodge before Tuesday.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Bush-5.5-, Nerwinski-5.5, Adnan-5.5, Veselinovic-4.5, Godoy-6.5*, Bikel-5.5, Owusu-5.5, Teibert-4.5, Dajome-3.4, Montero-2, Cavallini-3

Vancouver Whitecaps play it safer than Safe Jack McSafe the safety inspector

Marc dos Santos a had a cunning plan.

It didn’t work.

But it almost worked, depending on your perspective.

Either a second string Vancouver Whitecaps team kept the Seattle Sounders at bay for fifty=five minutes, or the Whitecaps missed the opportunity to take advantage of a rusty Sounders team and allowed them to play themselves in to the game and on to victory.

And perhaps medical sporting science is now so exact that the difference between players playing for forty-five minutes and thirty-five minutes is a finely calibrated decision based on lung capacity, blood work and the extensive use of an MRI machine.

Or, perhaps Dos Santos decided to ride his luck for an extra ten minutes before making the change, only to discover that his luck had decided to throw him unceremoniously into a ditch.

Couple this game with the late defeat to the LA Galaxy and it’s hard not to leap to the (perhaps unfair) conclusion that the reluctance to make substitutions when they are clearly needed has cost the Whitecaps at least one, perhaps two, crucial points in the run in to the end of the season.

We won’t really know the answer to that until the end of the campaign and even then it will still be defendant on the manner in which MLS adjudges how the points tallies will be evaluated.

But in a year such as this it seems likely (and oddly fitting) that Vancouver could miss out on the joys of the post-season because the coach displayed an abundance of caution.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Bush-5, Bikel-4.5, Gutierrez-5, Rose-4.5, Cornelius-5*, Veselinovic-4.5, Baldisimo-5, Teibert-4, Raposo-3, Bair-3, Ricketts-4

Vancouver Whitecaps Pick Up a Win

If Jake Nerwinski doesn’t have a recurring nightmare in which an adorable yellow penguin floats delightfully over his head only for him to slowly turn and see it being voraciously devoured by an angry minotaur dressed as an MLS left sided attacker then his subconscious isn’t doing half the work it should be doing.

But, even if his sleep is peaceful, opposing teams have certainly found a cheat code to score against the Vancouver Whitecaps. Whip in a cross from the right to a player on the left, who will inevitably be standing unguarded because every Whitecaps defender will have been drawn into the centre.

It happened again against San Jose on Saturday evening but, this time, it didn’t matter quite so much because Vancouver went from a timid and tepid first half to a lively and another word beginning with “L” second half.

One of the main reasons for that turnaround was the performance of Cristian Dajome, who is slowly becoming one of the most important players on the team.

There are still times when it feels as though he has never seen a football before in his life, but there are also times (becoming more frequent of late) when he is both the main outlet and the main creator and he is developing a burgeoning partnership with Fredy Montero and, to a lesser extent, Lucas Cavallini.

And, speaking of burgeoning partnerships, Bikel and Owusu in the middle and Godoy and Veselinovic at the back are slowly, sometimes very slowly, settling into what could, at times, be called cohesion.

There’s still a long way to go and the chances of the Whitecaps making the playoffs are probably fifty-fifty at the very best (and the chances of progressing in any meaningful way after that are much, much worse) but these tantalizing glimpses of a team playing with a plan are more than we had a few weeks ago.

And that’s not nothing.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Bush-6, Nerwinski-5.5, Adnan-5, Godoy-6, Veselinovic-6, Bikel-6, Owusu-6, Dajome-6*, Ricketts-5.5, Cavallini-5, Montero-5.5

The night is blue for the Vancouver Whitecaps

Now with a couple of added observations.

There was a time when a 1-0 defeat at the LA Galaxy wouldn’t have been too dispiriting a result for the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Since time is now a fluid concept it’s hard to be definitive about when that was. Last month? Last year? A week on Tuesday?

But it definitely wasn’t on this particular Sunday, because a somewhat buoyed Whitecaps were facing a somewhat deflated Galaxy and, for about sixty minutes of the game, the Whitecaps coped.

To be fair, the Whitecaps were decent in the first half. Not stellar, not great, but decent. the midfield looked like an actual thing (a bigger achievement than it sounds) and there were flickering embers of hope that Godoy and Veselinovic could develop into a decent partnership given enough games.

The biggest problem is that this mini renaissance of late is predicated on the return to the team, and the return to form, of Fredy Montero. And the problem with that is it forces Dos Santos to play a system he really doesn’t want to play.

So, for next season, what are the options? Rely on Montero maintaining this standard for another year? Find a direct replacement for him? Play the system Dos Santos prefers? Find a new coach?

Not one of those options offers concrete grounds for hope and the Whitecaps will be back facing another off season of hoping to make the right move rather than knowing what move they want to make.

Almost looking as likely as the home team to score and safe in the knowledge that, if they avoided doing something stupid, then LA would probably fail to score anyway.

But they did do something stupid.

Or rather Marc Dos Santos did something stupid by not doing anything; certainly not enough.

With at least thirty minutes to go it was clear that neither Cavallini nor Montero were going to be difference makers in this game and it was equally clear that they were failing to hold on to the ball.

So take them off. Give the Galaxy defence the pace and energy of Ricketts or Bair to worry about. At least that would prevent the Whitecaps defence having to deal with the ball returning to them more often than was really necessary.

But the change never happened. Cavallini continued to lumber and Montero continued to chug along to no avail and the Galaxy got closer and closer to the winning goal until, with a bitter tang of justice, it finally came.

Maybe Dos Santos didn’t feel comfortable taking either of his two star forwards off? Maybe he wanted to let the bench players know that he rates them so poorly that they aren’t worth using even when the first choice players are dead on their feet?

Maybe he just thought he’d ride his luck out to the end?

After the game Dos Santos said that he knew his players were tired but he left both Montero and Cavallini on because of their quality in front of goal.

That would make more sense if either of them had looked remotely like scoring in the second half and, while throwing speed on for the final twenty minutes is the most simplistic of all football tactics, there are times when it makes sense.

This was clearly one of those times and everybody but the Whitecaps coaching staff could see it.

Whatever the reasoning, both he and his team now have a week to ponder forlornly on what might have been.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Bush-5, Nerwinski-6*, Adnan-5, Godoy-6, Veselinovic-5, Owusu-5, Baldsisimo-5, Teibert-5, Dajome-5, Montero-5, Cavavllini-3

Vancouver Whitecaps: A Thanksgiving Miracle!

With more and more MLS teams being forced to postpone games due to positive Covid tests it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that the Vancouver Whitecaps could simply self isolate their way into a playoff place.

The less likely route to the post-season would be to win some games of football but, astonishingly, that’s what they did on Saturday evening by beating Real Salt Lake 2-1 at Providence Park.

It all seemed a bit too familiar for most of the game, with the Whitecaps starting with some urgency but little control before the “visitors” took the lead thanks to Vancouver defending that looked more like a display in an abstract art retrospective than the work of professional athletes.

For the second half Salt Lake decided, with some justification, that if they just sat back Vancouver would huff and puff in vain and the points would be theirs.

But Marc Dos Santos finally decided to do what everybody else in the known universe knows he should do far more often and gave Michael Baldisimo some minutes.

Baldisimo sent in the free kick that forced the own goal equalizer and then hit a first time cushioned pass to Ali Adnan that began the attack that Lucas Cavallini eventually completed.

When I die and go to hell the flickering Betamax video I will be forced to watch on an endless loop will be a parade of Vancouver Whitecaps midfielders receiving the ball with their back to goal, having space to turn into a dangerous position, but instead opting to play a safe pass back to a central defender.

Baldismo at least spares me that fate before my time by always looking for the simple, but positive, pass.

In the closing minutes Vancouver endured the obligatory backs to the wall desperation accompanied by the mandatory injuries to their goalkeeper, but they hung on for the three points that lend the veneer of respectability to their place in the standings.

Can they build on this?

Probably not, but a win is a win is a win.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Bush-6, Nerwinski-4, Adnan-4, Veselinovic-5, Godoy-6*, Owusu-4. Bikel-4.5, Teibert-4, Dajome-4.5, Montero-6, Cavallini-5 (Baldisimo-6)

Vancouver Whitecaps: What are they good for?

“All good teams are alike; each bad team is bad in its own way.”

And the Whitecaps have taken Tolstoy’s memorable quote about football to a new level. For they somehow manage to be bad in a slightly different way in each game.

In the 3-0 defeat to San Jose, for example, they pressed well in the first half and looked capable of causing the hosts problems as the game went on.

Well, the game went on, but the Whitecaps didn’t. Not really.

Sloppy defending gave away an early goal in the second half and then Andy Rose, included in central defence for his experience and calm head, picked up a silly second yellow card and the game was essentially over.

Apart from two more goals and Erik Godoy being harshly red carded for what looked like a minor, if somewhat foolish, kick to an ankle.

In truth referee Alan Chapman probably did Marc Dos Santos a favour with that decision; allowing him to talk about bad officiating rather than the way his team, once again, fell apart at the first sign of adversity.

But, as Tolstoy also said, “Every coach thinks of changing the team, but none thinks of changing himself”.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Bush-5, Nerwinski-4.5, Adnan-3, Rose-2, Godoy-4.5, Owusu-3, Baldisimo-4, Teibert-5, Dajome-2, Ricketts, 3, Montero-5.5*

Vancouver Whitecaps: Point of No Return

The thing is, if you’re not a very good team, then you’d better make sure you spend some time working on the basics.

Defending set-pieces, passing the ball in front of a runner and not to or behind him, how you will try to break down a defence that is sitting deep.

Things like that.

I’m not sure what the more depressing thought is. That the Whitecaps do work on these basics or that they don’t work on them. But either way they never employ them, so I suppose it doesn’t make any difference in the end.

The 1-0 defeat to Portland on Sunday was better than the 6-0 loss to LAFC in many ways, but in others it was worse. A 6-0 loss can be dismissed as an aberration. One of those nights. The capricious nature of the sporting gods.

But the loss in Portland was painful because it exposed the Whitecaps for what they truly are. A leaden footed and slow witted team who rely on “moments” to create goals rather than anything as substantial as a coherent system of consistent interplay.

The game was a deep dark truthful mirror that told us that it’s not just Russell Teibert who loves to regress play rather than progress it. It told us that caution and cowardice are not bugs but features of how the team play.

It told us that Lucas Cavallini is a forward rather than a goal scorer and will need more than half chances created if he is going to prosper. And that he will probably need more than a few full chances too. It told us that Bikel and Owusu are functional at best in the centre of the pitch and that the full backs cause as many problems for their own defence as they do the opposition.

And it told us that Marc Dos Santos was content with all that. Was content to limit the damage against a Cascadian rival, because that was better than taking a risk.

Better to lose by one and not try to win than try to win and lose by more.

The players already seem to have lost belief in the coach and, in this game, it felt like the coach had lost belief in himself too.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Meredith-4, Nerwinski-4.5, Gutierrez-3.5, Rose-5.5, Godoy-5.5*, Adnan-4, Owusu-4.5, Bikel-4.5, Dajome-4, Montero-5, Cavallini-3.5

Vancouver Whitecaps: Living as they dream

The phrase “Road Trip” doesn’t really do justice to the adventure the Vancouver Whitecaps are about to embark upon. “Odyssey” perhaps? “A journey into the dark heart of America”? “Dude, where’s my plane?”

But, whatever nomenclature we eventually settle on, the rollicking escapade did at least get off to a good start.

Actually, it got off to a slow and turgid start, with the Whitecaps spending the first half of the game against Real Salt Lake flailing around for the ball like puppies trying to chase down a scurry of squirrels.

But the second half was better.

Fredy Montero began to get on the ball more and the forward forays did at least seem to have some purpose.

And, once David Milinkovic scored and Salt Lake had Kyle Beckermann sent off, every Whitecaps fan settled down to watch their team sit as deep as possible and allow the ten man opposition to come on to them.

So, as against Montreal in the week, it came to be that this tactic led to the concession of a goal but, as against Montreal in the week, the Whitecaps responded by scoring another goal of their own.

And, this time around, it was substitute Lucas Cavallini latching on to a Fredy Montero cross.

It was brave of Marc Dos Santos to leave Cavallini on the bench. Surprisingly brave. But he will surely have to start the Canadian for the game in LA on Wednesday.

That probably means dropping Montero to the number ten role and moving Milinkovic wide in place of Adnan.

That’s a shame because Milinkovic has been better in the central role than on the wing, but needs must I suppose.

Elsewhere Cristian Dajome showed that he can be both a frustrating and effective MLS player. His first touch at times was awful, but his work rate and pace helped create the first goal and he seems to be developing a basic understanding with both Montero and Milinkovic.

And speaking of pace.

Is this the slowest Vancouver team since they joined MLS? The restless spirits of Kekutah Manneh and Darren Mattocks have hung around the club for years, imbuing each iteration of the squad with at least two or three players who can “turn on the afterburners” before running the ball out of play for a goal kick.

That absence is no bad thing. Speed can be a hell of drug for players searching for the easy pass, but it does mean being more careful in possession. Picking out the man, not the space twenty yards ahead of him.

But that will require an evolution in the way they play. An evolution that can be helped by both Montero and Baldisimo. Two players at either end of their careers who appreciate that the ball is their friend and who want it be the friend of their friends too.

Whether that can happen this season is unlikely. But the process can at least start, and it has to start because the Whitecaps can’t survive if they treat every one of their upcoming matches as the road games they actually are.

Somehow Dos Santos has to instill the mind set into his players that where they are playing is irrelevant for the rest of this season. Every game can’t be a backs to the wall, smash and grab raid. Not successfully anyway.

Wherever they lay their cleats, that’s their home for the rest of the year.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Hasal-5, Nerwinski-5.5, Gutierrez, 5.5, Veselinovic-4.5, Cornelius-5.5, Teibert-5.5, Bikel-5.5, Milinkovic-5.5, Adnan-4.5, Dajome-5.5, Montero-6* (Baldisimo-5.5, Cavallini-5)

Vancouver Whitecaps: Nothing but blue skies from now on?

Who knew that all the Vancouver Whitecaps needed was a player with genuine quality who could link up with his teammates and keep the ball?

Fredy Montero didn’t quite win the game single handedly against the Montreal Impact on Wednesday evening at BC Place, but it felt that way at times.

Only playing because Lucas Cavallini picked up a red card in the previous game, Montero was clearly out to prove a point before the team head south to who knows what.

He drifted around the field, always offering himself as a passing option and always treating the ball with respect rather than as a hand grenade with the pin pulled out that has been the dominant style for this team all season.

He also used a touch of devilry to make a half-hearted punch to his knee look like a hammer blow to the head as wielded by George Foreman in his prime.

Oh, and he managed to score from the subsequent penalty kick.

Elsewhere Cristián Gutiérrez slotted in at left back in place of Ali Adnan and offered the Impact none of the freedom the Iraqi afforded them last time out and David Milinkovic demonstrated that his best position by far is the number ten role where he can be both creative and an early line of defence.

It’s hard to make any sweeping judgments after a game in which the opposition go down to ten men in the first half. And it’s even harder when we remember that this was yet another change of formation for the Whitecaps with a line up that featured several players who wouldn’t be in the coach’s first eleven all other things being equal.

Which poses this problem.

Both Montero and Gutiérrez have earned the right to start the next game in Salt Lake on Saturday, so does Marc Dos Santos pick them and leave out his two Designated Players? Or does he tinker with the formation yet again to accommodate all four and risk unbalancing a system that at least displayed a semblance of coherence?

No doubt he will say this is a good problem to have. But it isn’t. It’s a potential problem for a squad that always seems to teeter on the cusp of discontent.

Every Whitecaps silver lining has a cloud.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Hasal-6, Nerwinski-5, Gutiérrez-6, Cornelius-5.5, Veselinovic-5.5, Teibert-5.5, Bikel-5.5, Dajome-6, Bair-5, Milinkovic, 6, Montero-7* (Baldisimo-5.5)