The Vancouver Whitecaps are not brillig

For years we’ve been told that the Whitecaps are disadvantaged by being based in Vancouver because the travel is so arduous.

For years we’ve been told that visiting Salt Lake is so tough because the home team have the advantage of training and playing at high altitude.

If nothing else good comes from this sinkhole of a season can we at least put an end to these kinds of excuses and get out clauses?

If the Whitecaps are not very good it’s because they’re not very good.

Those of us who hoped the win against the Galaxy would kickstart the team (and the coach) into playing with more determination and brio were left to sigh discontentedly as Vancouver approached the game against a very poor Houston team with the air of a side who thought that winning would be nice but not really all that important.

A moderately decent first half gave way to a listless second and any chance to give the season momentum was cast aside in favour of just letting the game drift away as though it were a pre-season friendly.

It’s not that the players didn’t try.

It’s just that they seem to be the equivalent of chess pieces being governed by a player who understands the rules of the game but doesn’t have a concept of how to make moves that disrupt an opponent.

Move the little horsey thing forward, then move the little horsey thing back again.

I don’t believe there’s an atom of meaning in it.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Hassal-5, Nerwinski-4.5, Gutierrez-5.5, Veselinovic-5.5, Rose-5, Teibert-4, Bikel-5.5, Baldisimo-4, Dajome-6*, Caicedo-5, White-3

All that glisters is not Gauld

For the first half of the game against the LA Galaxy the Vancouver Whitecaps were bad.

You know what? Scratch that, it isn’t fair. They were worse than bad, they were awful. Lacklustre in their movement and thought, they somehow managed to to have three holding midfielders on the pitch without actually having a midfield.

They conceded early and, to all intents and purposes, they looked finished. Carved open at every opportunity they were lucky to go into the break still only trailing by a solitary goal.

For the second half of the game against the LA Galaxy the Vancouver Whitecaps were good.

You know what? Scratch that, it isn’t fair. They were better than good, they were impressive. Closing down the Galaxy at every opportunity and breaking with both pace and purpose.

Two goals fashioned from their own devices sealed a victory that was (kind of) deserved.

It was certainly needed.

And now they go into a game against Houston on Tuesday evening with the possibility (whisper it softly lest the gods be offended by our hubris) of putting together back to back wins.

That won’t salvage the season by itself, but it will put the season onto the standby by list for salvageability, hoping that some other team drops out leaving an unexpected late call to report to the ticket counter for a team that has never looked like getting off the ground up to now.

It’s a hope of sorts.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Hassal-5, Brown-5, Guttierez-5, Godoy-5, Veselinovic-5, Teibert-4.5, Bikel-5.5, Baldisimo-3, Caicedo-5.5, Dajome-5.5*, White-5

Vancouver Whitecaps: Not terrible!

One step at a time.

The Whitecaps 2-2 tie with the Seattle Sounders on Saturday evening wasn’t a season defining turnaround in fortune, but it was a sign that Vancouver are capable of better than they have been in the season thus far.

Just the simple act of wanting to progress the ball forward at more than half speed makes them a more effective unit and makes use of the pace out wide of Dajome and Caicedo.

And Dajome seems to be the catalyst for the team right now. If he’s playing well then the Whitecaps are playing well. And even though Caicedo frustratingly lacks the final product (both in finishing and in passing) his presence can be enough to disconcert the opposition.

It wouldn’t be the Whitecaps though if there weren’t some things to baffle us.

Why they refuse to defend the edge of their own area from set-pieces remains a mystery for the ages.

Time after time they will successfully clear a corner only to find that an opponent has an unchallenged attempt on goal from twenty yards out.

Maybe there’s some statistical evidence to back up defending in this way? But, if so, the Whitecaps are defying the odds in all the wrong ways.

It’s also perplexing why Marc Dos Santos doesn’t make more use of his whole squad, both before and during games.

Is Leonard Owusu so bad in training that he is a worse option to start in midfield than the dead zone that is Russell Teibert? Are the defence in so much need of organization that playing Andy Rose is a better option than allowing Ranko Veselinovic and Erik Godoy to try to form a a partnership that could last for a few years?

And what’s with the reluctance to make changes during the game?

It was hotter than the sun in Seattle last night, but it took a Sounders equalizer to prompt the introduction of fresh legs (accompanied by the other relevant body parts too of course).

Next week Vancouver play FC Dallas, the only team in the West who have been worse than them this year.

Maybe there will be news by then that the fabled and mystical unicorn of a number ten has appeared in human form in the shape of Ryan Gauld, just as the prophecies have foretold?

But, whatever the case, the Whitecaps need to play with their heads up, both metaphorically and in actuality.

To be at least the sum of their parts, to always look to the horizon and not the ground, to believe in what can be and not be bound by what is, to avoid trite words of inspiration and reach inside themselves to be the team they want to be.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Crepeau-5, Bikel-5.5, Gutierrez-5.5, Rose-5, Godoy-5.5, Baldissimo-5, Teibert-4, Alexandre-5.5, Caicedo-5.5, Dajome-6*, Cavallini-5

More of a ripple than a splash

Many of us watched in horror when Danish international Christian Eriksen collapsed on the field during EURO 2020 and then we watched in further horror as the television pictures zoomed in on medics performing CPR on the stricken player.

I joined in the chorus of despair that these pictures were even being transmitted, lamenting the intrusion of privacy for a man who was clearly fighting for his life.

In retrospect, my outraged pleas would have carried more weight had I not specifically turned on the TV so that I could see what was happening to Eriksen in HD rather than on my iPad screen.

But moral outrage is often too good to resist when living in the moment.

Following the relief that Eriksen had survived and been transported to hospital we then had to face the inevitable outpouring of emotion in the following game involving Denmark.

It’s perfectly natural for the Danes themselves to be filled with angst of course. But the rest of us? Do we really need to take a seat on their emotional roller-coaster?

Do we really need to be told that the narrative now is how resilient the team have been and how the footballing community has come together in support of Eriksen?

Perhaps there’s some truth in that.

But there’s also a harsher and colder narrative to be seen.

That narrative reminds us just how insignificant we all are. That even when one of the star players in a tournament collapses and almost dies the games continue with only the merest of pauses. That the trauma he and his family faced, and will face, is already a footnote in the scheduling. An asterisk to be briefly considered for future historians of the game.

In W.H Auden’s poem Musee de Beaux Arts he writes of seeing Bruegel’s painting Landscape with the Fall of Icarus.

“About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position..

In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster;

…and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.”

We all saw something amazing and terrible in that game and then we gave a collective shrug and went back to checking the group tables to see which teams were best placed to qualify if they finished in third place.

How does any of this relate to the Whitecaps?

Only in the sense that it feels like we are watching them fall slowly to the ground as they have, once again, built a team with wings made of wax. Destined to rapidly descend the moment it comes into contact with too much heat.

As a result some people’s lives will probably be altered forever; forced to move to new cities, new countries, new roles and we will once again shrug our collective indifference and carry on with our lives.

Vancouver Whitecaps lost to Salt Lake

We need to be patient.

The Whitecaps (obviously) needed the pre-season to work on their tactics and getting to know each other on the field. Then they (obviously) needed a few games to really hone all that pre-season work. Then they (obviously) needed the self-declared “second pre-season” to work on the initial tactics that weren’t quite gelling following the first pre-season and the initial run of games and now (obviously) they need a few more games following the second pre-season to work on the tactics that were introduced to supplant the first set of tactics that didn’t quite work.

Seems reasonable.

The 3-1 loss to Real Salt Lake was one of those games in which Marc Dos Santos could argue that the score line didn’t reflect the game. But been there, done that.

The Whitecaps had a series of chances from set-pieces that they couldn’t convert and were ultimately undone by their inability to really threaten from open play.

It sometimes seems as though most of the Whitecaps attacking problems could be solved just by encouraging the midfield to turn toward the opposition goal when they receive the ball rather than opt for the safe pass back to a teammate.

Of course it sometime seems as though the Whitecaps problems could be solved by playing as though they’ve met each other before so there’s that too.

Onwards and upwards though and hopefully the Gold Cup will provide the coaches with a chance to implement a third pre-season in which they can work on the secondary tactics that weren’t quite gelling following the second pre-season and the secondary run of games but (obviously) they will need a few games following the third pre-season to work on the tactics that were introduced to supplant the secondary set of tactics that didn’t quite work.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Crepeau-5, Brown-5.5, Gutierrez-5, Godoy-5, Rose-5-Bikel-2, Baldismo-5.5*, Alexandre-5, Caicedo-4, Dajome-4, White-3 (Cavallini-3)

The One About the Whitecaps

“Friends” was the Platonic Ideal of the kind of sitcom American network TV excels in.

More Soap Opera than comedy, it was all hugs and lessons learned from characters who any sane person would run a mile away from were they ever unfortuante enough to meet them in real life.

It would be nice to say something counterintuitive here. That, despite the flaws, the show was genuinely funny and that, despite the refusal to acknowledge anything beyond the white heterosexual norm, it did at least promote the idea that the traditional American family could consist of people other than blood relations.

That our real “family” is the people we discover on the way.

But none of that is true.

The comedy was mostly in the rhythm of the lines rather than the content and the show was obsessed with family and how the characters interacted with the concept.

But is there anything the show can teach us about the Vancouver Whitecaps?

Well, it can teach us that for an ensemble piece to work it doesn’t necessarily require an outstanding talent It just needs the team behind the ensemble to be efficient at what they do. To be able to harness the resources under their control in a way that produces the desired result.

The desired result for “Friends” was the telegraphed joke that got the laugh and a moment that made the studio audience gasp in either delight or dismay. And “Friends” pushed those buttons to perfection.

The desired result for the Whitecaps is results.

Thankfully though the Whitecaps and us are on a break right now while Marc Dos Santos indulges in what he has described as a time he will treat as a pre-season.

In an ideal world they would have done this during the actual pre-season and I’m not sure any of us can take Vancouver experimenting with systems for three more regular season games before abandoning it and going back to playing Cristian Dajome as a sort of number ten because his work rate is the Whitecaps best chance at creativity.

Could it be more obvious that the only way the Whitecaps will get better is by signing better players?

I know that sounds like a truism, but sometimes it’s possible for a team to improve on the training ground without strengthening the squad, but history suggests that won’t happen here.

In retrospect, the only time the Whitecaps have looked decent under Dos Santos is when Fredy Montero wanted to play and was playing well.

A good player who the rest of the team could look to as a leader and who made those around him better.

It’s not a strategy that will bring any kind of long term success and the only short term success it will bring would probably be failure in the playoffs. But it’s better than what we have now.

So splash the cash on a Brad Pitt style cameo player who will garner interest in a format that’s running mostly on muscle memory at this stage.

Or maybe bring in a monkey? Monkeys are always entertaining right?

Do we need to talk about Marc?

It would be great if Marc Dos Santos turns out to be a successful coach for the Vancouver Whitecaps.

He seems to be a genuinely nice guy who loves his football, can talk about it with passion and intelligence and who knows how he wants his teams to play.

Yet here we are again.

Seven games into another season and the Whitecaps are back to what they have always been under Dos Santos. A loose affiliation of players who can play well when things are going their way, but lose faith and belief (and the ability to move off the ball) the moment fate throws them a curveball.

Yes there are reasons as to why it’s been tough for the Whitecaps in 2021. But there were reasons as to why they were tough for them in 2020 and there were reasons as to why they were tough for them in 2019 too.

It starting to feel like an all too familiar tune.

Nobody is expecting Vancouver to produce a footballing clinic every week while running away with the Western Conference. But it doesn’t feel like too much to expect at least some basic competence.

For the team to play the first forty-five minutes as if they have met each other before. For there to be at least some plan to break down a defence. For their Designated Player striker to be playing as a striker and not a deep lying number whatever the hell it is Cavallini is supposed to be doing. For there to be more to hope for than set-pieces and defensive turnovers. Did I mention that there needs to be more movement off the ball. Oh right, yes I did. In every single blog post for the last however many years this accursed thing has been going!

Anyway, the late consolation goal in the 2-1 defeat to Houston on Saturday will allow enough rope for there to be the usual post-game platitudes about not being good enough in the first half, learning from this and knowing they need to be better.

None of that will mean anything of course, because none of the players seem to be buying in to what the coach is selling.

I’ve no idea why that is, but it’s painfully obvious to see whenever the tide turns against this team.

Can that be fixed in the four week period they now have before the next game?

(That’s a rhetorical question by the way).

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Crepeau-4.5, Gaspar-4.5, Brown-4.5, Rose-4, Godoy-4, Bikel-2, Alexandre-5, Dajome-2, Caicedo-5*, Teibert-3, Cavallini-4 (Baldisimo-5)

Vancouver Whitecaps: The Wild Brunch

For all the angst of watching Seattle and Portland breeze though MLS in recent years perhaps no team has really brought home how bad the Whitecaps have been at this whole thing quite like Sporting Kansas City.

An “unfashionable” team who don’t spend a fortune but have an established style of play and who bring in players who suit that style of play rather than chasing either the big name signing or whichever player happens to be available at the time.

They are a template for how to run a team in MLS.

And, unsurprisingly, they beat the Whitecaps 3-0 on Sunday brunch time, not least because they have built a better squad and have a better coach.

It’s possible that Marc Dos Santos looked at the previous games this season and thought that Jake Nerwinski had done just fine and didn’t really need much cover from the wide player in front of him.

It’s also possible that he thought he did need cover and that Ryan Raposo was the best option to do so.

But neither of those possibilities place the coach in a favourable light and Kansas eyed up the right side of the Whitecaps with the same relish a hungry lion eyes up a wounded antelope.

The game was over before Dos Santos replaced Raposo with Baldisimo and the Whitecaps somewhat improved for ten minutes before half-time, but the second half was a return to Kansas failing to score from the numerous chances they created and Vancouver snatching at the very occasional chance that fell their way.

The only real positive from this performance is that it will have surely dented the belief that the Whitecaps were establishing a consistent style of play and that little needed to change other than the occasional tweak here and there.

The whole “no goals from open play” thing is starting to look less like an amusing quirk and more like a harbinger of doom as, with Dajome out of sorts, they produced no real incisiveness with Cavallini once again being the bulwark to more attacks than the defenders around him and Alexandre, once again, operating in areas of the pitch where his capacity to inflict damage was mostly related to his reputation for falling to the ground at the slightest provocation.

This was the first time the Whitecaps have been embarrassing to watch this season, but there were so many things wrong with the performance that it seems hard to think of it as “just one of those games”.

“We have to be better”, “Lessons will be learned” and “It’s a process”.

Time for the post-game hits to get an airing.

Time also for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Crepeau-5, Nerwinski-1, Veselinovic-4, Cornelius-4, Gutierrez-3, Bikel-5, Alexandre-4, Raposo-1, Dajome-3, Caicedo-2, Cavallini-2 (Baldisimo-5*)

Vancouver Whitecaps: It is what it is

In retrospect, the 1-0 loss to Minnesota United was always going to be “one of those games” for the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Minnesota had lost their first four games and, for a team who are bascially fine, that run really wasn’t going to last.

On another day the Whitecaps could have won by two or three and, on another day, they could have lost by the same score.

It was that kind of game.

The main positive is that Vancouver treated a road game as a chance to pick up three points, rather than the equivalent of an excursion to some uncharted alien territory where simple survival was the very best they could hope for.

They pressed well, they broke with pace when they had the chance and (of course) their set-pieces were a constant threat.

Bruno Gaspar looked better going forward than Nerwinski (a low bar to be sure, but still a bar) and Bikel and Alexandre were composed in midfield.

In an ideal world Alexandre would have been more involved nearer to the opposition goal but at least he wants to (and can) play quick forward passes.

Russell Teibert once again demonstrated that his best position (by far) is in the wide left role and Cristián Gutiérrez once again demonstrated that he can deliver both a good cross and a heartfelt chat with anybody on the field should the opportunity arise.

It’s tempting to wonder how the loss of Andy Rose at half-time tipped the balance of the game. Derek Cornelius did fine as the replacement but he and Veselinovic were split by the game winning cross in a way that may not have happened had Rose still been on the field.

It’s also tempting to wonder if Marc Dos Santos will ever substitute Lucas Cavallini.

The Canadian forward looked gassed in the last fifteen minutes and the introduction of Ricketts or Bair may not have won the game, but it would have given the Minnesota defence more to worry about than the equivalent of a fatally wounded beast slumping slowly across the Savannah in a futile attempt to find the final resting ground it’s DNA told it was out there somewhere.

But, all things a considered, we would have been ecstatic with even a mildly entertaining road game in recent years and this was not only more than mildly entertaining it was an example of a team who knew what they were doing and actually seemed to be enjoying their football.

If Dos Santos can find the balance between that and putting points on the board then that would be perfectly acceptable.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Crepeau-5, Gaspar-5, Gutiérrez -5.5, Veselinovic, 5.5, Rose-5.5, Bikel-6*, Alexandre-5.5, Dajome-5.5, Caicedo-5.5, Teibert-5.5, Cavallini-4

Vancouver Whitecaps: Something Good

After the Whitecaps loss to Colorado last week I whined that the two previous good results had been false dawns. Anomalies that tricked us all into thinking progress had been made whereas, in reality, the Whitecaps were still the same old Whitecaps.

So where does the narrative stand after the 2-0 victory over whatever the hell Montreal are called these days?

The narrative stands with a foot in both camps. Awkwardly hopping from foot to foot, unsure of where to finally come to rest.

The first half on Saturday was confirmation bias catnip for those who think that Vancouver are still too passive when they need to be proactive. All safe and slow passing that pads possession stats without making any kind of progress towards the opposition penalty area.

The second half was power of positivity bindweed for those who think a squad that has been strengthened without being disrupted can grow into the season. All high pressing and pace going forward.

But the simple truth might just be that Marc Dos Santos got his tactics wrong last week.

Moving Dájome away from the centre, playing Alexandre in the number ten role and asking Russell Teibert to be the creator are the kind of decisions that probably feel innovative in some 4 a.m. fever dream but collapse into incomprehension when exposed to the Utah sun.

Against Montreal, Teibert was back on the left where he could protect Gutiérrez, Alexandre was playing in the role he was brought in to play and Dájome was back alongside/just behind Cavallini in attack.

And Dájome is turning out to be a crucial player for the team.

Last year he seemed a somewhat peripheral, if intermittently effective, wide player who could deliver decent crosses for Cavallini to finish. This year he’s been the main creative force simply because he never stops harassing the opposition defence and plays with a refreshing directness.

Alexandre wasn’t his creative equivalent on Saturday but, in the second half, there were signs the Brazilian could play the kind of instinctive first time forward pass the Whitecaps have been severely lacking.

But now let’s turn, with a heavy heart, to Jake Nerwinski.

Nerwinski looked disturbingly out of his depth yesterday. He was targeted as a weak point and almost always took one touch too many that meant his passing was rushed and thus offered Montreal the chance to gain possession in dangerous areas.

If Gaspar is fit he surely has to start on Wednesday and give Nerwinski the break he seems to need in order to get his head back in the right place when he’s on the field.

That game and the visit to Kansas on Sunday should suit the way the Whitecaps want to play and they should also mean more players are given the chance to make a larger contribution.

Dos Santos now has decent depth at his disposal. How he uses that depth will be as important as how sets up the team in each game.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Crépeau-6, Nerwinski-2, Gutiérrez-6, Rose-5.5, Veselinović-5, Bikel-5, Alexandre-5.5, Teibert-5.5, Caicedo-5, Dájome-6*, Cavallini-5.5