Vancouver Whitecaps: Five to look for in 2017

With the off-season awash with new signings and exciting transfer speculation for the Vancouver Whitecaps it’s been tempting to forget the players who will still be here from the last campaign.

So who will be the 2016 players who need to make an impact in 2017?

Christian Bolaños- It’s arguable that Bolaños was the best player for the Whitecaps last year but it’s also arguable that he slightly disappointed.

That says a lot about the season but it does also offer genuine hope for the coming year.

Bolaños is a smart enough player to have figured out where he (individually) went wrong and it’s just possible that he will have the measure of MLS in 2017.

How good he could be is hard to quantify but, given a fair wind and the right tactics, it’s not inconceivable that he could hit double figures in both goals and assists.

That’s a huge ask and even one of those figures would make a huge difference to the team but (as things currently stand) the Costa Rican is the most likely candidate to be the catalyst to kick-start the campaign.

Kendall Waston- Waston spent much of 2016 in a state of flux between failing to accept there was any issue with the way he was playing and walking to the locker room with yet another red card being waved in his direction.

If he’s learned that he needs to adjust his game at least somewhat (and if the Whitecaps can figure out a way to give him the protection from midfield he was lacking last year) then the loss of David Edgar won’t be felt as keenly.

But if Waston carries on diving into tackles regardless of the consequences then both he and us could face another long season of shortened matches for the big central defender.

Kekuta Manneh- If anybody’s stock rose at all in 2016 then it was Manneh’s as his absence made the heart grow fonder for his ability to run with the ball at pace.

If Manneh is back (and fully fit) then it will at least help to fill any tactical shortcomings which may still be lingering.

That’s probably not a good thing in the long run but Vancouver need a good start to the season to quell the overall sense of anxiety they all seem to experience when things don’t go their way.

Having Manneh in the starting eleven makes that good start at least a little bit more likely.

Alphonso Davies-  I’m not in the “Davies is the footballing Messiah” group of people but neither am I in the “He’s just a very naughty boy” group either.

He’s a good young player who needs to play as much football as possible at this stage of his career.

Whether he will get that as a member of the first team squad is open for debate but the concern is that a mixture of searching for the feel good factor and marketing clout will mean more of Davies sitting on the first team bench than being out on the field for WFC2.

Player X- Okay this doesn’t fit the remit of “players who were here in 2016” but his phantom presence hung around BC Place almost as strongly as the sense of futility felt by the forwards that were there.

And it’s almost unimaginable that the Whitecaps won’t announce the signing of a striker in the next couple of weeks (not completely unimaginable but almost) so let’s hope that he’s prepared for the level of scrutiny he will face because if there’s one area of the field that has been the bugbear of the MLS Whitecaps then it’s this position.

They’ve only found one consistent and reliable goal scorer in that time and he fled down south in a typically bizarre circumstance.

The next man on the chopping block doesn’t have to equal Camillo’s Golden Boot winning season but he does have to be somebody who fits the style of play and who can take the occasional half chance.

Get it right and the club will have found a poster boy for the city to love.

Get it wrong and we’re left with another season of watching balls being kicked squarely and firmly into the upper decks and we’ve all had quite enough of the experience thank you very much.

 

 

It’s All Coming Up Whitecaps!

Well I guess that depends on what your definition of “up” actually is but safe to say that the off-season so far seems to have been an exercise in proving the maxim “no news is good news” to be bang on the money.

As if losing Brett Levis until the Summer wasn’t enough we now discover that David Edgar is out until the Fall with a knee injury caused by a hit and run driver in Arizona.

And it’s the latter news that really leaves Carl Robinson behind the proverbial eight ball (although if he was behind the literal eight ball that would just be weird).

Edgar was brought into the club last season for two reasons; to shore up a malfunctioning central defence and to provide some much-needed locker room leadership.

Now Robinson finds himself back with the central defensive partnership of Waston and Parker and no substantive change in locker room presence.

Thankfully there are two ways of looking at this.

The first way is burst into tears, run outside and bury our heads in the freezing snow until the City starts to raid local restaurants and bars for salt and the second way is to see every problem as simply an opportunity in disguise.

The first way definitely doesn’t work because I’ve tried it and while the second way may well be the kind of vapid life advice normally heard on morning TV it’s literally all we’ve got so let’s run with it.

For starters (in both senses of the phrase) Waston and Parker aren’t a bad central defensive partnership and maybe the best course of action would be to work on eradicating the errors of 2016 rather than simply trying to fix the problem with new faces.

And if the locker room needs a revamp then, once again, that could just as easily come from within the club as it could from importing “character”.

If Robinson learned anything from last season then it’s surely that he needs to challenge his players more and forgive them a little less.

And if the players learned anything from last season then it’s surely that they can’t just coast through a number of games no matter how generous the MLS playoff structure happens to be.

We are still awaiting news of fresh signings of course but the club will have known the extent of Edgar’s injury long before we did so we can assume that has been a factor in any scouting trips or negotiations thus far.

But if Edgar’s terrible luck does mean something then it surely means that minds need to be even more focused than they were before.

That might not be a bad thing in the long run (or it might be horrendously terrible).

Hard to say really.

 

 

 

 

A Vancouver Whitecaps Wish List

So I was chatting with the Christmas Genie the other morning when he handed me a very official looking document.

“What’s this?” I asked without bothering to read any of it.

“Well you could always read it” he sighed.

“Nah, best if you just tell me really.”

“Well, we within the Genie Guild have amended our traditional ‘Three Wishes and You Are Out’ policy to one that we feel is more in keeping with our stakeholders aspirations.”

“I don’t like the sound of that” I said frowning.

“Well turn that frown upside down because what we now offer is specifically tailored to each individual stakeholder, creating a bespoke wish list based on extensive data analysis and demographic research.”

“So I no longer get three wishes?”

“It’s even better! You now get five!”

“That is better!”

“With the mild caveat that these five wishes are limited to a particular area of interest”

“What does that mean?”

“It means that we’ve found our stakeholders to be strangely unfocused when it comes to making wishes and that creates extensive administration costs for Genie Central. So, by streamlining the process, we are now able to offer two more wishes but within more tightly controlled parameters”.

I looked at him blankly.

“You get five wishes but only within an area designated by our state of the art software.”

“So in what area do I get my wishes?”

“The Vancouver Whitecaps!” he exclaimed with a generous sweep of his arm “Our state of the art software has assigned you five specific areas in which you can make a wish vis-a-vis the Whitecaps”.

“It all sounds a little bit limiting”.

“It is, but in a good way. And the worst case scenario is that you can turn it into a blog post at a time when literally nothing is happening in the world of the Whitecaps”

“Genie! You’re a genius!”

“That’s where the word comes from” he lied.

Here then, for the record, were my five  Vancouver Whitecaps wishes for 2017.

If you could sign any player in the world who would it be?  Forget the likes of Messi, Ronaldo and O’Shea. If I had the pick of anybody I’d bring in Luis Suarez.

Granted his character has been somewhat questionable but boy does he work hard on the field and probably no current player makes those around him better to the extent that Suarez does.

He can also kick the ball into the net which is a skill the Whitecaps have been lacking of late.

If you could have one coach to coach the Whitecaps who would it be?-  It would be hugely entertaining to watch a Klopp or a Conte on the sidelines at BC Place but I worry that they may struggle with the vagaries of the MLS squad structure.

So I pick Carlo Ancelotti. Not only does the avuncular Italian have family ties in Vancouver but he’s a coach who doesn’t impose his own style on a team but rather adapts his style to the players available to him.

Ancelotti would be the ideal MLS coach.

If you could change one thing about BC Place what would it be?- A grass pitch. Not because I hate the turf that much but just to take the mention of turf out of every discussion.

Player A gets injured. Turf!. Player B doesn’t sign. Turf! Player C hits the post. Turf!

The fact that the last two MLS Cup winners also play on turf is irrelevant to this argument; it’s always the turf that is to blame.

If you could change anything about the game day experience what would it be?- Free beer!

But failing that a little less of the in-game promos. I get that the club has to satisfy the sponsors but I don’t want to hear their names blasted through the speaker system and on to the big screen while our right back is struggling with the basic concepts of physics.

If you could change anything about the Whitecaps schedule what would it be?- Well; it would be nice to actually have it at least a month earlier since many fans base their vacations around the team.

But if not that then one which created a rhythm to the season. Less of the home, home, home, road, road, road, road thing and more of the home, road, home, road, home, road thing.

So they were my five wishes as designated by Genie Central.

I wonder which ones will come true in 2017?

Vancouver Whitecaps: Reasons to be Cheerful

If 2016 has taught us anything it’s that rational thought and tolerance to others will always win the day.

And so as the world heads into what will clearly be an extended period of unparalleled peace, prosperity and goodwill to all it behoves us to consider the good side of all things.

Last time out we took the darkest timeline look at the current Vancouver Whitecaps situation so, in the spirit of accepting that if you can’t find the flaws in your own argument then good luck finding them in those of others, let’s try to counter the main points of that piece.

Carl Robinson doesn’t appreciate the enormity of his task- Yeah right. The guy who will lose his job if results are poor doesn’t get how important results are. Just because he doesn’t sound phased by the situation doesn’t mean he doesn’t understand it.

Robinson isn’t flying around the world looking for new players because he thinks all is fine and dandy in Whitecaps world. He’s doing it because he knows upgrades are needed in several key areas.

Giving Robinson so much control over new acquisitions will create instability when he leaves- Well we don’t actually know that the coach has that much control but even so it’s hard to imagine him having carte blanche over who he brings in.

Aside from any financial limitations imposed upon him the very nature of the act of signing a new player means that a plethora of people will need to be involved.

So to cast the Whitecaps transfer policy as essentially a one man operation fails to take into account the realities of the modern world of sport.

Youth players aren’t being challenged enough- So the previous argument was based around the idea that the Whitecaps weren’t achieving any kind of stability and this argument is based around the idea that it’s better to sign in somebody from outside the club than to let the young players progress?

Aside from the logical contradiction inherent here anybody who has watched the Whitecaps will know that the young players don’t get an easy ride.

Ask the likes of Adekugbe, Bustos and McKendry if they feel they have had a fair run at establishing themselves in the first eleven.

Juggling results with bringing through players is tough task and the actual evidence is that the Robinson and the Whitecaps tend to favour the latter.

Robinson struggles to connect with the fans on an emotional level- Well cry me a river! Would this even be an argument if the results were going splendidly?

Nobody can watch Robinson on the sideline and imagine that the game means nothing to him so what he does and doesn’t say in post-game interviews is either irrelevant or your own personal Rorschach test defined by preconception and perception.

In the end all any of it comes down to is results on the field. The Whitecaps didn’t get enough of them in the League in 2016 and most of us won’t really settle until we see them getting better in 2017.

But can 2017 be any better than 2016? Hard to imagine such a thing but it might just be possible!

 

 

Vancouver Whitecaps: The Airing of Grievances

If the Holiday period is about anything it’s about people arguing over petty differences while terrible atrocities happen in all four corners of the world.

But it’s also about judging other people in a harsh and unforgiving manner and so, with that in mind, this seems a good time to look at a few of the things that are most concerning about the current Vancouver Whitecaps.

A lot of these stem from a recent interview Carl Robinson gave to the AFTN podcast (and you can hear it here).

There were two ways of taking the entirety of what the coach said; you could either choose to see a man who was unphased by the pressures of the role and who had a firm grip on the tiller of the team or you could choose to see a man who failed to recognise the enormity of the task and who also failed to acknowledge just how bad his team were in 2016.

In the spirit of the season let’s adopt the latter approach for now.

Robinson certainly admitted that the season could have been better but he persisted in his view that the Whitecaps just weren’t that far away from being the finished article.

I guess that depends what the definition of the finished article is but Robinson’s contention that his team were maybe just two or three wins (or a couple of silly late goals) away from making the playoffs and therefore having a successful season sounds like three parts revisionism and two parts lack of ambition.

If the definition of success is a one game “play in” game on the road then that seems an awfully low bar to set.

Did the fact that Portland and now Seattle had won the MLS Cup put pressure on him? Seemingly not. Everything was as then as it is now in terms of pressure (he feels very little was the overarching feeling listening to him speak).

Now all of this could just be a coach being wary of what he said to the media but Robinson does seem to struggle in connecting to the fans (or some fans at least) when it comes to putting across just how much the game actually means.

But away from spurious speculation about the coach’s media motivation it was disconcerting to hear him say that any new players signed wouldn’t be there to block the path of the youngsters coming through the system.

Translation: “If we get the chance to sign somebody better than Marco Bustos we won’t do it”.

Now either that just isn’t true (I suspect it isn’t) or it’s a foolhardy way of bringing through young players.

Emerging players need to be challenged as they develop. Not given a free pass to the first team with all obstacles removed on the way.

Again we’re probably in the land of milquetoast media replies than anything else but it didn’t do anythng to quell the notion that the Whitecaps on the whole are happier with the status quo than they really should be.

Finally there’s the whole business of player recruitment.

We obviously don’t know the intricate details of how the club scout and sign players (this is MLS after all and sometimes I’m surprised they even release the results of games without some kind of obscure regulation being involved) but it does appear that Robinson himself is, by some distance, the main protagonist in deciding who to scout and who to sign.

That system works to a degree but it does mean that if he were to leave (for whatever reason) the Whitecaps will have almost zero continuity when it comes to acquisitions going forward.

If everybody in the squad is essentially a Robinson signing that creates an unwelcome dynamic for the next coach to come along.

It seems far better to make the business of bringing in players more centralised within the club than to trust it all to the man who is arguably (by the unwritten rules of soccer) the most ephemeral figure on the staff other than the people who actually get to kick a ball on match day.

Oh well. Hopefully this hasn’t been too downbeat for the festive season but worry not but because next time out we’ll look at the “Reasons to be Cheerful”.

A far merrier subject to be sure.

 

If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

Is this a Winter of Discontent for fans of the Whitecaps?

More like a winter holding their heads in their hands and hoping the world would go away I suspect but sooner or later we all have to dive into the freezing cold pool of reality whether we have lanolin covering our bodies or not.

So let’s at least dip our toes into the icy pool of these two subjects.

What does the MLS Cup Final mean?- Well apart from it meaning hell on earth for the Whitecaps that is.

Is two of the higher spending clubs making it to the final indicative of a sea change for MLS as a whole or is it a single event signifying nothing?

Nothing of any import can ever be gleaned from one isolated incident of course but this does at least feel different in a large part because of the influence of two players.

Neither Giovinco nor Lodeiro have the name power to get MLS apostates buying tickets or changing channels but they do have the ability to win games for their respective teams and the initial moves by expansion team Atlanta United indicate that they too are spending money on “difference makers” rather than marquee names.

If Toronto have learned anything from this season (and it’s Toronto so it’s entirely possible that they won’t) it’s that the best way to insert a team into the wider consciousness of the public is to win games on the field.

If enough other teams around the league learn the same lesson then the arms race of spending may switch into something far more ruthless than mere marketing ploys.

And their rivals suddenly start to acquire players with a proven record in proven leagues then hoping to unearth hidden gems from the coal dust of lesser competitions will prove to be more and more risky for the Whitecaps.

Hurtado stays while others leaves- Official farewells have now been given to Morales, Perez, Aird, Smith and Carducci and enough has been said about all of them with perhaps the exception of Marco Carducci.

A talented goalkeeper who never really looked ready for the step up to MLS and one who fell behind in the pecking order to the more accomplished looking Spencer Richey but Carducci could well find a role in the up and coming Canadian Premier League.

The signing of Hurtado won’t get any pulses racing but he is what he is; a useful MLS depth player.

His failings last season were as much about the failings of others as they were his own. Kudo struggled, Perez couldn’t (or wasn’t allowed to) play on a regular basis and Rivero was away before summer ever really set in.

It may be harsh to say that asking Hurtado to lead the line on a regular basis is setting him up to fail but it is certainly asking more of him than he is capable of and there comes a time when a coach’s willingness to believe in a player slips over into bad man management.

I think that’s where we were with Hurtado last season but hopefully 2017 sees him playing the role to which he is best suited; a late impact substitute and a starter in a few of those games against Eastern Conference teams where the main striker(s) need(s) a rest.

For now though let’s forget all that and just try to get through this Final safe in the knowledge that the 2017 schedule, the signings and some actual games of football aren’t all that too far behind.

 

Killing time with speculation

One of the worst things about languishing in the purgatory of endlessly waiting for playoff games the Vancouver Whitecaps aren’t even involved in is the almost complete lack of any concrete news around the club.

And yet even in this barren wasteland of information there have been at least two possible transfer rumours alluding to a player heading to Vancouver (well maybe one and a half, or maybe just one, perhaps half a rumour at best).

Thankfully we are now living in a post-truth world so we can all pretty much speculate to our hearts content.

The most concrete (ish) rumour surrounds Robbie Keane

There are a few good reasons why Keane could come to the Whitecaps.

He and Carl Robinson became firm friends at Wolverhampton Wanderers when a freak training ground accident forced them to undergo a rarely attempted surgical procedure

robbokeane_620

And both players were said to be hugely relieved when the term “ballectomy” was fully explained to them.

Keane is a proven goalscorer in MLS and is the kind of experienced striker that Robinson has favoured in recent seasons.

Yet against all that stands the Irishman’s much professed hatred of turf and the fact that his salary would surely make him a no go if he was going to be used in the same manner as Earnshaw and Perez.

Robinson has a strange compulsion to sign players based on their impact on the locker room as much as the pitch but Keane would surely be a step too far in that direction.

So Keane to the Whitecaps? It’s less than likely.

The other rumour that swirled around social media recently was caused by this tweet

The LA Galaxy’s Emmanuel Boateng fits the Whitecaps model almost as much as Robbie Keane does.

He’s a quick wide player who doesn’t finish quite as well as he should but the Whitecaps have enough of those to be going on with unless there’s a trade involved somewhere.

The tweet was almost certainly a post-Trump joke rather than a declaration of intent but let’s run this idea passed the space-time continuum and see who tries to kill Hitler.

In 2017 Kekuta Manneh should be eligible for the US National Team and let’s assume he gets selected by whoever happens to be in charge at the time and then let’s further assume he has one of those games where he ends a couple of those runs of his with a goal.

Suddenly there’s a new young superstar on the US team and if there’s one thing the MLS media love it’s an exciting young American player and if there’s one thing that marketing departments of teams love it’s a player who gets media coverage.

To cut a long story short there’s a possibility that Manneh could be the Whitecaps hottest property by some distance next season.

Would MLS love to have such a player on an American team? Sure. Would they be prepared to give the Whitecaps something substantial in return? Sure.

Obviously I’m using “substantial” in the MLS sense of “completely imaginary  money” but it’s real if you think it’s real.

So Boateng to the Whitecaps? No, unless somewhere down the line the planets align to make the Galaxy yearn for the marketing muscle of Manneh.

Stranger things are happening every day.