Tigres burn a little too bright for the Whitecaps

In the general scheme of things a 2-0 defeat on the road to Tigres isn’t that bad of a result for the Vancouver Whitecaps in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champion’s League semi-final.

The problem is that we don’t live in the general scheme of things (Actually, strike that. We very much live in the general scheme of things). I guess the point I’m trying to make is that 2-0 is both a good result and a frustratingly annoying one given the tenor of the game.

Tigres were clearly the better team for the full ninety minutes but the Whitecaps were able to scrape out two of the kind of chances that Carl Robinson must have been dreaming about if he ever managed to get any sleep last night.

On the first chance Brek Shea miscontrolled the ball, then half fell over and then fully dived to earn himself a yellow card for simulation (If you’re going to dive then dive properly!) and on the second Nicolas Mezquida shanked the ball wide when more composure could well have found the net.

The other disappointing element of the night for Vancouver was the quality of the set-pieces as they constantly failed to clear the first defender and, in a game where possession is as rare as a Donald Trump supporter in Mexico, those kind of chances cannot be squandered.

But for all those flaws the Whitecaps were mostly very good indeed.

And for once Robinson’s defensive mindset was both fully justified and well executed with Laba and Jacobson closing down space in the middle and Tim Parker looking every  inch the future international he surely is.

Perhaps Sheanon Williams struggled to find his feet (Both literally and metaphorically) and Kendall Waston would love to have the few seconds that led up to his own goal back again.

But sometimes you just have to acknowledge that the opposition were the superior team and that both tired minds and tired bodies are unbeatable enemies in the end.

It seems unlikely that Vancouver can prevent Tigres from scoring at BC Place but at least the tie isn’t dead and buried.

And, perhaps for the first time this season, there is at least a sense of the team finding some kind of structure to build on.

Strange how uplifting some 2-0 defeats can be.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Ousted- 7, Williams-6, Parker-7.5*, Waston-6.5, Harvey-7, Laba-7, Jacobson-7, de Jong-6, Shea-6.6, Montero-5.5, Davies-7 (Bolaños-6.5, Mezquida-6.5,)

 

Whitecaps soar before falling in San Jose


Ken Loach isn’t a great movie director but he has directed some great movies.

True, there’s a certain Cinéma vérité about his style but, primarily, he’s concerned with substance over style and that substance is mostly about the heartbreaking futility of working class people trying to negotiate a system that is explicitly set up to thwart their dreams.

A generation of British schoolchildren grew up watching Loach’s film “Kes” in which a boy escapes the trials of his mining village upbringing by finding, nurturing and training a young kestrel.

In those moments in which he watches the bird soar he glimpses a kind of redemption for himself; the possibility that a frail and injured thing can somehow live magnificently in the world.

Then one day he comes home and finds that his elder brother has snapped the kestrel’s neck and left it dead in a trash can.

Cheers Ken! Life lesson learned!

Anybody who has seen the new “Rise Up Rain City” segment that’s played on the big screen before the Whitecaps home games this season will have noticed the Loachian influence.

The dreariness of the city, the players miserable and clearly pining for warmer climes they will never attain and a bedraggled pigeon standing sadly in a dirty puddle.

It doesn’t quite end with Alphonso Davies finding the pigeon in a trash can with a snapped neck but that’s the general tenure.

The system, it seems to say, will always thwart your dreams.

And that feels apt for the team this season because they are still battling to find a way to get the best out of themselves.

In San Jose on Saturday evening they raced into a two goal lead over the Earthquakes before a defensive mix up between Kendall Waston and Christian Dean enticed David Ousted to rush out of his penalty area and leave a trailing leg to bring down Chris Wondolowski and earn a red card.

At that time nobody thought that the player to bring off was Nicolas Mezquida. After all the Uruguayan is one of the hardest working players in the team and often proves to be a very effective first line of defence.

Much better to remove one of the more defensively limited forwards such as Techera  or Manneh.

I say “nobody” thought that but it’s actually not true because one person did think exactly that and, unfortunately for the Whitecaps, that person happened to be Carl Robinson and his reputaion for not being able to make effective in game decisions took yet another hit.

There was a sense of inevitability about the subsequent three goals with Manneh failing to track back for the second and Russell Teibert failing to close down for the third and a bright start was left amounting to nothing.

Robinson does get some credit for fielding a weakened starting eleven that was able to make such an impressive start but he was as complicit in undoing that good start just as much as his players were.

And right now it feels as though he’s forcing those players into a system that seems explicitly designed to thwart their strengths.

In the post game interview Robinson went on at some length about how important it was for the officials to make the correct call on the big decisions.

Right back at you Carl.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Ousted-4, Nerwinski-5.5, Waston-5, Dean-5, Harvey-5.5- Teibert-5, McKendry-5.5, Manneh-4, Techera-4.5, Mezquida-6, Hurtado-6* (Tornaghi-5)

 

 

The Random Analogue Soccer Hydrocollider

Time to throw some ideas into The Random Analogue Soccer Hydrocollider to see which ideas it throws out of the state of the art quantum interface with regard to the Whitecaps.

And here they are (that was quick)!

New contract for Nicolas Mezquida- “Hooray!” say most of the fans while simultaneously suspecting that he still won’t get as many minutes as he should.

Mezquida has never been a firm favourite of Carl Robinson and the arrival of Fredy Montero and Brek Shea only add to the logjam of people ahead of him in the pecking order.

It’s conceivable that Mezquida could be the ideal foil for Montero given that both can play as either a number ten or a little further forward, but that would require a change in the way the Whitecaps play.

That’s a long shot but just about possible given….

The return of Christian Bolaños- Bolaños has been training this week and should get at least some minutes in either San Jose or Mexico.

That’s good news for the Whitecaps because if they needed anything at all in the last couple of games it was a player who could put his foot on the ball and slow the game down.

Bolaños is the best hope of preventing the team from becoming  a track meet with a ball thrown in.

Which leads us to……

There’s playing young players and there’s playing young players- Carl Robinson rightly gets kudos for his willingness to give young players a chance in the first team (although there may be one or two in the squad who don’t agree with that assessment).

The concern though is that with the Whitecaps current playing style these youngsters are rapidly learning the value of being rapid while not really getting up to speed on the value of slowing down.

As mentioned, the return of Bolaños should help that and Montero certainly wants a different kind of service than the likes of Hurtado and Rivero so hopefully needs must will be the driving force in enabling the young contingent to add another dimension to their game.

And speaking of adding another dimension….

A good week for MLS referees- That may be a sentence seldom seen but credit where it’s due. The officials were much less PRO-active (See what I did there?) in the opening round of games and that was all to the good.

Sure there were mistakes but at least they didn’t appear to be consciously looking to make them as was the case so often last season.

Maybe they’ve finally realized that when it comes to officiating then less is more?

Speaking of which, there is no more…..

 

 

Whitecaps versus Union: What did we learn?

Mostly we learned that the world is a strange and terrible place and that although we may try to avoid staring into the void there will be times when the void stares straight into us with it’s unblinking and uncaring gaze.

Okay the goalless tie with the Philadelphia Union wasn’t quite that bad for the Vancouver Whitecaps but it certainly felt like it at times.

Once again Vancouver were faced with an opponent content to sit back at BC Place and once again the home team had little idea of how to break through such a tactic.

Long balls to a fast forward line are inevitably less effective if the opposition are sitting deep yet that remained the go to move for the Whitecaps for much of the game.

That way of playing is inevitable when a team has no central midfielder who is either willing or able to get forward and, the odd scrambled clearance from a set piece aside, the Union were left largely untroubled at the back and will no doubt be delighted to take away a point from such a long road trip.

The main positive on the night for the Whitecaps was the play of Christian Dean who was both solid in defence and displayed a degree of quality distribution that neither Waston or Parker is capable of.

That leaves Carl Robinson with an interesting choice; if his team largely relies on the long ball from the back then much better to have a player back there who can play those passes with aplomb.

It’s hard to see him dropping either Waston or Parker so early in the year but that may prove to be the right move to make as the season progresses.

Otherwise Kekuta Manneh looked lost in the centre and clearly needs the space to run into that the wider role provides and Brek Shea looked like a drunken gazelle on ice as he repeatedly failed to find either his feet or the ball.

We’ll put that down to the early days of playing on turf.

We shouldn’t get carried away with how bad the performance was I suppose because there were the mitigating factors of it being early in the season, injuries and players just starting to get to know each other on the field.

Yet there have been mitigating factors for this team for the last eighteen months; “they are young”, “the schedule”, “fine lines” etc.

So we are probably just going to have to accept that Carl Robinson is a coach who wants to play in this limited style and that he will never produce an aesthetically pleasing brand of football.

The good news is that this can still be effective (especially in MLS) but the bad news is that when it doesn’t work it can be brutally uninspiring to watch.

And Sunday’s game was brutally uninspiring to watch.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Ousted-6, Williams, 6- Dean-6.5*, Parker-6, Harvey-6, Laba-5.5, Jacobson-5.5, Techera-5, Manneh-4.5, Davies-6.5, Hurtado-5.5 (Montero-5.5, Shea-4.5)

 

Whitecaps versus Red Bulls: What did we learn?

The CCL games against the New York Red Bulls existed in a strange netherworld between pre-season friendly and most important games of the MLS era for the Whitecaps.

But at least the game on Thursday evening was close enough to the regular season to allow us to draw some kind of meaningful conclusions despite the slightly alarming number of absentees for the home team.

And those conclusions probably confirmed what we already knew (confirmation bias notwithstanding) but the new season is finally here so ’tis the time for rapidly evolving mood swings and definitive statements that change on an hourly basis.

Two defensive midfielders doesn’t work-  Yeah, yeah, yeah this is playing the same old song but the Whitecaps were fortunate to score an early goal which really forced the Red Bulls to come at them and so set up the “sit deep and counter attack” style that Carl Robinson finds so endearing.

The problem with that is the same problem they faced all last season at home; visiting teams aren’t going to allow space for Manneh and Davies to run in to so Vancouver need to find a different way to break teams down and they won’t do that with both Laba and Teibert on the field.

Jacobson is a slightly better option in the role as he at least possesses some attacking instinct, but Thursday was a classic example of a formation designed to draw the opposition forward and not too many teams will accept that invitation at BC Place.

Fredy Montero needs support- It was great that the Colombian scored on his debut but that can’t disguise how isolated he often was in his thirty minute appearance.

Sure, the state of the game had some influence on that but (and this comes back to the first point) he won’t flourish if all he has to go on are long balls forward from the back four.

A deep lying number ten could be the link man he needs or perhaps the pairing of Davies and Bolaños could offer more consistent support, but let’s hope that what we saw against New York wasn’t a harbinger of loneliness to come (Memo to self: “A Harbinger of Loneliness to Come” would be a great title for that pretentious novel you keep meaning to write) .

The squad depth looks impressive- It feels as though we say this every year but Carl Robinson isn’t short of options if he wants to switch things around.

Bolaños, Mezquida, Techera, Hurtado, Reyna and Rosales were all unavailable for selection but he was still able to put out a decent first eleven and bench. And the performances of Jake Nerwinski and Marcel de Jong in particular must have pleased the coach.

Both are expected to be bit part players this year but although Nerwinski got caught out of position a couple of times he didn’t lose his calm and even offered an attacking threat. And he also understands the right back position which by itself is an improvement on last season.

Marcel de Jong was even more impressive aligning defensive duties with an attacking threat and some great deliveries and it’s easy to see Robinson giving him plenty of minutes, especially on the road.

Overall this probably feels a bit harsh given the injuries, a 2-0 win and a place in the Champion’s League semi-final but deficiencies are deficiencies no matter what the score and they still need to be addressed.

 

Vancouver Whitecaps reign over Red Bulls

It wasn’t overly pretty and there were times when the Whitecaps were bunkered in their own penalty area for minutes at a time but in the end goals from Alphonso Davies and Fredy Montero were enough to see Vancouver through  to the semi-final of the CONCACAF Champions League.

In an ideal world they would have built on the early goal from Davies but instead the Whitecaps reverted to type and allowed the Red Bulls to find a foothold in the game without really putting together a decent spell of football.

For Vancouver the forwards were a little less mobile than they were in the previous game with Brek Shea mostly taking a central role that he failed to excel in.

Kekuta Manneh filled in there too and he and Davies gradually became the home team’s best hope of adding a second through their pace on the break.

That second goal didn’t transpire until the introduction of Montero who (after spending fruitless minutes scampering after the ball or watching it be hit high and wide away from him) decided to introduce himself to the home fans by hammering a crisply hit shot into the back of the net.

There was a certain amount of cognitive dissonance in seeing a Whitecaps forward strike the ball so cleanly and so accurately but hopefully there’s more of that to come from the new addition to the squad.

The team is still developing though with Shea understandably struggling to find a rhythm and Montero will need to be serviced with more than chances from scrappy set-pieces if he’s to really make his mark but a win is a win is a win and to achieve it with goals from the both the new star striker and the young prodigy is about as good as it could get for the club.

Next stop is at home to Philadelphia on Sunday in the MLS opener and a win there would make the start to the season pleasingly reassuring but, for now, the Whitecaps are just two games away from the Champions League Final.

Last year suddenly feels a lot more distant.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Ousted-6.5, Nerwisnki-6, Waston-6.5, Parker-6, Harvey-6, Laba-6.5, Tiebert-6, de Jong-6, Davies-7*, Manneh-6, Shea-5.5

 

Vancouver Whitecaps: Life with the lions

It’s debatable just how widespread kleptoparasitism actually is among humans, but there is certainly some video and anecdotal evidence that in parts of Africa humans will steal meat from a pride of lions who have just downed their prey.

And this isn’t a group of guys in a Jeep firing guns and whooping and hollering; this is just two or three people who simply use “attitude” to move the big cats away from the big kill.

Now we can argue all day about how much things like “attitude” and the like really matter in sport, but if there has been a narrative arc for the Whitecaps in their recent signings then it has definitely bent toward “experience”.

Since the wheels fell off in 2016 all the major acquisitions have each possessed at least some degree of knowledge of the game in North America.

Granted there’s an argument to be made that each of these individual additions was merely a random occurrence that we have since conflated into a coherent whole (Edgar and de Jong to reclaim the locker room and the defence, Barnes a desperate throw of the dice to save the season, Montero initiated by Rosales, Shea a means to ship out Barnes and Rosales initiated by Montero) but if we forsake such cynicism then the pattern is clear.

And the recent arrival/re-arrival of Mauro Rosales helps to confirm it.

The Argentinian may be thirty-six, have lost at least two yards of pace and will probably only be good for cameo appearances but he’s almost instantly become the de facto captain of the team (in the locker room if not on the field).

That hints at the issues that may still remain of course but at least the “we are a young team” excuse has been stripped away from the mitigating factors arsenal and, by the end of last season, it certainly felt as though the team needed fewer alibis and more censure for the their mistakes and failings.

And hopefully Rosales is another stepping stone on the path to self-accountability.

Anyway, here’s some humans scaring off some lions; a solid midfield three if ever I saw one.

Warning! There will be blood!