Vancouver Whitecaps: Season Preview!

Can it really be the start of the Major League Soccer season this coming weekend?

Yes it can, because that’s how we shape the unconnected moments of our existence to form the necessary illusion of linear time.

But what does the “year” hold in store for the Vancouver Whitecaps?

Let’s posit a few theories that are mostly based around the slightly bizarre compulsion for alliterative sub headings.

Form will Follow Function- It sometimes feels as though Carl Robinson’s journey as a coach is one leading him toward a kind of footballing Modernism.

A philosophy in which ornament and style are discarded in favour of the brutalism of functionality.

That’s no bad thing in and of itself despite how stark and grey the viewing fare may be (and that greyness is surely the inspiration for the new “Unity” jersey) and this season may be the one in which Robinson has the building blocks to create the utilitarian monolith of his dreams.

Flair players have been expunged in favour of height and pace which could make the Whitecaps both startlingly predictable and simultaneously difficult to stop.

The only danger in this prognosis is that somebody somewhere convinces the Front Office to splash the cash on a creative number ten, because giving the current coach a creative number ten would be like giving me a Photoionization Microscope.

People would be impressed that I had one but I wouldn’t have a clue how to use it properly.

World Cup Work Outs- The World Cup will hover over the start of the 2018 season like a rescue helicopter hovering over the profusely bleeding body of a hit and run victim.

Sure, it will be great when it gets there but the build up to the arrival will be fraught with a giddy mix of dark thoughts and irrational hopes.

For the Whitecaps there are perhaps two players whose fate will be inextricably linked with the great beast of a tournament slouching over the horizon.

Ali Ghazal is one who knows he has to impress if he is to force his way into the Egypt team and Yordy Reyna was on the fringes of the Peruvian squad before the off-season and nothing has happened since then to improve his standing.

Ghazal appears to be the kind of player who will know that a steady and effective start to the season will be his best chance to make the cut but Reyna is surely more of a wild card who could cut both ways.

He could either rise to the challenge and be the kind of wild mercurial presence we saw when he first arrived in Vancouver or he could try too hard to win every game single-handed and become a liability in a team that very definitely has no “I” in it.

The post World Cup period will be interesting too as Kendall Waston and whoever else gets a seat on a plane will have to deal with the inevitable cold turkey after the emotional high of Russia.

Defensive Dance- The Tim Parker “situation” has certainly thrown a spanner into the defensive machinery and (at the time of writing) we still don’t know how the “situation” will resolve itself.

It’s hard to know if the best case scenario is Parker agreeing a new deal and staying in Vancouver or the club getting an over generous offer that allows them to strengthen elsewhere, but the current reality is that the Whitecaps will be starting the campaign with the central defensive pairing still very much a work in progress.

Quite the “situation”.

Midfield Maelstrom- The news that Tony Tchani has been traded to the Chicago Fire for TAM may mean Carl Robinson wants an upgrade in that role but, when push comes to shove, it’s hard to look beyond Ghazal and Efrain Juarez as the go to guys when the chips are down.

But with Russell Teibert and David Norman Jr. as the only central midfield backups (with maybe Marcel de Jong being platooned in from time to time) the immediate need is more depth there than anything else.

Or maybe this is all a case of positioning for a big move during the Summer?

Whatever the case there’s no doubt all of this speculation will be scattered to oblivion in the coming days, hours and minutes but given that linear time is indeed an illusion (which probably explains my persistent inability to schedule any of these posts in even a vaguely competent manner) what does it matter anyway?


Panic on the streets of Seattle

Maybe everybody involved with the Vancouver Whitecaps had started to believe their own publicity?

And maybe that’s understandable given their jump in the in the MLS power rankings and after listening to Wednesday’s pregame show on TSN in which the overall consensus from the pundits seemed to be that Carl Robinson had cleverly crafted the perfect footballing machine designed to function no matter which player started in which position.

Those of us who watch the team week in and week out know otherwise of course. We know that they’re a scrappy team who just got ten points out of the last twelve that could just as easily have been six or seven.

But that’s all water under the bridge now because any nascent delusions of grandeur will hopefully have been severely smashed by the 3-0 mauling handed out to the Whitecaps by the Seattle Sounders at Century Link Field.

Robinson once again rang the changes and this time around not a single one of them worked.

Sheanon Williams played like a man who never wanted to see a football again in his life and Christian Bolaños and Bernie Ibini offered nothing going forward from either of the flanks.

Russell Teibert arrived at every interception half a second too late and Tony Tchani seemed unaware that there was a competitive game going on around him.

Fredy Montero hit a good free kick I guess.

And after a manically entertaining first half in which both teams offered at least something the Whitecaps were completely outplayed (out coached?) in the second and the three goal margin was a fair reflection of the Sounders dominance.

The Whitecaps are still top of the Western Conference at least, but it’s not inconceivable that they will lose in Kansas and New York to suddenly find themselves in a battle for fourth place at best come season end.

No need to press the panic button yet (he said with his hand hovering desperately over the panic button) because the return of Ghazal should shore up a midfield that was woefully open in Seattle and none of the players can ever play that badly ever again.

Can they?

The most concerning thing is that the Whitecaps have effectively failed to turn up for the last three Cascadia derbies, putting in lack lustre performances in each.

And a side that can’t perform in the big games isn’t a side that will fare well in the playoffs and neither is it reassuring that the last two decent sides Vancouver have faced (Columbus and Seattle) both worked out ways to open them up through the centre of the park.

Right now Vancouver have just one way of playing and any post-season success could ultimately hinge on whether Carl Robinson has any kind of Plan B up his sleeve at all.

Don’t bet your house on that being the case (or on anything really, it would be madness to bet your house on anything!)

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Ousted-5.5, Williams-4, Parker-5, Waston-5.5, Harvey-5, Teibert-5, Tchani-4.5, Bolaños-5, Ibini-5, Reyna-5.5*, Montero-5





Whitecaps get their Manneh back

The problem with playing a system that actively allows the opposition to have more possession of the ball is that from time to time you are going to run into a team that actually know how to use that possession effectively.

And that’s what happened to the Vancouver Whitecaps in their 2-2 tie at BC Place with the Columbus Crew on Saturday afternoon.

By the end the Whitecaps were more than happy to come away with a point after seeing Kekuta Manneh return bearing gifts of an assist and a goal to cancel out Fredy Montero’s early strike.

What we saw from Manneh was exactly why he was both exciting and frustrating to watch in a Whitecaps uniform.

Two fantastic moments that turned the game and two moments (a wildly hit shot from twelve yards out in the first half and an errant pass that would have set a teammate free in the second) that probably mean he will never achieve the highest level.

Still, it was nice that he got a round of applause at the start and when being substituted but it was a tad too much for some Whitecaps fans to actually applaud his goal.

I mean, come on!

Overall Carl Robinson will perhaps feel that this game wasn’t so much a case of his system not working as it was a case of his players not playing the system correctly because Tchani and Aly Ghazal frequently left too much space open in the centre of the field and Fredy Montero and Jordy Reyna were often two isolated islands desperately hoping others would join them to form an attacking archipelago.

It wasn’t that Shea and Techera offered nothing going forward, it was just their inability to consistently support the front two created the disconnect we’ve seen so often in the past.

It was still pretty entertaining stuff though and Jordy Reyna was twice denied by the woodwork as he put in a particularly lively second half shift.

But if this game foreshadows the playoffs then there are areas for concern.

Columbus had clearly worked out that closing down the Whitecaps central defenders can disrupt the whole game and that playing between the lines of the midfield and the attack asks questions that Vancouver aren’t always able to answer.

No doubt more than a few MLS coaches will be taking notes on those particular points of interest.

On the positive side the Whitecaps once again demonstrated that almost no game is a lost cause and even though Robinson reverted to the tactical long shots of throwing Erik Hurtado up front and playing Alphonso Davies at left back they somehow managed to eke out the kind of point that could prove vital come season end.

Neither will it do them any harm to carry around the idea that finding a last minute goal is something they are always capable of achieving.

The Whitecaps remain top of the Western Conference and at the start of this run of home games most of us would have taken ten points from the four as a decent haul.

That can be achieved with a victory over the Colorado Rapids next Saturday but they are a team who will happily bunker down and let the Whitecaps come onto them and that’s a different challenge entirely.

Right now it’s all good but it’s still too early to say whether those few clouds on the horizon will dissipate to reveal the sun or begin to accumulate to bring rain.

Stay tuned for the traffic report.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Ousted-6, Nerwinski-6, Parker-5.5, Waston-6, Harvey-6, Ghazal-5.5, Tchani-5.5, Techera-5, Shea-6, Reyna-6.5, Montero-6.5* 


Vancouver Whitecaps get a Rocky Mountain High/Low

The thing about going to see a tribute act is that the experience can go one of two ways.

Either you end up standing on a beer stained vinyl floor watching five aging and hairy men desperately trying to recreate the magic of Rollermania while thinking to yourself things like “Where did my life take such a wrong turning?”, “I really hope these stains on the floor are just beer” and “Isn’t this actually the original Bay City Rollers?”

Or the experience can offer at least a glimpse of transcendence.

One more chance to recreate the thrill of a youth long gone with a Proustian rush of bass guitar and drum, or the opportunity to be a time travel tourist and live briefly in a world of vinyl and videotape.

For the Vancouver Whitecaps Saturday evening’s 2-2 tie with the Colorado Rapids fell somewhere on the outside of even those two experiences and they must now know how Brian Eno would feel were he to walk into a bar and discover that the headline act of the night was Proxy Music.

Because the Colorado Rapids were nothing if not a tribute act to the 2016 Whitecaps (The “Vancouver Might Caps” maybe? I don’t know I’m still work shopping names).

Anyway, the Rapids were overly cautious in a home game they needed to win, scored from a set piece and a counter attack and, having taken the lead, decided to sit back and allow the opposition back into the game before hanging on for a point that no doubt their coach would describe as “Well deserved against a good team”.

It was probably too much to hope that Vancouver would recreate the magic of that 4-0 win in Dallas but it felt as though they might when Tony Tchani gave them the lead after just five minutes.

This time around though the wide men didn’t support Fredy Montero enough going forward and it was only when they were 2-1 down that the introduction of Shea and Techera really changed the focus of the game.

Shea was once again a threat down the left flank and Techera’s trademark left footed delivery from the right finally gave Montero a few scraps to feed upon and he eventually connected with one of them to level the score.

After that it all got even scrappier than it was before with both teams looking capable of scoring more through luck than judgement although by the final whistle it was the Whitecaps who looked like being the luckier of the two.

A point on the road in MLS is never a bad thing but the “what ifs” of a Kendall Waston start and better performances from Ibini and Bolaños may just keep Carl Robinson awake a little longer than usual in the coming days.

Elsewhere Sheanon Williams looked rustier than he did in Dallas and Tchani’s goal was a delightful side footed finish from outside the penalty area but the game still leaves the coach trapped in the hinterland of being content with the knowledge he has game changers on the bench and frustrated that selecting which of those game changers to start seems to be something of a lottery.

But four points from the first two road games of a three game stretch already puts the team at par and whatever happens in New England next week is now less important than how the Whitecaps deal with being back at BC Place.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Ousted-6, Williams-5.5, Parker-6, Jacobsoon-5.5, Harvey-6.5, Tchani-6, Laba-6, Bolaños-5.5, Ibini-5.5, Reyna-6, Montero-6, (Techera-6.5*, Shea-6.5)


Two sides to the Whitecaps LA story

So the Vancouver Whitecaps beat the LA Galaxy 1-0 in Carson City on Wednesday evening, a great three points to be sure.

But but before we look at all the good that entails let’s first of all wallow in a little negativity.

Sure, a road win in MLS is a good thing but this LA team are really bad right now and the if the Whitecaps had shown any kind of cutting edge at all they would have won the game by two or three goals at least.

But time and time again either the final ball was wayward or the final run was askew leaving Vancouver reliant on a set-piece goal and the insubstantial nature of the LA attack.

No team hoping to go deep into the post-season can afford to spurn chances in the way the Whitecaps did.

Okay, now we’ve got that out of the way let’s focus on the positive.

MLS is a weird League and it’s almost certainly foolish to make any kind of definitive predictions but this felt like a decisive moment in the season for Carl Robinson and his players.

Suddenly they are up to fourth place in the Western Conference standings, with games in hand on almost all of their rivals, and the roster is no longer being thinned by injuries.

That meant that DP Brek Shea didn’t start and although Tony Tchani still seems to be half a second too slow on the ball his presence is clearly providing value as a defensive shield in the middle of the park and it was his header from a Bolaños free-kick that did for the Galaxy in the end.

Elsewhere both Mezquida and Montero toiled without much joy up front but Andrew Jacobson had his best game as a fill in central defender and Jake Nerwisnki once again did enough to keep Sheanon Williams kicking his heels on the bench.

Shout out too to David Ousted who has been unreliable at times this season but produced one very good and one genuinely great save to earn himself a well deserved clean sheet.

Next time out for the Whitecaps it’s a depleted Portland Timbers (Gold Cup, red cards) at BC Place on Sunday afternoon and they currently sit level on points with their Cascadian rials with three games in hand.

A win in that game would be a huge blow for the Timbers and an even huger fillip for the Whitecaps and there’s now the possibility (Just the possibility) that Vancouver can soon stop worrying about whether they will actually get into the playoff picture and start being far more concerned with where they fit into that final scenario.

It could all still go horribly wrong of course but, for the first time this season, the Whitecaps can look forward to the rest of the year with expectation rather than hope.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Ousted-7, Nerwinski-6.5, Parker-6.5, Jacobson-6.5-Harvey-6.5, Laba-6, Tchani-6, Bolaños-7*, Techera-6.5, Mezquida-6, Montero-6