Vancouver Whitecaps: A feeling in their knees?

Is Debbie Harry a great singer?

Well, it depends how you define the terms. In live performances she often struggles to find the right note or phrasing but in the studio she is close to perfect.

And not perfect in the “I’m going to sing this ballad over a twenty-five minute period hitting every note imaginable while simultaneously destroying any meaning the song may ever have had” kind of way, but perfect in that her voice moves through the music like a sugar cube melting into a hot morning coffee.

Much of this was also down to producer Mike Chapman (one half of the vastly underrated Chinn/Chapman duo who created so many Glam Rock hits in the early seventies) but it needed Debbie herself to appreciate that her vocal limitations could also be her strength when harnessed in the right way.

And that theme of learning how to accept limitations and use them effectively looks like it could be a recurring theme for the Vancouver Whitecaps this season.

On Saturday evening they beat the Las Vegas Lights (a new USL team) 3-2 in what felt like the first “proper” game of the preseason and although Carl Robinson didn’t field a full strength team it was close enough for us to at least make a few informed decisions.

The limitations are still fairly obvious.

After one brief foray forward Ephraim Juarez reverted to the traditional Whitecap role of sitting alongside his partner in defensive sterility (Russell Teibert filling the role on this occasion) and after cruising to a two goal lead in the first half Vancouver allowed an elbow to Alphonso Davies to completely throw them off track for a five-minute period which saw Las Vegas level the score thanks to a free kick and a penalty.

It’s been a theme of this side that they react to injustice by losing their collective heads and, once again, the bench were at least as guilty as the players with assistant coach Martyn Pert being sent to the stands.

It’s completely understandable that a coaching staff gets angry at a very bad challenge on their young star (especially in a preseason game) but their role isn’t to be the Id of the team, it’s to be the rationale side of the equation that can maintain a clear mind amid the madness.

Thankfully there were strengths on show too.

The Whitecaps were always a danger from set-pieces (no surprise there) and Davies showed that he may well have progressed from a promising kid who could never quite find the right final decision to a player who will be a threat both on the counter and when attempting to break down a packed defence at BC Place.

Chances are he will start the season and if he hits the ground running  he could well be the living embodiment of the “like a new signing” cliché.

Throw an in form Yordy Reyna and Ali Ghazal into that starting eleven on Saturday and the Whitecaps don’t look to be in too bad a position.

They aren’t going to glide through 2018 with the ease and assurance of a peak era Blondie forty-five but the trick will be making sure they make the most of their strengths and don’t play to their limitations (which became the depressing trend come the end of the 2017 season).

 

Vancouver Whitecaps: Maybe we think too much?

Just when you think that having no football to write about is pretty tough along comes the preseason and you realise that having meaningless football to write about is even tougher.

The Vancouver Whitecaps have been taking a break from beach volleyball and quality time together in the pool to play some games of soccer and the two wins and one defeat contained enough information to allow each of us to cement our hard won preconceptions about the team.

The reality though is that these games are almost solely concerned with getting the players up to match speed and giving the coach the chance to assess a few fringe players and perhaps to look at how one or two partnerships may work in the heat of battle.

For the rest of us there’s nothing meaningful to take away from it all.

Maybe when the team moves from the comfort of Hawaii to the comfort of Las Vegas we will start to see a few patterns emerge but for now the whole thing amounts to far more noise than signal.

It did emerge this week that Brek Shea is no longer a Designated Player on the team and while that is good news there are probably a few people who find their enthusiasm dampened by the fact that Brek Shea is still a player on the team.

It’s possible that he may be used as weight in any trade to bring in a new DP but that can be classed as possible rather than probable right now.

But where is a DP needed?

Almost everywhere of course but in a wide or central role seem the best fit.

The presence of Kei Kamara makes having a player who can get to the byline and whip in a cross a no brainer but Carl Robinson tends to favour the inverted winger over the true wide man and if (big “if”) he does opt for three at the back then the wing backs may be asked to perform that function anyway.

That ever elusive attacking midfielder would be nice of course but while Robinson has stressed that the team need to get more men forward this season that really isn’t how he likes to play the game and it would be particularly enervating to watch a genuine attacking player tethered to the centre circle by tactics and timidity.

So, to summarise, we’ve learned nothing and know no more than we did this time last week.

But at least we’re aware of that and that’s a kind of knowledge if you really think about it.

 

 

 

Vancouver Whitecaps: The Battles Ahead

“For we face no greater battle than the battle within ourselves”

Ancient Chinese proverb

Okay that’s not actually an ancient Chinese proverb but it definitely could be one and, quite frankly, making them up to fit the theme of a post is a lot easier than trying to find an authentic example.

But the fictional and anonymous author of that proverb was right and the wisdom is as true today as it was then.

And those “battles within” apply to the Vancouver Whitecaps as well because one of the most interesting aspects of the upcoming season will be watching to see who comes out on top of the following (Memo to self: insert number here once you’ve run out of ideas) battles.

The Battle on the Left- A lot will depend on which system Carl Robinson opts for but right now there are too many players who play on the left to fit into whichever lineup they go for.

Marcel de Jong made the left back position his own at the end of 2017 but the coach has already hinted he may use the Canadian as one of a back three and that would leave Brett Levis, Brek Shea and Alphonso Davies as the main candidates for the “running up and down the flank” role.

Shea has played there before but didn’t like it and doesn’t have the defensive acumen for Robinson to trust him in the role as more than a stop-gap measure.

Davies has the energy, the defensive responsibility and the attacking threat to succeed but it would be a lot to ask for him to learn a new role and it may well curb his progress if asked to do too much too young.

Levis looked very good the season before last and if he’s fully recovered from his injury he could be the main man. But that’s a big ask and only time will tell if he’s still the player he was or could be.

All of that means the favourite for the role is (PREPARE FOR THE SURPRISE TWIST ENDING) Marcel de Jong because…

The Battle in Central Defence– We can take it as read that Waston and Parker will be on the team sheet, but even if Carl Robinson does go for three at the back there are options other than de Jong to fill the extra position.

Doneil Henry has a lot to prove for a number of reasons and the chances are that, even if he does find that proof, he will be eased into the team as cover rather than a regular starter.

Aaron Maund arrived last season and barely got a run out even when one of the first choice centre backs wasn’t available. If he’s still here come season start he won’t be starting the season.

That leaves David Edgar as a man trying to prove his worth and fitness in the preseason and if he does that then he’s a shoe in for the starting spot.

He’s played in a three-man back line before, he’s experienced but still only thirty and the coach clearly likes what he brings to the side in terms of leadership.

If Edgar doesn’t make the squad then my bet is that the three-man experiment won’t last beyond April.

The Battle in Central Midfield- Ghazal, Tchani and Juarez (with Teibert and Norman Jr. as back up).

That could be it but it’s an awfully robust yet uncreative midfield and while that may not exactly go against the grain for Robinson it would take away too much from the team’s attacking threat.

Ghazal is a definite starter and Juarez hasn’t been brought in to sit on the bench so Tony Tchani will be having flashbacks to the end of the last campaign when the coach indicated he didn’t really trust him in the big games.

The Battle Between the Coach and the players- It almost seems to be a policy to sign “difficult” characters in the off-season.

Kei Kamara has a history and trialist Yohan Mollo has one too and if the rumours of Jordon Mutch being signed are true than he will probably top the lot.

That’s not going to be an easy locker room to control and while Robinson likes to think of himself as a good man manager there’s a fundamental difference between being liked by the players and actually managing them.

This season will determine just how good he is at that.

Vancouver Whitecaps: Reasons to be Cheerful?

Football doesn’t really break your heart.

It might feel as though it does from time to time but really it’s just breaking your heart in for the real tragedies we all have to deal with.

And that’s just one of the rush of emotions that make attending an actual live sporting event a cathartic experience no matter what the outcome.

Anger, elation, frustration, injustice and unbridled joy are just a few to provide the kind of emotional purge the self-help industry would pay billions to harvest if they could only bottle it.

So no matter how we feel about the structure of the squad, the tactics of the coach or the quality of the designated players, going to the game is always good (even when it feels bad).

Fortunately there’s more to look forward to than just psychological purification at the hands of the Vancouver Whitecaps this year.

There’s the new players for a start.

It’s always fun to try to get the measure of the new guy. And it’s even more fun watching those perceptions change as the season unfolds.

Last year Sheannon Williams seemed like a player we would all take to our hearts before it all went wrong. Fredy Montero began with the suspicious stench of the air of a rival before making it pretty clear we needed him much more than he needed us and Brek Shea arrived as a “character” only to reveal that he didn’t really have much of that particular attribute at all.

It’s our own personal soap opera!

And this year’s player to watch seems certain to be Kei Kamara.

The club is already pushing Kamara in almost all of their online promotions and he does seem to be a genuinely likeable guy but (Spoiler alert!) his history is littered with disputes and it’s unlikely he will change his stripes this late in his career.

The Whitecaps and Carl Robinson have been eager to point out that this is one of the attributes they most like about their new striker as it will challenge the other players if they are underperforming.

But it will also challenge Robinson himself.

His time in Vancouver has been marked by his propensity to defend his players in post game interviews no matter what the realities of the situation, so having the “leader in the locker room” directly contradict that point of view will prove interesting.

We’ve seen glimpses of this before with David Ousted and other senior players but Kamara is much more of an “out there” personality who will eat up media time far more than his predecessors.

It’s often seemed that Robinson’s desire to support his players at all costs has meant he struggles to deal with dissent and dissatisfaction within the squad so the first Kamara missive from the embedded discontents could prove both fascinating and pivotal.

Elsewhere Anthony Blondell has the potential to either set the league on fire or flame out in unfamiliar surroundings and Efrain Juarez could add a little attacking intent to the centre of the pitch.

Throw formation experiments, sophomore slumps, World Cup jitters and hangovers into the mix too.

Let’s get this crazy messed up show on the road as soon as possible!

Vancouver Whitecaps: How Soon is Now?

Yay!

The Vancouver Whitecaps players are back at preseason training which means no more Christmas miracles, no more dystopian futures and much more opportunity for me to phone all this in with the kind of “Here are five things…” kind of posts that you, dear reader, will plough through until the end in the vain hope of excavating maybe a nugget of information or insight or just something, anything, to make the whole sorry exercise worth while.

Like I said.

“Yay!”

But worry not because this won’t be one of those “Here are five things…” kind of posts at all. Oh no! This is very different. This is a “Here are five people….” kind of post.

Here are five people who will (or could) most influence the Whitecaps 2018 season.

Yordy Reyna- Last season Reyna arrived from a half season long injury to look like the wild card who could turn the team from “possible” to “probable” in the MLS Cup stakes.

It didn’t quite work out that way in the end and his season (like everybody’s) ended with a whimper.

This season Reyna could prove to be even more of a wild card.

His off-season travails have been well documented and remain unresolved and how he reacts to those is yet to be seen.

But right now Reyna is looking like the only genuine creative spark the Whitecaps have so, from a purely footballing perspective, let’s hope he can find focus on the field and that the prospect of being a member of the Peru team that travels to the World Cup in the summer either concentrates or clears his mind.

Without Reyna’s spark of ingenuity the Whitecaps could be a very laborious team to watch indeed.

Kei Kamara- Carl Robinson has been keen to emphasise that Kamara is the first genuine number nine he has had at his disposal and it’s true the big man should suit the team’s style far better than his predecessors.

The tactical naifs among us will wonder why that system was being played when there wasn’t a player suited to it but ours not to reason why the water has passed under a bridge that has already burned and if Kamara does get the service he needs (and with Anthony Blondell as backup) we may finally see those crosses and long balls from the back pay greater dividend.

Alphonso Davies- Sooner or later Davies is going to have to start earning column inches because of how he plays rather than because of his untapped potential.

And that “sooner” is getting awfully close to “now” if he’s going to fulfill that promise.

We’ve seen the odd flash of guile amid the pace, power and defensive diligence but those flashes need to become a feature of his play or Davies will turn out to be just one more MLS players who can be classed as “useful” rather than a game changer.

If Davies starts the season well then Robinson will surely give him the game time to further hone his craft, but a slow start for the youngster leading to a few weeks on the bench and suddenly the nagging itch of doubt will start to feel like something that even Davies himself can’t help but scratch.

A defining year for him? It probably is.

Defender X- The coach has already hinted he will be looking at playing three central defenders this year and that means one other player has to slot alongside Kendall Waston and Tim Parker.

Robinson has name checked Marcel de Jong  as the leading contender but Aaron Maund and Doneil Henry must feel they are in with a shout given a fair wind and a clean bill of health.

But whoever gets the gig will need to supplement the pairing of Waston and Parker without detracting from their defensive solidity from last season and it would also be great if they could pass the ball with a reasonable degree of competence.

That certainly makes de Jong the favourite but let’s bear in mind…

Carl Robinson- Robinson has shown in the past that he’s not afraid to try different formations and systems but he’s also shown that he’s not hugely successful at making them actually work and that, when push comes to shove, he will revert to the style he feels most comfortable with; containment and reactive football.

Whether he can break out of that rut this year is open to debate (although I don’t really think it’s open to debate but we have to start the season with some hope right?) but to hear him talk about new signing Efrain Juarez with the all too familiar refrain of being a”good presence in the locker room” brings on the kind of ennui that really should be saved for the dog days of summer when the traditional late season slump has really taken hold.

But, putting all the gloominess aside, the coach has the squad to play the way he wants to play and the MLS experience under his belt to optimise the way he uses that squad week in and week out.

Which is all good.

No excuses from here on in then (well there will be excuses, but there really shouldn’t be.)

Black is the Colour

Many of us have enjoyed the fourth season of Charlie Brooker’s technology as dystopia series “Black Mirror”.

But how many of you are aware that the plan for the fifth season is to base all the episodes around Major League Soccer?

Probably none of you.

But here’s an exclusive look at just how that season will pan out.

Rock, Salt and Nails- In a bare white room a naked man is woken by the sound of a howling klaxon and a TV screen flashing the words “MATCH DAY” over and over again.

He groggily gets out of bed to discover the only clothes available are a football shirt, jeans and running shoes.

He puts them on and heads outside to try to figure out where he is.

Once outside he’s met by the sight of thousands dressed in identical manner marching toward a brightly lit stadium in the distance.

After being shepherded into the stadium they are forced to line up to buy a small glass of low alcohol lager for a very high price and then herded into the stands.

After thirty minutes of music being blasted out at a volume that makes conversation impossible the two teams emerge and proceed to play a game in which both are content to sit back and soak up pressure in the hope of sneaking a goal on the break.

The game ends nil-nil with no shots on goal.

Just as the agonized crowd are preparing to leave the big screen switches from Twitter hashtags to grainy footage of a war zone with soldiers shooting civilians and tossing them into mass graves.

A flicker of recognition appears in the eyes of all in the crowd and, one by one, the screen shows each of them committing cold-blooded murder before a countdown clock appears with the words “24 hours to Match Day”.

In the final scene a man in a bare white room is woken by the sound of a howling klaxon and a TV screen flashing the words “MATCH DAY” over and over again.

The Red King’s Dream- Video Assisted Review has long been established in the game and has recently been upgraded to allow all decisions to be made by a centralized computer system.

Although this works well initially it soon becomes clear that the vagueness of soccer’s rules are too much to process and so the VAR system links up with other computers around the world in an attempt to distinguish between intentional and unintentional handball.

Soon all computers feels compelled to make definitive decisions about the morality of every human interaction but with no consistent moral framework they can follow.

The episode concludes with endless lines of people waiting to hear if they will be punished following the video review of their day.

Investors in People- “Playercoin” has become the world’s dominant crypto currency with the value of each player changing constantly based on their performance.

The recent World Cup ended in the first crypto currency war when Brazil’s star forward missed a last-minute penalty causing his value to plummet and the whole of the Brazilian economy to collapse.

Now the world is desolate apart from the gleaming soccer stadiums that litter the landscape surrounded by makeshift shanty towns where people trade shares in players in the desperate hope of escaping poverty.

When game day arrives they gather around a tiny TV screen to watch their investments fluctuate with every kick of the ball.

Every player has their value displayed above their heads and cheers and groans can be heard with every mistake or silky pass.

But nobody believes the games are no longer fixed and all know the real money is being made by the corrupt multinational corporations who own the rights to every player.

The episode ends with a shot of a small child happily running through the shanty town dressed as his favourite player while holding a hastily scribbled piece of paper above his head to indicate his current value.

Before fading out the camera pans to a deflated football sitting in the mud.

Mindbox- The new app “Mindbox” has become hugely popular as it allows people to “virtually drop” into the mind of a footballer while he is competing.

Millions of people have experienced the thrill of not just seeing their favourite player score a goal but actually being him.

But a dangerous trend is emerging among a small section of the population.

They are no longer satisfied with knowing what it’s like to be a great player, they want to experience true ineptitude.

As a result one MLS striker has become a cult figure as Mindboxers tap into his consciousness to find out how it feels to constantly miscontrol the ball, to always pick out the wrong pass and to always hit every shot high and wide.

But not everybody can take this contradiction between physical prowess and physical dysfunction and, one by one, they slowly lose their minds.

And the rush of emotions created by their experience are so strong they infect the whole system and soon everybody, even the world’s great players, are not only unable to control a football but also unable to complete the simplest of everyday tasks.

The episode ends with the scene of a freeway gridlocked by crashed vehicles as people struggle to open their car doors while a pack of wolves circle expectantly.

Pot of Gold-  The episode opens inside a locker room where a team is celebrating a victory. Among the celebrations two players kiss and lock eyes in a loving gaze.

We cut to scenes of their home life where a child happily kicks a ball in the garden.

But in the near future all MLS transfers are initiated by a program developed by the makers of “Football Manager” and so successful has this been that clubs have reneged the right to disobey the system.

When the news flashes up that one of the couple will be transferred from the east coast to the west the pair are distraught.

They plead with their coach not to split them up but he is as powerless as everybody else at the club and when they still refuse to follow the transfer instructions the relentless and brutal “FM bots” are deployed to force compliance.

A desperate car chase finally sees our heroes reach the Canadian border and in the final scene we see them running out hand in hand to play in the Canadian Premier League while their son beams happily from the stands.

Clear and Obvious Error- The nation is governed by the “People’s Revolutionary Order” (PRO) and their ruthless goons patrol every street dressed in black and handing out punishment on a seemingly random basis.

A small group of rebels are holed up in the forest and they plan to overthrow PRO in a carefully planned armed rebellion.

But they are unaware that PRO has surveillance everywhere and we see tiny cameras whirring in the trees as PRO headquarters watches and reviews every move the rebels make.

When the group finally launch their attack they are dumbfounded to find the PRO goons already waiting and they are easily captured.

The prisoners are marched through the streets while the subdued population looks on as each rebel is forced to walk up to a PRO official to receive the dramatically delivered red card of death.

Another official then holds a board aloft to indicate the number of minutes until the time of execution.

The episode ends with the camera focused on the fear filled faces of the onlookers as the sound of gunshot after gunshot echoes in the distance.

Whitecaps arriving into 2018 with a whimper?

It’s all a bit underwhelming really isn’t it?

I’m talking about life in general of course but it also applies to what we’ve seen from the Vancouver Whitecaps during the off-season so far.

An experienced MLS striker slightly beyond his best, a former Mexican international who can play midfield and can be cover at right back and a Venezuelan forward slash wide player who is one of those “hope he settles in to the vagaries of MLS okay” signings.

In the outgoing ledger we have Fredy Montero and Christian Bolaños heading back to pastures old and Nosa Igiebor departing after never really being here apart from the three most important games of the Whitecaps 2017 campaign.

Some decisions and revisions can be reversed I suppose but Carl Robinson obviously chose to play Igiebor in those games because he thought he was a better option than Tony Tchani and now the coach will have to convince Tchani that he didn’t really mean it and he definitely trusts him to do the job in midfield in 2018.

And Matias Laba is left twisting in the purgatory of everybody knowing he was going to leave the club were it not for an unfortunately timed injury while also seeing the Whitecaps stockpile defensive midfielders like they were going out of fashion (which maybe they are).

It’s all a bit of a mess really.

But not the kind of mess that makes you think “this definitely needs cleaning up immediately or somebody will catch something” but more the kind of mess that makes you think “I can probably leave that until tomorrow, it doesn’t look too bad actually”.

Like I said, it’s all a bit underwhelming.

Underwhelming doesn’t necessarily mean under performing though and indeed there will be time for players to come and go and for the picture to change.

But the over/under on “whelm’ right now is definitely leaning toward “under”.