Inside Number Ten

When I eventually die and go to hell I’ve no doubt that one the first levels of torture I’ll be forced to endure will be an endless loop of those god awful clips that DAZN airs between games and at half-time.

While the flames lick at my heels, my eyelids will be forced open while Gary Neville talks to a monotone and monosyllabic Paul Scholes, or two badly groomed men shout at each other over a Zoom call about whether corner flags should be square or rectangular for the rest of eternity.

The current iteration of the genre features James Rodriguez trying to encapsulate the talent of Dennis Bergkamp in the allotted thirty-eight seconds but, astonishingly, James does get to say something interesting.

The Colombian announces the demise of the “number ten” as not fit for purpose in the modern game.

I suppose it’s possible that he’s doing this solely to troll those in the Whitecaps fanbase who seem to believe that the answer to all the ills of the team is said number ten but, more likely, he’s just reflecting a fairly obvious truth that has been acknowledged for more than a few years.

The traditional number ten is no more, he has ceased to be, he is bereft of life, he rests in peace and is an ex-footballer.

The romance lingers on however. The yearning for a mercurial presence just behind the striker, pulling the strings and pushing the ball between defenders is a tantalizing prospect for those deprived of even a semblance of footballing imagination in recent years.

After all, there are only so many times a human being can watch a ball bounce haplessly away from another human being’s foot before the spectacle begins to induce a certain ennui.

But what the Whitecaps need isn’t a saviour in the form of a languid playmaker. They need a consistent system that isn’t reliant on the ability, or health, of an individual. A system that runs at speed both backwards and forwards. A system that acknowledges current reality.

When he arrived in Vancouver, about eight lifetimes ago, that was the plan for Marc Dos Santos. But circumstance and what seems like a lack of self-belief reduced the team to facsimiles of that idea. Always hamstrung by caution and the inability to stick to any kind of method for more than a few games in succession.

Maybe that won’t change this year? Maybe the Whitecaps are destined to be prisoners of their own misfortune? Always one hamstring away from disaster. Always one defeat away from reinvention.

But don’t let the sugar rush of signing a number ten be the hill they choose to die on.

Don’t base the season on a thing as anachronistic as a rotary dial on a smart phone, a TV Guide in world of streaming.

“Traditional” and “artisanal” should be words we associate with street markets and cheese. Not the major signing of a professional sports team..

Holiday (Lock) Inn

I’m dreaming of a Whitecaps season
Not like the ones we’ve had before
Where the plastic grass is
Used for forward passes
Because the team is trying to score

I’m dreaming of a Whitecaps season
With every blog post that I write
Where every signing
Doesn’t leave me pining
For players that I once thought were shite

I’m dreaming of a Whitecaps season
Where all that matters is the game
No Front Office ruses
With poor excuses
That leave a lingering sense of shame

I’m dreaming of a Whitecaps season
Where a midfielder scores a goal
Where there’s some improvement
In the pass and movement
And every player knows his role

I’m dreaming of a Whitecaps season
Not like the one we had this year
Where BC Place is
Filled with hopeful faces
Who have some good football to cheer

I’m dreaming of a Whitecaps season
That makes me glad to be alive
No more early pressing
Then acquiescing
To just sit back once we get to minute five

I’m dreaming of a Whitecaps season
That doesn’t feel like a curse
No more troubles
And no more bubbles
And the best that we can say is “It could be worse”.

I’m dreaming of a Whitecaps season
Not like the one that has just gone
I’ve had more than plenty
Of Twenty-twenty
So bring on Twenty twenty-one

It Takes A Village

I live in a village now.

Strange that it would take a global event to limit our lives to the local. To lower our horizons to two or three blocks.

But in days like this the coffee shop knows my order, the bar knows my beer, the store knows I don’t need a bag and ID is no longer required when collecting a parcel from the post office.

They know me and I know them.

But not really.

All we really know are the three dimensional avatars that drift in and out of each others lives from time to time.

But that’s enough to create a connection. A shared experience. A common thread.

So maybe the Whitecaps were on to something with their “It Takes a Village” marketing campaign? Maybe they were right to try and turn the the team into an emblem for belonging?

But then the world changed and a connection got severed.

How could it not?

We were all so busy burying our heads in our own lives that we didn’t have the energy (physical/emotional) to spare for a team that barely even played in Vancouver.

That wasn’t their fault. But the necessary distance this year and the constant change of personnel over the last two has made it hard to to turn the majority of the team into those three dimensional avatars we need them to be.

Ali Adnan has been around long enough for us to know that he will argue with anybody while a game is ongoing and we know that Russell Teibert will listen to the coach’s instructions with all the sombre seriousness of a toddler trying to button up a raincoat.

But Bikel, Veselinovic and Owusu?

We barely know them outside of pixels on a screen and disheartening heat maps.

All the indications from the club are that there will be less turnover of the squad in preparation for next season and, while that may be a disputable decision from a footballing perspective, it’s almost essential in terms of a sense of kinship.

In an ideal world we love the players in our team, in a good world we root for them and in an acceptable world we hate them for the pain they cause.

It’s a cruel world in which we don’t even know who they are.

Vancouver Whitecaps season ends with a winner

There’s an alternate timeline out there when, upon arriving in Vancouver, Marc Dos Santos decided to keep Kei Kamara for the 2019 season.

The veteran forward scored a dozen goals and, while that wasn’t enough to get the team into the playoffs, it was enough to keep the season alive until near the end and create the perception of progress.

In 2020 Lucas Cavallini arrives in a team that is already fashioned to play with a target man and, although a pandemic reeks havoc across the globe, Cavallini’s goals are enough to push Vancouver into the post-season.

Everyone is agreed that Dos Santos has the Whitecaps moving in the right direction.

But that isn’t the timeline we are living in and another failure of a campaign means that the reasons to keep Dos Santos are explanations for his failures rather than explications of his successes.

Too high a player turnover in to the first season, the disruptive effects of the pandemic in the second.

Perhaps the latter stages of this year have shown that he can put together a decent team given the right players? But there’s been nothing yet to indicate he can make the eleven better than the sum of their parts.

Chances are that he will be allowed to take a run at 2021, but nobody wants to see another season where Vancouver is coached by someone who thinks achieving the bare minimum is a worthy goal to be aimed for. Where excuses are as abundant as baseless transfer rumours.

But, future speculation aside, the Whitecaps played their final game of the season against an LA Galaxy team who are even more dysfunctional than they are and ran out comfortable 3-0 winners.

It takes character to be so committed to winning such a meaningless game, but it takes more character to be committed to winning meaningful games and that particular trait has eluded this team for the longest time.

But none of us can begrudge this squad and staff the relief of returning home after what has been the strangest of seasons.

And there will surely be time enough for a full post mortem and more idle speculation in the coming weeks.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Bush-6, Nerwinski-5.5, Gutierrez, 6, Godoy-6, Veselinovic, 5.5, Teibert-6.5, Bikel-6, Dajome-5.5, Adnan-6 Montero-6.5*, Cavallini-5.5

Vancouver Whitecaps tread softly into the dying of the light

The Vancouver Whitecaps 2020 season was always going to be more interesting for the questions it raised in retrospect than it was to watch in real time.

Questions such as, what conclusion can we draw about any player or coach given the circumstances?

In more “normal” times would Marc Dos Santos have been able to shape this squad into one that resembled an effective unit or not?

The season was put out of its misery (barring more Covid related nonsense) by a 1-0 loss to the Portland Timbers on Sunday evening. A loss that encapsulated the year as whole.

The Whitecaps played the game as though trying to win it was a little bit too ambitious. Best to keep it tight and hope the lucky break fell their way rather than to their opponent.

But it didn’t.

And that’s the price you pay when you live your life by the coin toss.

If the limit of your dreams is to squeak into the playoffs then don’t be surprised if your dreams get trodden on.

If you don’t try to beat a terrible LA Galaxy team, then don’t be surprised if they steal a last minute winner.

If you rest almost the whole team for a game against Seattle then don’t be surprised if that defeat turns out to be as important as the defeat you suffered with all the rested players back.

There are mitigating circumstances flying around like murder hornets in a vacuum tube of course.

But, in the end, the Whitecaps never really controlled the things they could control and that was their undoing.

There will be time enough to go over what all of this means in the coming weeks and months but, right now, no one would blame the coaches and the players if they forewent the final meaningless game against the LA Galaxy and got out of Dodge before Tuesday.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Bush-5.5-, Nerwinski-5.5, Adnan-5.5, Veselinovic-4.5, Godoy-6.5*, Bikel-5.5, Owusu-5.5, Teibert-4.5, Dajome-3.4, Montero-2, Cavallini-3

Vancouver Whitecaps play it safer than Safe Jack McSafe the safety inspector

Marc dos Santos a had a cunning plan.

It didn’t work.

But it almost worked, depending on your perspective.

Either a second string Vancouver Whitecaps team kept the Seattle Sounders at bay for fifty=five minutes, or the Whitecaps missed the opportunity to take advantage of a rusty Sounders team and allowed them to play themselves in to the game and on to victory.

And perhaps medical sporting science is now so exact that the difference between players playing for forty-five minutes and thirty-five minutes is a finely calibrated decision based on lung capacity, blood work and the extensive use of an MRI machine.

Or, perhaps Dos Santos decided to ride his luck for an extra ten minutes before making the change, only to discover that his luck had decided to throw him unceremoniously into a ditch.

Couple this game with the late defeat to the LA Galaxy and it’s hard not to leap to the (perhaps unfair) conclusion that the reluctance to make substitutions when they are clearly needed has cost the Whitecaps at least one, perhaps two, crucial points in the run in to the end of the season.

We won’t really know the answer to that until the end of the campaign and even then it will still be defendant on the manner in which MLS adjudges how the points tallies will be evaluated.

But in a year such as this it seems likely (and oddly fitting) that Vancouver could miss out on the joys of the post-season because the coach displayed an abundance of caution.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Bush-5, Bikel-4.5, Gutierrez-5, Rose-4.5, Cornelius-5*, Veselinovic-4.5, Baldisimo-5, Teibert-4, Raposo-3, Bair-3, Ricketts-4

Vancouver Whitecaps Pick Up a Win

If Jake Nerwinski doesn’t have a recurring nightmare in which an adorable yellow penguin floats delightfully over his head only for him to slowly turn and see it being voraciously devoured by an angry minotaur dressed as an MLS left sided attacker then his subconscious isn’t doing half the work it should be doing.

But, even if his sleep is peaceful, opposing teams have certainly found a cheat code to score against the Vancouver Whitecaps. Whip in a cross from the right to a player on the left, who will inevitably be standing unguarded because every Whitecaps defender will have been drawn into the centre.

It happened again against San Jose on Saturday evening but, this time, it didn’t matter quite so much because Vancouver went from a timid and tepid first half to a lively and another word beginning with “L” second half.

One of the main reasons for that turnaround was the performance of Cristian Dajome, who is slowly becoming one of the most important players on the team.

There are still times when it feels as though he has never seen a football before in his life, but there are also times (becoming more frequent of late) when he is both the main outlet and the main creator and he is developing a burgeoning partnership with Fredy Montero and, to a lesser extent, Lucas Cavallini.

And, speaking of burgeoning partnerships, Bikel and Owusu in the middle and Godoy and Veselinovic at the back are slowly, sometimes very slowly, settling into what could, at times, be called cohesion.

There’s still a long way to go and the chances of the Whitecaps making the playoffs are probably fifty-fifty at the very best (and the chances of progressing in any meaningful way after that are much, much worse) but these tantalizing glimpses of a team playing with a plan are more than we had a few weeks ago.

And that’s not nothing.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Bush-6, Nerwinski-5.5, Adnan-5, Godoy-6, Veselinovic-6, Bikel-6, Owusu-6, Dajome-6*, Ricketts-5.5, Cavallini-5, Montero-5.5

The night is blue for the Vancouver Whitecaps

Now with a couple of added observations.

There was a time when a 1-0 defeat at the LA Galaxy wouldn’t have been too dispiriting a result for the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Since time is now a fluid concept it’s hard to be definitive about when that was. Last month? Last year? A week on Tuesday?

But it definitely wasn’t on this particular Sunday, because a somewhat buoyed Whitecaps were facing a somewhat deflated Galaxy and, for about sixty minutes of the game, the Whitecaps coped.

To be fair, the Whitecaps were decent in the first half. Not stellar, not great, but decent. the midfield looked like an actual thing (a bigger achievement than it sounds) and there were flickering embers of hope that Godoy and Veselinovic could develop into a decent partnership given enough games.

The biggest problem is that this mini renaissance of late is predicated on the return to the team, and the return to form, of Fredy Montero. And the problem with that is it forces Dos Santos to play a system he really doesn’t want to play.

So, for next season, what are the options? Rely on Montero maintaining this standard for another year? Find a direct replacement for him? Play the system Dos Santos prefers? Find a new coach?

Not one of those options offers concrete grounds for hope and the Whitecaps will be back facing another off season of hoping to make the right move rather than knowing what move they want to make.

Almost looking as likely as the home team to score and safe in the knowledge that, if they avoided doing something stupid, then LA would probably fail to score anyway.

But they did do something stupid.

Or rather Marc Dos Santos did something stupid by not doing anything; certainly not enough.

With at least thirty minutes to go it was clear that neither Cavallini nor Montero were going to be difference makers in this game and it was equally clear that they were failing to hold on to the ball.

So take them off. Give the Galaxy defence the pace and energy of Ricketts or Bair to worry about. At least that would prevent the Whitecaps defence having to deal with the ball returning to them more often than was really necessary.

But the change never happened. Cavallini continued to lumber and Montero continued to chug along to no avail and the Galaxy got closer and closer to the winning goal until, with a bitter tang of justice, it finally came.

Maybe Dos Santos didn’t feel comfortable taking either of his two star forwards off? Maybe he wanted to let the bench players know that he rates them so poorly that they aren’t worth using even when the first choice players are dead on their feet?

Maybe he just thought he’d ride his luck out to the end?

After the game Dos Santos said that he knew his players were tired but he left both Montero and Cavallini on because of their quality in front of goal.

That would make more sense if either of them had looked remotely like scoring in the second half and, while throwing speed on for the final twenty minutes is the most simplistic of all football tactics, there are times when it makes sense.

This was clearly one of those times and everybody but the Whitecaps coaching staff could see it.

Whatever the reasoning, both he and his team now have a week to ponder forlornly on what might have been.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Bush-5, Nerwinski-6*, Adnan-5, Godoy-6, Veselinovic-5, Owusu-5, Baldsisimo-5, Teibert-5, Dajome-5, Montero-5, Cavavllini-3

Vancouver Whitecaps: A Thanksgiving Miracle!

With more and more MLS teams being forced to postpone games due to positive Covid tests it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that the Vancouver Whitecaps could simply self isolate their way into a playoff place.

The less likely route to the post-season would be to win some games of football but, astonishingly, that’s what they did on Saturday evening by beating Real Salt Lake 2-1 at Providence Park.

It all seemed a bit too familiar for most of the game, with the Whitecaps starting with some urgency but little control before the “visitors” took the lead thanks to Vancouver defending that looked more like a display in an abstract art retrospective than the work of professional athletes.

For the second half Salt Lake decided, with some justification, that if they just sat back Vancouver would huff and puff in vain and the points would be theirs.

But Marc Dos Santos finally decided to do what everybody else in the known universe knows he should do far more often and gave Michael Baldisimo some minutes.

Baldisimo sent in the free kick that forced the own goal equalizer and then hit a first time cushioned pass to Ali Adnan that began the attack that Lucas Cavallini eventually completed.

When I die and go to hell the flickering Betamax video I will be forced to watch on an endless loop will be a parade of Vancouver Whitecaps midfielders receiving the ball with their back to goal, having space to turn into a dangerous position, but instead opting to play a safe pass back to a central defender.

Baldismo at least spares me that fate before my time by always looking for the simple, but positive, pass.

In the closing minutes Vancouver endured the obligatory backs to the wall desperation accompanied by the mandatory injuries to their goalkeeper, but they hung on for the three points that lend the veneer of respectability to their place in the standings.

Can they build on this?

Probably not, but a win is a win is a win.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Bush-6, Nerwinski-4, Adnan-4, Veselinovic-5, Godoy-6*, Owusu-4. Bikel-4.5, Teibert-4, Dajome-4.5, Montero-6, Cavallini-5 (Baldisimo-6)

Vancouver Whitecaps: What are they good for?

“All good teams are alike; each bad team is bad in its own way.”

And the Whitecaps have taken Tolstoy’s memorable quote about football to a new level. For they somehow manage to be bad in a slightly different way in each game.

In the 3-0 defeat to San Jose, for example, they pressed well in the first half and looked capable of causing the hosts problems as the game went on.

Well, the game went on, but the Whitecaps didn’t. Not really.

Sloppy defending gave away an early goal in the second half and then Andy Rose, included in central defence for his experience and calm head, picked up a silly second yellow card and the game was essentially over.

Apart from two more goals and Erik Godoy being harshly red carded for what looked like a minor, if somewhat foolish, kick to an ankle.

In truth referee Alan Chapman probably did Marc Dos Santos a favour with that decision; allowing him to talk about bad officiating rather than the way his team, once again, fell apart at the first sign of adversity.

But, as Tolstoy also said, “Every coach thinks of changing the team, but none thinks of changing himself”.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Bush-5, Nerwinski-4.5, Adnan-3, Rose-2, Godoy-4.5, Owusu-3, Baldisimo-4, Teibert-5, Dajome-2, Ricketts, 3, Montero-5.5*