Whitecaps start to doubt Thomas

From last night but now with additional fumblings.

I think it’s safe to say that Thomas Hasal won’t be starting another game for the Vancouver Whitecaps this season unless every other goalkeeper in the squad (and a few technical staff) are unavailable due to injury.

A road game against St. Louis was probably a tough ask for a player who hadn’t started a game all season but the Whitecaps haven’t seen this level of incompetence since I failed to get a free bucket hat during last season’s much vaunted giveaway.

Sartini clearly wanted to give Hasal a game in case he was needed for the Canadian Championship final but, in retrospect, a midweek home game might have been a better option.

Hasal was certainly to blame for the first and third goals and it’s doubtful that Blackmon would have made the same decision he made for the second had the calming presence of Takaoka been waiting behind him.

Vanni Sartini ended the game furious with the officials (and probably rightly so given some of the decisions) and that might prove to be a useful distration for the performance of his young goalkeeper but Vancouver lost the game because of their own errors not because of the errors of those with whistles and flags.

The coach piled into the referee in his post game comments too. Another attempt to take eyes away from his goalkeeper.

Ironically the overall play wasn’t at all bad.

And if Becher had been sharper in front of goal they could have left the game with even more than a single point without it seeming a travesty of justice.

A word though for Sergio Cordova. Well, more than one. His inability to link up with the rest of the team and to even perform the basics such as pass the ball to within six metres of a teammate mean the Whitecaps are a Brian White injury away from a crisis. Cordova doesn’t look like a player who needs more time to settle in. He looks like a player who doesn’t want to settle in at all.

But, as it is, they somehow continue to pile pressure on themselves to get results at home.

They’ve been able to do just that thus far, but it’s a fine wire they’re walking if they want to finish in a position that their overall play deserves.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Hasal-0, Brown-4, Martins-5.5*, Veselnovic-4.5, Blackmon-5, Berhalter-5, Schopf-4, Gressel-5.5, Gauld-4, Vite-5, Becher-3

Vancouver Whitecaps Swoon in Dallas

In many ways the Whitecaps 2-1 loss to FC Dallas was far more concerning than their previous 3-1 loss to the Portland Timbers.

The Portland game was just shambolic, but the performance against Dallas was far too reminiscent of all their failings from last year.

A lacklustre performance with hardly a player having their head in the game until they inevitably went behind and then rousing themselves to give Vanni Sartini just enough to clutch on to justify an argument that his team really deserved something from the game.

They didn’t.

The first sixty minutes was a throw back to the flat out unprofessional performances of 2022. With very few players really that bothered about doing the basics and certainly nobody willing to get their foot on the ball or link up with a colleague to make a passing move of more than two hasty touches.

The release of the salary figures is never a good time to have a bad game, but Cordova and Schopf in particular continue to look so far away from justifying their pay packets that one of the reasons they may be playing so badly is that they constantly have their heads hung in shame and can’t see where they are passing the ball to.

Although the real highlight (highlight reel) of the first half was Ryan Raposo somehow managing to run the ball out of play even though he had acres of space and ne’er an opponent in sight.

And, for the third game in a row, the substitutions effectively ended any attacking threat the Whitecaps had. This time by taking Julian Gressel away from the danger area and opting to hit aimless long balls from the centre of the pitch into an increasingly crowed Dallas penalty box.

It’s hard to know what Ali Ahmed needs to do to get more playing time. Be less creative? Get rid of the ball faster no matter who he kicks it to?

Recently Sartini claimed that this team was special. It could turn out that they are “special” in the same way that my second cousin Greg was special.

And nobody wants that.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Takaoka-5, Laborda-5, Raposo-3, Brown-4, Veselinovic-3, Cubas-4, Schopf-2, Gressel-5*, Cordova-1, Vite-4, White-4

Vancouver Whitecaps fade away

From last night but now with additional hot takes.

We can probably put the Whitecaps 3-1 loss to the Portland Timbers on Saturday evening as “just one of those nights”.

Vancouver started slowly, gathered momentum as the half went on, but then seemed to lose all attacking cohesion once the Timbers got their third goal.

Having a settled starting eleven is great but, for the second game in succession, the substitutions seemed to set the team back rather than refresh them. A weaker squad than it appears to be or just some players needing more playing time to settle in?

But tactical analysis be damned!

This result was as much about Cubas and Takaoka having their worst games for the Whitecaps as it was about Christmas Tree formations or strikers playing between the lines.

It was also the first start for some time for Sergio Cordova who looked slightly better than he has before without convincing (me) that he is the type of forward the Whitecaps need.

He still looks like a player who waits for things to happen rather than making them happen with his pressing.

What the team needed to sign in the offseason was a better version of Brian White, but instead they went for a variation on the Cavallini theme. A nice option to have. But as a Designated Player?

And Alessandro Schopf continues to be a somewhat ghostly presence in the midfield and a non-existent presence in the opposition penalty area. Maybe the stats shed light on something the eye doesn’t?

Dallas and Seattle up next so it doesn’t get any easier, but it does feel as though this team (and certainly the coach) need a reminder from time to time that they haven’t solved the conundrum of football completely and they still need to work on the basics and focus on every game for the full ninety minutes.

On the positive side this was still a performance where they tried to take the game to the opposition and that alone is an improvement on the passively defeatist displays we’ve seen in days of yore.

“Vancouver Whitecaps: No Longer Passively Defeatist!”

Put that on a scarf.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Takaoka-4, Brown-4, Martins-4.5, Vesenovic-4.5, Blackmon-4.5, Cubas-4, Gressel-5*, Schopf-3, Vite-4.5, Gauld-5, Cordova-4 (Becher-3.5).

Whitecaps almost give it away

It’s not often that a substitute makes an immediate impact.

Changing the flow of the game almost the instance they step onto the pitch.

But Russell Teibert’s introduction against Minnesota United on Saturday evening changed the game from a potential goal fest for Vancouver into a potential point gained for the visitors.

Anybody who has watched Teibert over the last few years will know that his time in MLS should have ended by now. Perhaps there is some value in him as an occasional substitute when the game is well and truly over or even a starter maybe in a cup cup competition or two.

But as the guy to bring on with thirty minutes to go to lock a game down? Well, he’s not that guy.

The Whitecaps held on for a 3-2 win but it really should have been much more comfortable than that.

This is all a slightly over zealous attack on Teibert of course. He is what he is.

But Vanni Sartini’s decision to switch to a more defensive set up just as his team seemed to have achieved maximum momentum was another frustrating moment of the coach wanting to “do something” when there was nothing that needed to be done.

We’re seeing those moments less often this season but they clearly still lurk within the psyche of the coach.

Although the whole thing was almost worth it just to see Andres Cubas (always alert for moments of danger for his team) seemingly take the ball away from Teibert deep in his own half for fear of what would happen next.

And Cubas was, once again, excellent. Breaking up the opposition midfield and responsible for turnovers that led to two of the Vancouver goals.

Pedro Vite shone too. This was probably his best game of the season on the ball so far and it was definitely his best season off it. Committing to the press in a way he’s not really done thus far.

Elsewhere, Brian White finally got the goals he’s deserved and Ryan Gauld finally got the assist he has craved and while Schopf didn’t offer the variety in the midfield that Ahmed has he did at least show that he can fill a role there.

That makes it eight games unbeaten for the Whitecaps and, while there are tougher games ahead, they have shown themselves to be by far the most balanced squad of their MLS era. Defensively sound, solid in the midfield and able to create chances going forward.

If Sartini continues to make selections and decisions that play to those strengths than the the playoffs should be comfortably attained.

If he reverts to being “interesting” it might turn out to be a much closer call.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Takaoka-5.5, Brown-5.5, Martins-5.5, Veslinovic-5, Blackmon-5.5, Cubas-7.5*, Gressell-5.5, Schopf-5, Gauld-5, Vite-6 (Becher-6, Teibert-3)

Whitecaps stare into a deep dark truthful mirror

On Saturday evening the Whitecaps came up against an opponent who was content to cede the possession, sit deep and rely on their ability to hit on the break and set pieces as the best means to get a goal.

And there were times during the first half when it felt as though Vancouver and the Colorado Rapids were so similar in their sporting philosophy that we may all disappear into the vortex of the space/time continuum as the universe imploded at the sheer logical contradiction of it all.

There was no such luck however but at least the second half improved somewhat. But it was still a salutary lesson that the Whitecaps need to learn how to break a team down with far more wit than they displayed in this game.

Javain Brown had success getting behind the Rapids backline but couldn’t find a decent final ball. Luis Martins had better delivery but didn’t get forward often enough and Vancouver failed to (or didn’t even try to) get Julian Gressel into areas where his delivery could cause problems.

Once again the greatest threat came from Ali Ahmed whose willingness to take players on offered the opposition something different to think about.

And the decision to replace Ahmed with Becher effectively ceded control to Colorado for the final twenty minutes and will hopefully be the final nail in the coffin of Sartini’s belief that a two man midfield is a good idea.

And whither Ryan Gauld?

Once again the Scot failed to impose himself on the game, seemed disconnected from his teammates with his passing and movement and was more interested in complaining about the refereeing decisions he didn’t get than causing Colorado concern.

Given their defensive solidity the Whitecaps are probably an in form Gauld away from moving out of the middle of the pack and into the upper third of the standings.

Somebody needs to cure what ails him.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Takaoka-6*, Brown-5.5, Martins-5.5, Veselinovic-6, Blackmon-6, Cubas-6, Ahmed-6, Gressel-4.5, Vite-4, Gauld-4, White-4.5

Whitecaps on the up!

Okay, I’m just going to throw this out there. Run it up the flag to see who salutes. Launch the ship to see if it floats.

But might the Vancouver Whitecaps turn out to be fun to watch this season?

Not fun in the sense of purely joyous football of course. But at least fun in the sense of a group of decent players trying win games by treating the ball as their friend rather than a thing to be treated with disdain.

The last two (MLS) home games have seen the Whitecaps score six goals without conceding a shot on target and, while it’s probably true they aren’t taking their chances with enough efficiency, they are still the fourth highest scorers in the Western Conference.

On Saturday evening they comfortably outplayed a poor Timbers team with Ali Ahmed once again showing that his ability to run with the ball offers a new dimension to the team, Julian Gressel was a constant threat with his deliveries and Ryan Gauld got his groove back (especially in the second half).

Elsewhere Sebastian Berhalter was a more than ample replacement for the injured Cubas and Mathias Laborda showed what a good defender he will turn out to be (although probably not a good crosser of the ball).

Simon Becher found out that that he’s not ready to lead the line on his own just yet but Brian White got the reward for constantly being in the right place thanks to Gressel firing the ball at him in sheer frustration that his team hadn’t yet scored.

Onwards and upwards then.

There’s now a meaningless second leg in Los Angeles followed by a trip to Austin, before a week of rest gives the team time to take a breath and then we’ll see if they can maintain momentum for the rest of the season.

What are these strange feelings I’m feeling?

Could it be optimism?

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Takaoka-5, Laborda-6, Blackmon-6, Veselinovic-6, Martins-5.5, Cubas-5, Ahmed-6.5, Gressel-6.5*, Gauld-6, Vite-5.5, Becher-4 (Berhalter-6, White-5)

A Trap Game for the Whitecaps

Let’s get one thing straight.

I frequently disagree with Vanni Sartini’s starting eleven and turn out to be wrong.

So I won’t hold myself up as an expert witness when it comes to such matters.

But his decision to start Teibert and Dajome against LAFC felt like a recipe for mediocrity and so it turned out to be.

It was probably justifiable to rest Ahmed and Becher after the heroics at the weekend, but Berhalter and Vite were much better options than a forward who continually struggles to pass or control the ball and a midfielder who can offer nothing going forward.

Although seeing Teibert maintain his passing stats while constantly putting a teammate in trouble did stir a strangely sweet sense of nostalgia.

Not that the Whitecaps were terrible.

Until LAFC scored it felt as though both team were mostly content to keep the game scoreless and take their chances in the second leg. But, once they did score, the game (and the tie) felt over.

A Cubas error and nice piece of skill probably flattered the visitors with a 3-0 final score, but it was another object (abject?) lesson in how far Vancouver need to go to even think of including themselves in the top echelon of the standings.

They also need Ryan Gauld to recover from whatever ails him right now, because they’re missing all round game to drag them up when they are down.

“Not angry, but disappointed” probably sums up this game as a whole but from now on Sartini needs to get his selections right.

And that means fielding players based on how well they are playing and not based on what he wants to be the best eleven.

The trapdoor is still there for him and this game edged him back a step closer to the edge.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Takaoka-5, Brown-6*, Raposo-2, Veselinovic-5, Blackmon-5, Cubas-5.5, Teibert-4, Gressel-4.5, Gauld-4.5, Dajome-2, White-4.5.

The Honeymoon is Officially Over

How long will it be before Vanni Sartini changes the things that aren’t working? Will he change the things that aren’t working?

The inverted wing-backs, players at wing-back who aren’t wing-backs, constantly changing the personnel in the back three (in front of an inexperienced goalkeeper no less), playing two central midfielders who have no meaningful attacking intent.

Every game creates an unnecessary problem which then needs to be solved in the next.

Not that all the deficiencies fall on the head of the coach.

On Saturday the Portland Timbers purposefully slowed the game down at the start and the Whitecaps just let them do it. What should have been an opportunity to force the issue against a Timbers team who were out of form became another example of the Whitecaps allowing the opposition to dictate how the game was played.

They lack the on field leadership to recognize such problems and solve them on the fly.

A Roy Keane type figure or a Roy Kent or a Roy of the Rovers or a Rob Roy or a Logan Roy or a Roy Orbison or a…..look just sign somebody named Roy!

I don’t know how many times this has to be said, but only starting to play with purpose when you are two goals down isn’t a sign of character. It’s a sign of the absence of character.

Nor was Sartini helped by the clubs inability to improve the squad over the close season. The thinking seems to have been that the good run at the end of 2021 bought time to take stock when, in reality, it was the ideal time push forward.

Now we wait for the potential summer signing to provide the potential increase in quality that was needed four months earlier.

Three consecutive road games could see Vancouver looking down the barrel of another wasted season before May decides to make an appearance in the calendar.

So much time wasted by unforced errors in every department.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Hasal-4, Raposo-3, Dajome-3, Veselinovic-4.5, Jungwirth-4.5, Gutierrez-4.5, Berhalter-4, Teibert-2, Gauld-5*, Caicedo-4, White-4

Vancouver Whitecaps are star-crossed in Houston

From yesterday but with additional musings.

Asterisms don’t exist.

There is no Big Dipper or Teapot or Crab collection of stars. They’re just random luminous balls of gas that human beings have assigned imaginary patterns to.

And yet these “patterns” have proved useful over the centuries, points of reference, navigational aids for the storm tossed sailor or water starved nomad.

Asterisms don’t exist but they do have a function.

The same cannot be said of the Vancouver Whitecaps midfield which, while also not existing, does not have any recognizable function.

And so it proved again in the 2-1 defeat to the Houston Dynamo on Saturday evening.

Vancouver were better when going forward and solid in defence, but the central pairing of Teibert and Owusu were neither Pisces nor fowl. Offering neither cover for the backline nor support for the forward line.

It can’t go on. Well, it can go on, but it shouldn’t.

Teibert is typically the player who attracts the ire after these performances because he’s a severely limited footballer who seems to play by pre-programmed algorithm rather than any intuitive understanding of the game.

But it’s hard to know why the Whitecaps still haven’t managed to acquire a midfielder to replace a player of such limitations and that’s a mystery worthy of it’s own QAnon style conspiracy theory. Genuinely baffling.

On another day maybe the Whitecaps would have got a point from this game? But it was all a bit if a struggle.

A good start faded into a closing twenty minutes where set-pieces were the only realistic hope of getting the equalizer that never came.

They weren’t helped by Ryan Gauld being terrible in both pass and touch and Lucas Cavallini having one of his better games and still not being the player the team need to lead the line.

Cavallini poses nothing but problems for Sartini. He’s a Designated Player on a high salary who doesn’t fit the way that Sartini wants to play. Nor does Cavallini seem capable of adapting his game in any meaningful way.

He found success yesterday by being in the centre of the goal and slotting home a cross and then proceeded to avoid that area of the pitch for as much as possible for the rest of the game.

It’s hard to know why he thinks he’s capable of dropping deep and linking up play or drifting wide and gliding past two or three defenders but he does. Genuinely baffling.

Neither have they been helped by the previous two games which they seem to have treated as a kind of pre-season warm up as they were “only” against Eastern Conference opponents.

Points are still points and I’m not sure how many times the Whitecaps need to suffer at the hands of that attitude before waking up to the reality of how numbers work.

On the positive side the back three of Blackmon, Veselinovic and Jungwirth look to be gelling and they will be even better once the wing-backs start to play as “backs” as well as “wings”.

But it’s been an inauspicious start to the season.

Not disastrous, but enough to make the optimism of the last season implode into the vast and empty nothingness of realism.

A major part of Sartini’s success last season was that he had a system of play and stuck to it regardless of the personnel available. That led to some odd selections but it did at least provide stability.

This season he has abandoned that philosophy and has been trying to find the system to suit the players available, making every game a learning curve that the players can’t climb.

It’s hard to know why he has departed from such a successful strategy but he has.

Genuinely baffling.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Hasal-5, Dajome-4, Gutierrez-4, Blackmon-6*, Veselinovic-5.5, Jungwirth-5, Teibert-2.5, Owusu-2.5, Gauld-2.5, Vite-5, Cavallini-4 (Brown-4)

Vancouver Whitecaps: A new world struggles to be born

Heat domes, bomb cyclones, tornadoes and the Vancouver Whitecaps making the playoffs.

Things just get stranger and stranger.

The Whitecaps clinched the much coveted berth with a 1-1 tie against the Seattle Sounders on Sunday afternoon and now travel to Kansas in the next stage of their adventure.

Almost more impressive than that feat however was the way Vancouver approached the game.

We have all lived through the Whitecaps facing a Cascadian rival at home in a crucial game and immediately retreating into their shell. Playing with fear and a hope for the best attitude that admits defeat from the get go.

But, under Sartini, they are a different animal.

They attacked from the first whistle and didn’t allow the inevitable Fredy Montero goal to distract them from their purpose.

Sartini’s decision to play the same system no matter who was available has turned out to be the foundation for the resurgence of the team.

Okay we got to see Baldisimo as a central defender and Metcalfe as a wing back. But the message it sent to the players was that they were going to play their own way and if they lost then so be it. But no more emphasis on how good the opposition were and simply setting up to nullify them.

Sartini is the first Vancouver MLS coach (since Teitur Thordarson) to not go into every game with an inherent sense of inferiority.

He’s also the first coach since Teitur Thordarson to connect with the supporters.

Tom Soehn was an executive in a coach’s tracksuit, Martin Rennie was too out of his depth to think of such things, Carl Robinson didn’t think anybody in British Columbia understood the game as well as he did and felt such statecraft beneath him and Marc Dos Santos was too trapped in the purgatory of the way he wanted his team to play and the way it actually played.

No doubt Sartini’s willingness to connect with the fanbase is down to his personality, but it’s also a savvy PR move on his part.

A club with the need for as much positivity as it can get will find it immensely difficult to remove the most positive figure in the organization.

But would it be the right move from a purely footballing point of view?

It’s possible that Sartini is riding the wave of optimism the players have felt since returning to BC Place and it’s possible that once the fresh scent of change wears off they stop buying whatever he is selling them. It’s also possible that the addition of Ryan Gauld has been enough to propel the team on such a good run. And it’s possible that it could all end in tears and heartbreak before we know it.

But there seems to be more substance to Sartini’s coaching than merely good will and good quotes. He’s got the players to pass and move (it’s an indication of how poor the Whitecaps have been that passing and moving is seen as a major innovation) and suddenly the player on the ball has an option to pass to rather than staring down the blind alley of nothingness that induces the hopeful punt forward.

And do we really think Dos Santos would have used Gauld as anything other than a get out of jail free card from the regular backs to the wall defensive showpiece?

It would be a brave decision by the Whitecaps to replace Sartini and the role would perhaps be something of a poisoned chalice for the new incumbent to drink from.

For now though it’s on to Kansas with the knowledge that the Whitecaps will approach the game in the way it should be approached. An opportunity to be grabbed rather than an ordeal to be survived.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!

Crepeau-6, Brown-6, Gutierrez-6, Jungwirth-6, Nerwinski-6, Veselnovic-6, Teibert-5.5, Owusu-5.5, Gauld-6.5*, Dajome-5, White-4.5 (Bikel-3)