Vancouver Whitecaps: Toward a Brighter Future!

Given that the Vancouver Whitecaps making up a six point and fourteen goal differential over the next two games is a mere formality before the playoffs begin Soccer Shorts can exclusively reveal that the club already has plans to make the 2019 season even better than 2018.

“Not possible!” You scream at your computer screen? Well, take a look at just some of the exciting new initiatives already being prepared for next year.

The Alphonso Davies Man of the Match Award- The Whitecaps recognize that it being impossible for their best player to ever win the Man of the Match award was a slight glitch in the system.

But next season that will no longer be an issue!

For 2019 the Whitecaps have negotiated an exclusive deal with the Provincial Government to designate BC Place an under age drinking area.

That’s right! From 2019 even the kids can enjoy the best sporting atmosphere in Vancouver.

And don’t forget to look out for the new pre-game activities on the Terry Fox Plaza as children of all ages try to compete with a hologram of Alphonso Davies as he downs a stein of German lager in one.

Don’t forget to use the hashtag #mykidbeatPhonzie to get your video on the big screen!

Post-Game Counselling Sessions- The Whitecaps organization also recognize that some games this season have raised issues that could affect their supporters on an emotional and psychological level.

That’s why they’ve appointed Naomi Wither-Flanders as the clubs new certified counsellor.

“I just feel it’s important to allow people to speak about what has happened to them” Naomi said in  a recent conference call “Sometimes it’s easy to gloss over how people are impacted by having to watch Brek Shea make a tackle or Erik Hurtado control the ball or Efrain Juarez simply playing football. Over time these issues can create a kind of numbness that spills over to their personal lives and hopefully through a mixture of both group and conversion therapy* I can help the fans to reach a level of acceptance”

*Conversion Therapy only available to season ticket holders.

Animatronic Robbo- Worried about the absence of Carl Robinson next season? Worry no more!

The Whitecaps have announced that an animatronic Robbo will be positioned on the edge of the home technical area for the duration of 2019.

Laugh as Animatronic Robbo throws his arms up in disbelief when a decision goes against the Whitecaps. Smile as Animatronic Robbo pats an opposition player on the back when he takes a throw in. Sigh as Animatronic Robbo tries to make a substitution in the sixty-fifth minute of every game.

Animatronic Robbo will also be available to rent for both business and personal functions.

Crowdsourcing Contracts- The Whitecaps have never had an issue in understanding MLS contracts. None.

But how can they make perfection even better?

By involving you!

“It’s really exciting” said Naomi Wither-Flanders the new Head of Soccer Operations “and it’s a real opportunity for us, the professionals, to use the amateurs to help us with our jobs”

That’s right! In 2019 the Whitecaps will allow all season ticket holders to go through every player contract with a fine tooth comb. Will you be the one to spot the clause that gives Cristian Techera tenure at UBC? Should Aaron Maund really be Canada’s Designated Survivor? And who put Yordy Reyna in charge of Translink?

Next season it’s up to you to figure these things out!

The Upper Tier at BC Place will be open- Perhaps the biggest news of all!

“It’s really exciting” said Naomi Wither-Flanders the clubs new marketing executive. “We had hoped that the upper tier would be open by 2025 at the earliest so to have achieved that goal six years ahead of schedule is a fantastic achievement for everybody concerned. Obviously some compromises will need to be made, including closing the whole of the lower tier, but I’m sure everybody will agree that’s a small price to pay for such a huge step forward”

But what about the temporary roof that hides the upper tier during home games? Will that remain in place and, if so, won’t that prevent supporters from seeing the game?

“It will remain in place” Naomi laughed “we just feel that not being able to see the game will improve the whole experience for everybody”

Stay tuned for further announcements during the off-season!

Vancouver Whitecaps and the presence of absence

The Portuguese word Saudade superficially refers to the sadness we feel at the permanent absence of somebody or something from our lives.

But its meanings are far more layered than that.

It’s not quite grief because grief is mainly an expression of hollow emptiness whereas Saudade is a heady mix of nostalgia, sorrow and even the kind of strange pleasure we sometimes derive from thinking of things which make us sad.

But the best description of the word is “The presence of absence” because that acknowledges that some absences are tangible, palpable, things in and of themselves.

Almost separate entities from the object or person they derive from.

No doubt to many New Yorker’s the Twin Towers are still present by their absence and every displaced person will feel a sense of saudade for the land they were forced to leave behind and can never return to and we all have people or things that evoke a particular kind of loss that doesn’t quite fit the functional limits of the English language.

Saudade is such an evocative and useful word that I almost feel a sense of saudade for the absence of saudade in my life until now.

And the presence of absence will very much be a theme for the Vancouver Whitecaps in their game against Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday evening at BC Place.

Six regular first team players missing due to international call up is less than ideal for coach Craig Dalrymple as his side try to win the remaining three games that would clinch an unlikely playoff spot.

So what are his options?

Well Maund and Aja for Waston and Henry in central defence is a no brainer and the defence has been so prone to errors all season it doesn’t seem to matter who gets the start.

If he wants to continue with his 4-1-4-1 formation then Mezquida can fill in for Teibert as the high pressing forward.

Replacing Yordy Reyna isn’t quite so easy but this week Felipe expressed frustration that he wasn’t played further forward by Carl Robinson so this would be the ideal opportunity to slot the Brazilian in as the number ten.

He’s a very different type of player to Reyna but given the chance he has the ability to play a pass that can cut through a defence.

With Shea and Techera out wide (barring a surprise start for new signing Emnes) that just leaves the defensive midfield role up for grabs.

The obvious choice in terms of positioning and experience is Efrain Juarez but the Mexican has been such a wild card all season Dalrymple may think that’s too much of a risk. He could try Jordon Mutch as a kind of deep-lying playmaker but that would be at the expense of far too much defensive cover.

Another option is drafting in Sean Franklin to simply sit in front of the defence and operate as a kind of slightly further forward central defender.

Update: As pointed out by Glass City on Twitter de Jong is also an option here. My sources (my fevered imagination) had informed me that de Jong had been called up to the Canada squad but apparently not.

The Canadian has played there before without ever really convincing he was right for the role but he might well be the best of a bad bunch right now.

Or the coach could switch to a 4-3-3 and use the experience of Felipe, Mutch and Juarez in the middle to support Kamara, Shea and Techera up front.

None of these answers are wholly convincing and at least half the team will be faced with the challenge of being severely lacking in match fitness, but it’s not a bad starting eleven on paper and hints at just how much depth the Whitecaps have at their disposal.

But the season now rests on the shoulders of the players who were gradually left by the wayside as the year progressed.

Let’s hope they all feel they have something to prove.

Taxi for Carl Robinson

So farewell then Carl Robinson.

The Vancouver Whitecaps coach was “Released” today by the Vancouver Whitecaps just five games before the end of the season and there must be a sense of “release” in more than a few hearts given how flat out strange this season has been.

But Robinson started his time with Vancouver well and gave the club the steadying hand and defensive rigidity it so desperately needed.

But since that first campaign there’s never really been the sense that any significant progress would ever be made under his watch.

When players of genuine quality were brought in they could never quite find a role, leaving the coach tinkering with formations and systems until, with grim inevitability, he would head back to the comfort of two defensive midfielders and the familiar steadying hand and defensive rigidity would return.

And perhaps that really is all his time here ever was?

A constant ebb and flow of chaos followed by order and then order followed by chaos and so on and so on. At best Robinson turned out to be the solution to problems of his own creation and at worst he allowed the constant churn of players to cover up the stasis that had enveloped the club for at least the last two years.

Because Robinson wasn’t just hamstrung by the limitations of the players at his disposal, he was also hamstrung by his absolute belief in those limitations. The comfort of their failings was clung to like unassailable catechisms to become an overarching “Get Out of Jail Free” card for his own tactical timidity.

And that timidity really came to the fore in two defining playoff series.

In the first the Whitecaps travelled to a Timbers team playing on two days rest after a physically demanding ninety minutes, plus extra time, plus penalties against Kansas and, instead of going for the jugular, Robinson settled for a stalemate and was undone by a quick away goal in the second leg.

A braver or more ambitious club would have looked at those games and decided that he just wasn’t the man for the job.

But the Whitecaps didn’t do that. They stuck with their man and we all got to sit through those two playoff games against the Seattle Sounders where Vancouver were barely interested in scoring a goal let alone wining the tie.

Once again Robinson had retreated into a sense of inferiority when the chips were down.

That really, really should have been that but, once again, the Front Office crossed their fingers and hoped for the best and that’s how we got to this debacle of a season.

Players signed for no apparent reason, players played with no regard to form or position and Robinson and his coaching staff becoming more and more embittered with every passing failure.

Firing him now isn’t a brave act at all, it’s the act of desperate people and nobody comes out of the situation looking good.

But what could/should Robinson have done differently? Or even do differently in his next appointment?

Well for one thing he should start coaching like the young coach he is.

More often than not his whole approach to the game is more akin to a sixty-eight year old grizzled veteran of one too many lower league relegation scraps than a man in his first lead coaching role.

Talk of pragmatism and effort and the “boys wanting it” aren’t really the done thing now and the best coaches in the world manage to convey a kind of joy about the game.

Imagine how great that would be?

Not only working in the game he loves but putting across that love through the way his team play on the field.

Trusting gifted players to use their gifts and encouraging limited players to move beyond their limitations.

He might even have fun.

And you know what else might be fun? Engaging with the fans.

I can’t think of a time where Robinson has celebrated a Whitecaps goal with the whole stadium. Losing himself in the collective joy of the moment.

Instead he celebrates within the insular world of the bench. All boys together proving all the world wrong.

True that sense of resentment can be put to good effect in the right circumstance but fans notice these things. They notice the half-hearted applause in their direction on the walk to the bench, they notice how little mention or thanks or acknowledgment they get in interviews and that absence costs a deal of goodwill at the times when a coach might really need it.

Only time will tell where Robinson goes from here and whether he prospers or falters but we need to remember to always keep the distinction between the human being and the job.

By all accounts Robinson was popular with the players, popular with the media who cover the Whitecaps and popular with opponents.

Why that popularity failed to translate in his public persona is hard to say but what we can say is that while we can happily bid “good riddance” to Carl Robinson the coach we can at least wish “good luck” to Carl Robinson the man.

 

 

 

Vancouver Whitecaps: All the leaves are brown…give

Now with added thoughts from the Dystopian present.

Even before the game against FC Dallas on Sunday there was an air of Autumnal ennui lingering around BC Place.

The fallen leaves on the journey to the ground, a sparser crowd than is usual and the cool breath of a northerly wind scattering the clouds to leave the evening spread out against the sky all added up to the sense of an ending rather than the resurrection in fortune the Whitecaps needed.

And an ending it turned out to be.

Vancouver were beaten 2-1 by a team more astutely assembled than they are, better coached than they are and who play as a team rather than a collection of individuals.

No doubt we’ll still hear talk of “great spirit”, “never say die” and “bravery” in the media scrums this week but there are all kinds of bravery in soccer.

In the post game question and answer session Robinson said that he thought his team were “playing in third gear” during the first half. If that’s not a a sign of systemic issues then I don’t know what is.

A game the team knew they had to get three points from and they play the first forty five minutes within themselves? And the coaches can’t do anything about that until the break? 

Make a substitution at thirty minutes just to let everybody know the performance isn’t acceptable (and it turns out the half-time switch which was made was because of injury to Levis rather than any desire to shake up the team).

There’s the bravery to always show for the ball no matter the game situation or personal form and there’s the bravery to trust your technique to make that tough one touch pass to a teammate making a run.

There’s also the bravery of a coach who wants his team to play with attacking intensity no matter the opposition, a coach who sets up his team to succeed rather than not to fail and a coach who trusts his players but isn’t afraid to make tough selection choices as soon as they need to be made.

The Whitecaps haven’t had any of those attributes for the longest time. Happy just to scrape by, swell a progress, start a scene or two and always, always be deferential and glad to be of use.

And the game against Dallas was a pretty neat summation of the season.

It wasn’t that they didn’t try, they did. It’s just that they didn’t have the cohesion or class to break down a team that had been organized.

Of course the Whitecaps conceded two goals from set pieces (a defensive coach who has been unable to organize the defence all season is a recipe for disaster on so many levels) and of course Davies and Kamara combined to offer some hope but by the final fifteen minutes the Whitecaps were, as always, reduced to hitting crosses into the box while still failing to get enough men forward.

Getting men forward to be on the end of crosses isn’t some next level Pep Guardiola tactical thought experiment. It’s one of the basics of football and the Whitecaps still haven’t figured out how to get it done. Go figure.

Random thoughts?

The recurring sequence where Russell Teibert passes the ball back to a central defender who passes it back to Russell Teibert who then passes it back to the central defender is my personal “Room 101”.

Carl Robinson has been relying on Jordon Mutch’s reputation to change things as a substitute in the last two games rather than anything the Englishman has ever done on the pitch this year.

The fact that none of Felipe, Juarez, or Blondell got even a minute of play between them in such a crucial game is about as damning of the acquisitions this season as it’s possible to be.

It seems Felipe is this year’s Tony Tchani. A central midfielder Robinson stuck with through thick and thin before completely abandoning come the tail end of the season. Weird.

And the Davies to left back gambit worked on the Kamara goal but also helped to unbalance an already disjointed defence.

This disjointedness was emphasized int the dying minutes when Henry and Marinovic couldn’t figure out who should go for the ball and a corner was conceded.

It might be worth hypothesizing that Marinovic is a significant cause of the defensive woes this year. He’s a solid, if unspectacular, goalkeeper but the players in front of him have never looked settled no matter what the combination.

It’s clear he’s not the sole culprit for the whole debacle but he certainly doesn’t seem to be the kind of keeper who can organize his backline effectively.

The season isn’t mathematically over of course but emotionally it feels as though we all need to move on now.

From this game, from this season and from this iteration of the Vancouver Whitecaps.

That would probably be healthier for all concerned.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Marinovic-4.5, Nerwinki-5.5*, levis-4, Waston-4.5, Henry-4, Teibert 5, Ghazal-5, Reyna-4, Techera-3.5, Davies-5, Kamara-5 (Mezquida-4, Mutch- 3)

Whitecaps face the final curtain

So that’s just about it then.

After the 2-1 loss to the Seattle Sounders at BC Place on Saturday evening the Whitecaps sit four points off the playoff places with only six games left to play and a remaining schedule leaning very much to the “Yikes!” end of the spectrum.

But at least this time Vancouver lost to Seattle displaying some ambition and heart and, on another day, they might have won the game, could have won the game and probably should have won the game.

If anything the Whitecaps were trying too hard.

Mezquida snatched at almost every chance that came his way (including a golden opportunity when the score was still tied), Nerwinski over hit every cross, Davies tried to win the game single-handed instead of using his threat to create space for others and just about everybody took the wrong option when getting anywhere near the Seattle net; an extra touch here, a misplaced pass there.

Thoughts will inevitably turn to what difference the presence of the suspended Yordy Reyna would have made.

The Peruvian would certainly have given the opposition less time and manpower to concentrate on Davies and he would also have injected the elements of quality and pace that neither Mezquida nor Techera bring to the frontline.

And there still remains the frustrating sight of the Whitecaps failing to get enough men in the box to be on the end of the inevitable cross no matter how desperately they need a goal but that’s a result of only being able to function effectively with two defensive midfielders on the pitch

So this game didn’t exist in isolation.

If the disciplinary issues had been dealt with effectively earlier in the year then maybe Reyna wouldn’t have been suspended for his fifth yellow card?

And if the team had worked more on passing and moving over the last few seasons then maybe they would have finally figured out how to break down a deep lying defence beyond relying on set-pieces and a lucky drop of the ball here and there?

And let’s not even think about how much of the salary cap was sitting on the bench last night (You’re thinking about it right now aren’t you!) or how long it took Carl Robinson to find a starting eleven that worked instead of sticking with square pegs in round holes for far too long.

But if the game on Saturday proved anything it’s that BC Place can be a decent place to watch football if the fans have a team they can believe in, a team that wants to win games no matter who they are playing and doesn’t treat the opposition (any opposition) with too much respect.

Hopefully that knowledge can be built upon for next season but for now it’s down to hoping against hope that this team can string together four or five wins and that either Portland or Real Salt Lake fall off a metaphorical cliff (or an actual cliff too I guess).

That’s not going to happen but at least the Whitecaps look like they will go down fighting..

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Marinovic-5, Nerwinski-5.5, Levis-4, Waston-5, Henry-4.5, Teibert-5, Ghazal-5.5, Techera-4, Mezquida-4.5, Davies-5, Kamara-6* (Shea-5, Mutch-5)

 

Vancouver Whitecaps making history

In his book “1491” Charles C. Mann paints a picture of an American continent already utterly transformed by the human hand.

Long before Columbus and his crew touched land people had been shaping the surface of their home to fit their needs; forest fires to create vast clearings to make hunting easier, redirecting rivers and changing the very fabric of the world that grew around them.

But the myth of the continent being an untouched Eden inhabited by the “noble savage” before 1492 has served so many people so well it’s somehow endured in the collective memory.

After all, history is nothing but the recording of change and if a People can be portrayed as never-changing then they don’t really have a history and if they don’t have a history then they are a blank canvas upon which any social or political point of view can be painted.

But even Mann’s book is replete with assumptions and self-projection. Because that’s what history is.

Just as all good Science Fiction is about trying to understand the present then so is all good history. Who were these people? In what ways were they like us? In what ways did they differ? Why are we making the exact same mistakes as they did?

The tragedy of it all though is that we remain incapable of examining our own societies in the same kind of forensic and detached detail. We seem condemned to be forever wise about the past and forever stupid about the present.

Which brings us to the Vancouver Whitecaps.

We can’t know what future historians will say about the 2018 iteration of the team but from the contemporary point of view it’s a difficult narrative to get your head around.

The team have a player with the most “Big Chances created” in the League (Reyna) and a player with the most successful dribbles in the League (Davies) and yet many at the club seem to think they are overachieving by even being within sniffing distance of the playoffs (and that scent is getting fainter by the day).

The status of Carl Robinson and his coaches also remains shrouded in weirdness. The main man still has time to run on his contract but his assistants have yet to have their contracts renewed leading to speculation that this will be his final year in charge no matter what the results from here on in.

It certainly feels as though it should be his final few games because there’s an air of weariness and rancour permeating through everything right now.

The weekly fines for Cristian Techera are one thing, but goalkeeping coach Stewart Kerr has taken to Twitter after he last few games berating naysayers and insisting that everybody at the club is “UNITED”.

Hard to say if this is a genuine expression of solidarity or some kind of Trumpian attempt at proving what can never be proved.

It certainly hints at the kind of edgy malaise behind the scenes and in the locker room that we see reproduced on the field with regularity.

Yet we remain too close to the whole thing to make any kind of objective assessment of the season. That will come later.

But if we were forced to form a coherent narrative of what we have seen we would perhaps say that the whole thing has been a foreshadowing of collapse and change.

Just as there must have been at least one Inca who looked at yet another mountainside eroding and thought to themselves “I don’t know, this seems like really bad news to me” then so some Whitecaps fan must see the inability to keep a clean sheet, the discipline issues, the controversy over how players are attained and the seeming sense of isolation that is engulfing the coaching staff as portents of seismic events that are too late to stop now.

Vancouver Whitecaps still on root to the playoffs (just)

Now with additional “tremors” from the following day.

The Vancouver Whitecaps beat San Jose 2-1 at BC Place on Saturday evening to earn the much needed (absolutely essential ) six points from their consecutive meetings with the worst team in MLS.

And it was a game they both completely dominated while simultaneously hanging on by the skin of their teeth at the end.

Weird.

At least Carl Robinson seems to have finally solved the mystery of what his best starting eleven actually is (not that it was much of a mystery for many who have watched the team this year).

Put Ghazal and Teibert in front of the back four and compensate for their lack of attacking threat by having Nerwinski and Levis move forward from the full back positions.

It worked perfectly in the first half and the Whitecaps should have led by more than one going in at the break.

There’s going to be an awful lot to dissect and discuss once this season finally fades away but one of the main points of contention will be Robinson’s use of his squad.

His persistence in playing Felipe in a defensive midfield role (a role which negates his offensive output and emphasises his defensive frailty) has led to a number of points being dropped (particularly at home) and that’s inevitably linked to his refusal to play Russell Teibert when the Canadian was clearly having the best season of his career.

It’s fairly clear that, in his heart of hearts, Robinson wants his team to set up with two genuine defensive midfielders but for much of this year he has half-heartedly turned that into just one and a half and so much has been lost.

But then we got the trademark flat start to the second half which allowed the Earthquakes to find a semblance of a footing in the game and for the longest time it looked as though Vancouver were going to blow a crucial three points.

It even got to the stage where Kendall Waston made a marauding run forward just to give his team and the crowd the lift they needed (and it says something about just how little import this coaching staff put in the value of the home crowd getting behind the team that Assistant Coach Martyn Pert was screaming at Waston to get back in defence while that run was being made).

The next home game sees the visit of the Seattle Sounders and many of us will still be traumatized by having to watch “that” playoff game at BC Place where the Whitecaps set out to kill the game from the first whistle and almost immediately negated a home crowd of 27,000.

From his many comments about the quality of his players it’s clear the coach doesn’t see them as a match for the Sounders (or anybody much at all really) but he must know that one of the most potent weapons an inferior side can have is to get the home crowd roaring them on.

He must know that right?

Yet it’s not inconceivable that Vancouver will follow another morale boosting (and supporter energizing) win against San Jose with a another performance that shows Seattle the kind of respect they can’t afford to be shown.

In the end it took the introduction of Nicolas Mezquida to find the second goal the Whitecaps so desperately needed and all seemed to be fair sailing until they conceded the obligatory scrappy goal at the death and somehow found themselves putting life and limb on the line to prevent the lacklustre Earthquakes from ruining the season for good.

It’s a two week break now before facing the ridiculously in form Seattle Sounders at BC Place in another “must win” game.

Another narrative that will be thoroughly dissected once this season finally fades away is the disciplinary issues the team have faced all year.

And that came back to bite them in a much more subtle way on Saturday evening as Yordy Reyna picked up a yellow card that means he is suspended for the Sounders game.

Reyna has been the best Whitecap during this good run of form (he may even be the reason for this good run of form) and he will be missed an awful lot in two weeks time.

Robinson could just go for a straight swap and start Mezquida, but the Uruguayan has always been at his best using his energy to wear out tired defenders later in the game.

So that means either a change of formation (which isn’t really Robinson’s forte) or probably playing Felipe in the number ten role.

He’s a very different kind of player to Reyna but his passing should at least enable him to link up with Kamara, Davies and Techera without having to worry too much about his defensive duties.

In truth the other results from the weekend mean the Whitecaps are going to have to pull up both their socks and trees to squeak into sixth place which, when it’s written down like that, is a sad indictment of what might have been for the whole year.

But at least we might finally have some fun on the way to the inevitable despair.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Marinovic-5, Nerwinski-5.5, Waston-5.5, Maund-5, Levis-6*, Ghazal-5.5, Teibert-5.5, Reyna-6, Davies-5, Techera-4.5, Kamara-5 (Mezquida-5)