You could probably make an argument that David Ousted was personally culpable for at least three or four of the goals he’s conceded this season and that those mistakes have cost the Whitecaps valuable points (the games against NYCFC and Montreal in particular).
But the other side of the ledger is so stacked in favour of the Great Dane (Note to self: brilliantly funny nickname. Well done! Maybe try to get in something about bacon too, “saving their bacon” that sort of thing) that those mistakes quickly fade into insignificance.
Not only has he produced a string of magnificent saves which have been the highlight of many games, but he’s also had to play behind a defence desperately struggling to find any semblance of the solidity of last season.
A committed contrarian may claim that one of Ousted’s main roles is to marshal and organize said defence and as such he has failed, but such a task has been akin to herding a clowder of cats for much of the year as those defenders seem more intent on recreating the making of “Apocalypse Now” rather than simply kicking the ball away from their own goal.
But Ousted’s value to the team goes beyond his performances on the field because he’s also the only player (and probably the only person in the whole organization) willing to go on the record to say that the Whitecaps played really badly in any given game.
It’s sometimes easy to underestimate how important it is to most fans that some acknowledgment of a poor performance is made and Ousted readily provides that conduit.
It was almost certainly Carl Robinson’s plan to start the 2016 season with Jordan Smith as the regular right back with Fraser Aird filling in occasionally as he transitioned from winger to defender but Smith’s pre-season performances were so off kilter that the Flying Scot (Note to self: you’ve only gone and done it again with the nickname thing! Maybe throw in something about kilt and kilter to really finish it off?) was given the nod on opening day.
Aird had a nightmare opening forty five minutes but from that moment on his progress was both perceptible and impressive; still not immune to occasionally being caught out of position but not a constant liability and also more than capable of providing attacking thrust it was only a red card and an injury that allowed the door to open up again for Smith.
And, to be fair to the Costa Rican, he grabbed that opportunity with at least one hand.
After not even being selected for the game in Portland he was in the starting eleven at home to Houston and did enough to suggest that Aird will face a little more competition for the right back slot than he has so far.
Let’s not get carried away though because Smith wasn’t great (the Dynamo goal came from his side of the field) but he did get forward with purpose and he did at least look as though he had been on a football field before.
The most worrying aspect of the campaign is surely that it’s shaping up to be “The Year of Disappointment” when it comes to the Whitecaps younger players with the horrendous performance in Ottawa being the signature example.
And perhaps nobody has personified that disappointment quite as much as Sam Adekugbe.
At the beginning of 2015 it seemed to be a coin toss between Adekugbe and Jordan Harvey as to who would be the regular starting left back, but by season’s end Harvey had decisively won that battle and hasn’t looked like backing down this year either.
If anything Harvey has improved and has easily been the best defender on the team while Adekugbe’s occasional appearances have been marked by indecision and an overall lack of focus that belie just how important this season is to the youngster (who isn’t actually that young in footballing terms).
And so to the “central defence” which has at least fulfilled the first part of that description without really making many inroads into the second.
Let’s play a word association game with the personnel involved.
Delving deeper into those responses we see that Waston is frustrated because he hasn’t adapted to either the more open style of play employed by Robinson or the MLS clampdown on tackling and that frustration has resulted in a a tiresome and eternal circle of yellow cards and suspensions.
Parker has been okay but there’s an element of sophomore slump about his season; particularly a propensity to hit a careless pass or two and a lack of composure from time to time.
Kah has surely reached the stage where he is only employed as an absolute last resort rather than the fairly reliable go to guy he was last season.
And Jacobson has been the most solid central defender which is somewhat ironic given that he doesn’t really want to play in that position anyway.
As things stand the best central defensive partnership looks to be Parker and Jacobson and there’s just the chance that circumstance and the stars have aligned to give that pair a solid run of games together over the next few weeks and they could coalesce into a very effective unit.
And so we bid farewell to the Whitecaps defence and watch in amusement as they wander haplessly into the door frame before slipping on a carelessly discarded banana skin and falling head first into that unfortunately positioned bucket of iced water.
Next time out it’s the midfield; a (mostly) happier tale entirely.