Whitecaps fail to press home their advantage

The final home game of the Vancouver Whitecaps regular season turned out to be the perfect distillation of Carl Robinson’s coaching philosophy.

Call it “fine lines” if you want to, but really it’s about creating a game state in which the team will possibly win but, more importantly, probably not lose.

That’s worked well over the regular season with the odd bounce here and there determining the difference between a top two or a top six finish, but as we found out two years ago in the playoffs it really doesn’t work so well when a win is needed.

That’s because there’s no extra gear to turn to, no change of pace or plan to throw the opposition off balance and that’s what was missing in the 1-1 tie with the Earthquakes on Sunday afternoon at BC Place.

The Whitecaps got a precious first half lead thanks to a well worked goal involving Techera, Nerwinski and a Reyna finish but the second half  was all about San Jose pressing forward and Vancouver looking to hit on the break.

Robinson will probably point to the chances his team missed in that second period but if you live by the sword of fine lines you will eventually die by it too.

The visitors inevitably drew level and, apart from a five minutes surge of desperation at the end, the Whitecaps offered nothing to indicate they could turn the game around.

Put that down to the insistence on maintaining two central midfielders who aren’t capable of getting forward or playing incisive passes (and in the case of Tony Tchani often not capable of playing simple passes) and the decision to once again use Alphonso Davies as the first substitute when he’s offered nothing of attacking value since his appearance in the Gold Cup.

Robinson may have a legitimate reason to want his players to play by the numbers but that shouldn’t mean his coaching decisions have to be equally unimaginative and predictable.

In the end the Whitecaps hung on for a point and no doubt retired to the locker room to discover that their Cascadian rivals had each won their own important home games by the score of four goals to nil.

No way the Whitecaps are going to be lulled into that kind of goal scoring madness but the way they once again retreated into the shell of defensive passivity when the game was on the line bodes ill for next week’s trip to Portland.

Lose that and they face the home “play in” game that seemed impossible to achieve just a couple of weeks ago.

Robinson was at least brave in making the decision to replace Ousted and Harvey with the more in form Marinovic and de Jong,  but that courage counts for nought if the whole ethos of the team remains the same.

Who knows what dramas and horrors await us in the next couple of weeks but we can at least enjoy the rich irony of knowing that Robinson’s inherent caution is once again the very thing that has imperilled the chances of his team.

And what’s the point of sport if it’s not to enjoy rich, rich irony?

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Marinovic-6.5, de Jong-6, Parker-6, Waston-6, Nerwinski-6, Ghazal-5.5, Tchani-4.5, Techera-5.5, Shea-5.5, Reyna-6, Montero-6

 

Vancouver Whitecaps survive a Wednesday night with Toledo

If ever a game could be filed away in the clichéd vaults of “A game of two halves” then the Vancouver Whitecaps 3-2 win over New York City FC at BC Place on Wednesday evening would be it.

The Whitecaps took the lead early when Fredy Montero pounced on an error by the visitors and from that moment on it felt as though the rest of the half was a concerted effort by everybody on the team to categorically disprove one of Carl Robinson’s favourite maxims: “The first goal is crucial”.

It’s certainly not crucial when the team scoring it then fail to show any kind of attacking intent and are content to sit passively back and allow their opponents to dictate the play.

The inevitable first goal came from a poorly defended corner kick and the second from the equally inevitable Baldermo Toledo controversial penalty decision.

Carl Robinson and his team probably had cause to complain about that particular decision but in their heart of hearts they must have known that the scoreline accurately reflected the balance of play.

Characteristically the Whitecaps coach had watched his team underperform in the first half and so chose to do absolutely nothing about that fact from a personnel point of view.

Uncharacteristically this actually seemed to work and his side came out with a genuine sense of purpose that was sorely lacking before the whistle.

Suddenly Vancouver were taking the game to New York, suddenly the likes of Bolaños, Techera and Montero were getting on the ball instead of acting as de facto defensive midfielders and (Perhaps most importantly of all) suddenly the BC Place crowd held a sense of belief that the hometown heroes could produce something of note every time they came forward.

And, lo and behold, a Bolaños cross was volleyed home by Jordan Harvey and the game was well and truly afoot.

And then the introduction of Yordy Reyna with thirty minutes remaining added an extra spark to the affair as the Peruvian displayed the kind of trickery and directness that has largely been an anathema to the Whitecaps for most of the year.

Yet when the striker blazed over from six yards out with just five minutes to go it seemed as though the chance for the three points had gone.

But the with a minute to go the tireless Jake Nerwinski won the ball on the halfway line, continued with his run and then delivered the perfect cross for Reyna to head powerfully home.

The game was won and people at a Whitecaps game were actually having a good time!

One game does not make a season of course and anybody who wants a cold hard reality check should probably just watch that first half again to see just how anaemic the Whitecaps were in all aspects of the game.

But if that second half can convince Carl Robinson that taking the initiative at home is a far more effective plan than relinquishing it then at least we can all go into the mid-season break with a sliver of belief that this team can grow into something better.

Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.

Ousted-6.5, Nerwinski-6.5, Harvey-6.5, Parker-6.5, Shea-6, Tchani-6, Jacobson-6, Techera-6-Bolaños-6.5, Montero-6.5* (Reyna-6.5)

 

Darkness before noon for the Whitecaps?

In one of his surprisingly numerous interviews Bob Dylan once referred to great songs as being “like the shadow of a church”.

Now what he meant by that was either “I’m just going to say something randomly enigmatic and hope I get away with it” or he meant that songs don’t create the concrete (in both the literal and metaphorical sense) emotions that an actual church, with all its history and implications, does but rather that the shadow of a church is both more ephemeral and less imposing.

More open to individual interpretation and changing moods.

The same can probably be said of preseason games and they are often barely even a shadow of a football match and they can certainly never be considered great art but the Whitecaps’ 1-1 tie with Minnesota United in Portland on Thursday evening could at least be described as the kind of biting satire the world so desperately needs right now.

Unfortunately, the satire was aimed firmly at the Whitecaps themselves as the game almost perfectly encapsulated all that was wrong with the team last year.

A very bright start failed to produce a goal and after about twenty-five minutes Vancouver suddenly seemed to run out of ideas.

That was mostly due to the lack of link play between the midfield and the forward line and a continued over-reliance on pace over guile.

They then began the second-half with the old familiar torpour of last year until Erik Hurtado produced a startling header.

It was largely startling because he was actually defending a corner and somehow managed, with literally no Minnesota player with six yards of him, to glance the ball perfectly passed a startled David Ousted (See, I told you it was startling).

At least that sparked the Whitecaps back to life and a Russell Teibert laser levelled the score to earn his team a share of the spoils that don’t really exist.

Despite all that negativity though there were still a number of reasons to be a little more positive about the prospects for 2017.

Yordy Reyna looked to be a bright prospect going forward and Matias Laba already looks way ahead of where he was this time last year (Which was actually still in Argentina now that I think about it).

There was also the absences of Nicolas Mezquida and Christian Bolaños to consider with the latter being the only current player capable of providing the guile to make all that pace effective.

We’ll know more as the preseason unfolds with each game becoming more significant than this one.

But nothing means nothing and the main something we can take away from a rain-sodden Portland is that things haven’t yet changed all that much from 2016.

Yordy Reyna: Perusing what we know

Being a fan of the Whitecaps in this particular off season has been a little like being a truffle pig in a world without truffles.

But now at least we have something with Marc Weber reporting that the club have signed Yordy Reyna from the Austrian side FC Red Bull Salzburg.

It’s  true that all that most of us have to go on is Reyna’s Wikipedia page and some YouTube highlights but that feels like a whole plethora of truffles compared to what we had before (Yes I’m aware that the correct collective noun for truffles is “heap” but Plethora of Truffles sounds like a Prog Rock band who would have released an eponymous album in 1973 before splitting up following a particularly poorly received set at the Oxford Real Ale Festival).

So what can we learn and, more importantly what can we speculate on, given the meagre fare available?

Here are a x scenarios (Memo to self: come back and edit this when you run out of ideas, but definitely try to get passed one).

Giles Barnes is on the way out- Reyna looks to be a very similar style of player and will definitely mean less of a hit on the salary cap. And anyway, how many  “Is he really a forward or a winger” players do the team actually need?

The team needs another “Is he really a forward or a winger?” player- If the plan is to switch to a 4-3-3/4-2-1-3 in 2017 then a front three of Reyna, Barnes and Manneh could be a nightmare to defend against given that each is capable of playing anywhere  along the front line.

Position Bolaños centrally with Laba and Jacobson/Teibert as holding cover and it’s suddenly not inconceivable that the Whitecaps could score some goals and, with Hurtado, Davies and Techera all capable of playing in that forward position, Carl Robinson won’t be too hampered by the inevitable injuries and suspensions that will come along.

The system stays the same but with Bolaños as the number ten- The tried and trusted (by Robinson anyway) 4-2-3-1 could simply be tweaked to push Reyna or Barnes on to the right and allow Bolaños to become the main creative hub of the team.

Any other scenarios though would feel like wild speculation rather than distinct possibilities.

4-4-2? It could work but it’s hard to see the coach wanting his team to be that open (especially on the road).

3-5-2/5-3-2? Playing three central defenders is the fashionable tactic right now but any chance of that happening probably went out of the window with the long term injury to David Edgar.

It’s hard to imagine there won’t be at least one more signing (though at least two are probably needed) but as things stand the current starting eleven can at least be graded as “promising”.

Definitely not “great” and it’s open to question if it could actually deliver on any promises made but at least it wouldn’t be absolutely terrible.