Vancouver Whitecaps: Ball of Confusion

So where we are now is that we have a defensively minded coach who hasn’t been able to effectively organize his defence this season and is now forced to play an attack minded team (he almost certainly doesn’t believe in) in a desperate attempt to salvage something from the wreckage of what has gone before.

Oh and he hasn’t fielded the same starting eleven once this season.

Is it any wonder the Vancouver Whitecaps still haven’t got a definitive identity even though the World Cup is just around the corner?

Fittingly they followed up the 2-2 tie with Houston (a very poor road team) with another 2-2 tie against San Jose (another very poor road team) and no doubt we’ll get to hear the same blah, blah, blah about chances missed and lessons learned over the next few days while the season continues to ebb away with all the certainty of Carl Robinson making the wrong substitution at the wrong time.

At least the starting line up this time around was promising and the team did play some decent one touch football, created two goals from open play and mostly looked like they wanted to win the game rather than not lose it.

But a defensive lapse just before half-time allowed San Jose to equalize and then the home coach got to give his team talk.

It’s hard to imagine just what it is Robinson does say to his players in the interval but time after time after time the Whitecaps begin the second period flatter than a pancake that is the victim of a hit and run steamroller .

As per usual it took the opposition doing something (this time scoring a  goal) to wake them back to life and Yordy Reyna leveled it up with a nice header to set up the by now customary hustle to try and get something more from a game that should have been a fairly routine outing for a team of substance.

We interrupt this blog to bring you some ponderings from the next day.

It’s becoming increasingly clear the Whitecaps really messed up in how they used the salary cap this season.

It’s hard to imagine an effective lineup in which Ghazal ($700,000) and Juarez ($620,000) both get to start in the centre of midfield or what Bernie Ibini ($300,000) gives the team more than Erik Hurtado ($150,000).

And of course there’s Brek Shea on $745,000.

What more could have been done if just two of those deals had been turned into a player of genuine quality?

Perhaps not much given Carl Robinson’s rather odd selection policy this year.

The coach has always emphasised that he’ll judge a player on performances yet Russell Teibert had his best start to an MLS season and has been rewarded by being frozen out of the side completely.

Even when he does come back (probably in Dallas) it will be tough to pick up where he left off in terms of form.

And the same can be said of Jake Nerwinski and Brett Levis to an extent. Two young full backs who have done nothing worse than any other member of the back line but have been relegated to the sidelines in favour of experienced players who still can’t help the team to keep a clean sheet.

And can we please stop defining “character” as having the ability to come back from a  deficit?

A team full of character would have built on that early lead against San Jose and cruised to a three or four goal victory.

But, like everything else about this team, their moral fibre is reactive not proactive.

We now return you to your regular blog.

Random thoughts?

Reyna finally found some spark to his game so it was baffling to see him substituted with less than ten minutes to go.

Sean Franklin offered virtually nothing going forward and Jake Nerwinski would have been a far better option in this game at least.

Both Davies and Kamara were really poor when it came to the final pass/shot.

Felipe looked good again as the one player who can find a decent pass from anywhere on the field.

Waston and Aja were terrible in their distribution.

And it’s hard to know what Brek Shea did in the previous game to convince Robinson he could turn this game around.

So it’s on to Dallas in an attempt to keep the fatally injured season alive for just a little bit longer.

Time for the Soccer Shorts Player Ratings.

Rowe-5.5, Franklin-5, de Jong-6, Waston-5, Aja-5, Juarez-5, Felipe-6, Davies-5, Techera-5.5, Reyna-6*, Kamara-5

 

 

 

Carl Robinson will choo choo choose who?

Back at the turn of the century a Business Professor and a Psychology Professor conducted an experiment in a California supermarket.

On one day they set up a stand with twenty-four gourmet jams on display and on another day they set up the stand with just six.

What they discovered was that while more people stopped to peruse the larger selection only 3% of those who did so actually purchased any jam.

Of the fewer who stopped at the smaller selection the number who shelled out some cash was 30%.

Too much choice, it seems, can be a disincentive when it comes to making a decision.

And too much choice is one of the defining factors of the world most of us now inhabit, be it household goods, insurance options, streaming services or restaurant menus that traverse the globe and back again in just the appetizer section.

No matter what we ultimately attain we can’t help but feel the pull of what was left behind.

Somewhat ironically, studies on the psychology of choice are now so prevalent that selecting just one to use as an illustration at the start of this piece simply left me thinking things like “I should have used the one that examined the difference between hedonic and utilitarian goods!”

You can see where I’m going with this right?

Seriously, can somebody tell me where I’m going with this please?

Oh yeah. The Vancouver Whitecaps.

Before we get to the choices facing Carl Robinson in the coming weeks let’s first think about whether the 4-2-3-1 system he employed in the 2-1 win against Montreal worked.

“Yes and no” is the right answer to that I think.

In the first half the visitors bunkered down and the only chances the Whitecaps created came from unforced Impact errors. We’ve seen that movie before of course, where Vancouver’s best option is to hope that the ball over the top hits the one in fifty chance of landing in the right stop.

To be fair it did at least feel as though they were passing  those long balls rather than simply hitting them, but even so it’s a low percentage strategy for a team playing at home.

In the second half Montreal were far more confident and thus far more open and Alphonso Davies and Cristian Techera both found the kinds of space they never got close to in the first forty-five minutes and two goals ensued.

So perhaps it’s fair to say that the 4-2-3-1 remains an option for road games and games where we know the opposition are willing to play more open football and that, given the arrival of Kei Kamara and the initial promise of Davies, it will at least be a better option than it was last season.

But sooner or later Carl Robinson is going to have to switch things up if he wants to find a starting spot for newcomers Jordon Mutch and Felipe Martins.

On Sunday he switched Felipe with Reyna but let’s hope we don’t get into the situation where a box to box midfielder is being shoehorned into the number ten role simply for the sake of formational orthodoxy.

And that would mean the coach being faced with what could well prove to be a paralyzing plethora of choices.

Sacrifice one of his wide players to accommodate one more central midfielder while simultaneously reducing the number of crosses delivered to the head of Kamara?

Experiment with three at the back and nullify some of Davies’ attacking threat by using him as a wing back?

Go to a traditional 4-4-2 which would mean two of Juarez, Ghazal, Felipe and Mutch not making the starting eleven?

Employ a 4-3-3 that keeps the wide players in the side and allows a true holding midfielder to play with either Felipe or Mutch as the more attacking option and Juarez as the conduit between the two but only allows a place for Reyna in the more disciplined wide role?

Right now it’s the latter option that probably makes the most sense but Robinson will indeed be faced with the thoroughly modern dilemma of an abundance of choice as well as something akin to that aformentioned decision between the hedonic and the utilitarian when to comes to the type of teams he selects.

And of course there are far too many studies in that particular area to enable us to make any kind of prediction as to which one he will ultimately opt for although, if I were going to switch disciplines for a moment and be the other person in his hell, I’d say he’ll go for the utilitarian option.

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.