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