The Vancouver Whitecaps were a bore in 2016

January 2, 2017 at 11:28 pm | Posted in Vancouver Whitecaps | 1 Comment

 

Perhaps the most surprising post season Vancouver Whitecaps news thus far was that the Whitecaps have given coach Carl Robinson a new three year contract to continue as coach. Will Robinson be able to reward the Vancouver Whitecaps for the remarkable faith they have shown in him?

Robbo reigned over a very poor 2016 season. The Vancouver Whitecaps 2015 team had trouble scoring but defended very well. In 2016 the Whitecaps were a team that could not score or defend. They never looked like claiming a playoff spot and chucked away the Canadian Championship at last gasp. They did claim the Cascadia Cup as a prize, however.

Most players in the squad who played in 2015 and 2016 played worse in 2016, even if the overall squad itself was not that great. This formula would usually result in the coach getting fired. This is especially so where the coach is not able to motivate the club’s key players to play at their best.

Instead of firing Robbo, the Whitecaps have given him a mandate to continue. This shows that Whitecaps management has put the blame for a poor 2016 squarely at the feet of the players.

One of the factors for the bad year that was 2016 lay in player turnover. The players who left the Whitecaps were, on balance, better than the players who came in. Whoever made those player choices, (which remains highly unclear!), must take the blame for the poor season.

The biggest loss was Stephen Beitashour. While Beita was slowing a bit, his knowledge of the game and ability to make the good decisions were missing this year. The loss of Gershon Koffie meant we were a lot less solid in midfield, an the back four could not rely on the Laba-Koffie defensive midfield partnership to protect them.

Almost to a man, players returning from the 2015 Whitecap played worse than the year before. My theory is that they were depressed about the quality of players who had come into the squad. The squad that was having so much fun in 2015 clearly did not enjoy their football in 2016. When good players see other good players leaving and poor players coming in to replace them, this has an effect on morale. Morales seemed especially pissed off by this and it is hard to blame him.

Pedro Morales, the most talented player in the squad, was also the most disappointing of the 2016 squad. Morales came in like a lightning strike in 2014 but fizzled out in 2016 through a combination of niggling injuries and just plain not caring. Morales scored 9 goals but only three of those came from areas other than the penalty spot. Morales always seemed to be a bit mentally weak throughout his time here but in 2016 he coasted and floated around, looking for all the world like a man who was not sure if he really wanted to keep playing football.

Morales did show for a couple of matches, notably the away match in Toronto and the last game of the season against Portland, but his general lack of commitment made his choice as captain seem utterly bizarre. Morales was not fit enough to play the number 10 midfielder role, and was ineffective as Laba’s defensive midfield partner. It was very odd to have a captain who the coach could not figure out how to use. A late season training field clash with the very intense and committed David Ousted proved what we all thought: Morales’ teammates saw him as captain in name only. In fact, Morales was a very expensive passenger for most of the 2016 season.

Octavio Rivero continued to be snake bit at the beginning of the season and then was transferred back to Chile to play for Chilean giants Colo Colo. Rivero simply had no support up front with the Whitecaps and was starved for goals because he always got the ball closer to the centre line than the opponent’s goal. The Whitecaps were pitifully poor at getting good crosses into the box for him to work with (another symptom of the loss of Beitashour).   His strike rate improved in Chile, but not by much.

While no one would question his commitment, David Ousted sometimes looked like a poor replacement for himself in 2016. He started the year with a huge gaffe which lost us the opening day match, and then threw away the Canadian Championship final with a late failed attempt to catch a cross that was never his to begin with.   Though he made many a spectacular save, some of which kept us in matches, that rock solid reliability at key moments that teams crave from their goalkeepers was missing in 2016. The fans love him so much they were willing to forgive the big Dane his erors, but the fact remains that his errors cost us dearly in 2016.

Kendall Waston played well but let the team down with poor discipline. His inability to keep his emotions in check got him into big card trouble. It seemed he missed the good humoured influence of veteran Pa Modou Kah, who retired mid season. Waston’s seeming inability to communicate with Ousted led to many a rocky moment in the Whitecaps 18 yard box.

Mathias Laba also struggled in 2016; he seemed far less focussed this year. Perhaps he was learning to live with the new responsibility of being a father. He definitely missed the partnership with Gershon Koffie. Laba looked like he was having the most fun of the entire squad in 2015 and seemed to fall out of love with the game in 2016. He needs to get his love back. 2016 just seemed like a chore for the Argentinian.

Tim Parker had the sophomore blues. At the end of 2015 he stood well poised to take over from retiring veteran Kah but had no answer to the Whitecaps defensive problems. He looked lost much of the time. Robbo played him out of position at full back on a number of occasions and this did nothing for his confidence.

Kekuta Manneh showed himself to be the Whitecaps MVP by his absence. When Manneh was injured in early July it became clear in the subsequent matches that the Whitecaps had lost not only their sharpest tooth, but virtually the whole mouthful. Manneh’s speed and his ability to make sharp cuts with the ball proved to be irreplaceable.

Of the new players, Christian Bolanos performed the best, scoring five goals and providing eight assists. Bolanos is highly intelligent on the ball and in his runs into space. He is one of those players who always seems to have time on the ball and plenty of space to work with. Unfortunately, Bola did not have players around him who were smart enough to work with him. His great work with the Costa Rican national team shows his talents could shine more for the Whitecaps with better players around him.

Blas Perez became a fan favourite by scoring a spectacular bicycle kick early in the season but scored only one other goal in MLS play. He seemed a bit upset that he was a substitute for the Whitecaps, especially since he is a regular starter and scorer for his home country of Panama in international matches.

Bolanos and Perez performed well as veterans but neither had the same positive leadership effect on the whole squad that their predecessors Mauro Rosales and Robert Earnshaw did.

New striker Masato Kudo looked like a boy playing in a man’s league, a point which was brought home in a gruesome manner when he was knocked out cold by a goalkeeper much larger than him early on in the season. Kudo scored two goals and got an assist, but never looked like being the answer to the Whitecaps goal scoring problems. Kudo has now moved back to Japan. Lets hope he can recover fully from that terrible incident.

Andrew Jacobson came aboard via NYCFC where he had played more minutes than any other player in that team’s inaugural season. Jacobson turned out to be a bit of a cookie cutter American MLS player: physically fit and imposing but lacking in finer skill or football intelligence. He scored a couple of goals but was never going to provide anything particularly special.

Giles Barnes came in mid season from Houston but really showed nothing until the last day of the season when he and others looked like they were either desperately trying to keep their job or hoping to convince suitors they were good enough to buy from the Whitecaps.

Canadians David Edgar and Marcel De Jong came into the team later on in the season but only reminded us of how much the Canadian men’s team needs to get better. Edgar did little to improve our performance at the back, although he has clearly perfected the art of the post-goal stunned look (“did that really just happen?!?”). Edgar was brought in with the hope that his communication skills would improve things but he played no better than the struggling Tim Parker. Edgar was not even starting for Birmingham City, his last team, and it became clear why.

The players who were brought in to replace Beitashour at right back, Fraser Aird and Jordan Smith, were both poor in comparison. While Aird showed speed, he could not defend and had no finesse or skill going forward. Smith often looked like he was an amateur who was quite new to the game of football.

Overall, the 2016 Vancouver Whitecaps were a bore to watch. The only really exiting development of the season was the emergence of Alphonso Davies. Although teenager Davies did not score in MLS play he did score an important goal in the CONCACAF Champions league competition in Kansas City which helped the Whitecaps get through to the knock-out stages. Davies is a work in progress, and the question remains as to how long the Whitecaps can hold him before a big English club comes forward to pry him from us. If the Whitecaps can hold on to him the near future of the club looks bright, especially with a potentially huge payday coming later when a mature Davies moves overseas.

With coach Robinson being rewarded for poor performance it does not seem immediately clear what is going to right this ship in 2017. Perhaps Robbo needs to get tougher with his team to get more out of them. Perhaps now that Morales is gone morale and team cohesion will improve. The team first of all needs a real captain who has legitimacy with the team and its fans.

We can only look with hope to the January transfer window and keep our fingers crossed that Whitecaps ownership will splash some cash to acquire a good midfielder like the Seattle Sounders did with Nicolas Lodeiro.  Just look what it did for them!  A striker who can score with Camilo-like consistency would also be nice.

With all of the doom and gloom of 2016, a Vancouver Whitecaps fan can cheer themselves up by thinking of a team in 2017 which at least has a fit Kekuta Manneh playing with a physically developing Alphonso Davies.   Now that might well be a happy new year!

 

 

 

Sounders sink Whitecaps playoff hopes

October 3, 2016 at 9:11 pm | Posted in Vancouver Whitecaps, Vancouver Whitecaps 2016, Whitecaps Season 2016 | Leave a comment
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The stage was set for a desperate match as Cascadia rivals the Vancouver Whitecaps and Seattle Sounders squared off at BC Place on Sunday afternoon. While the Whitecaps only started the match with a slim mathematical chance to make the playoffs, Seattle started the match in the last playoff spot in the Western Conference of Major league Soccer. Even if there was precious little chance for us Whitecaps fans to get any joy out of the situation, at least we might get some joy out of doing some damage to our biggest rival.

It was a lively scene downtown because the Vancouver Canucks were dropping the puck at the same time the Whitecaps kicked off. This made for heavy traffic and many of the usual latecomers were even later because of it.

It was a match in which MLS refereeing again reared its ugly head, as match referee Ricardo Salazar’s hallucinations littered the match.

Ousted played in goal for the Whitecaps as per usual. Parker covered the suspended Waston at center back with Edgar; the two were flanked by Harvey and Smith as fullbacks. Teenage phenom Alphonso Davies started on the right side of midfield with Laba and Morales in the middle, and Barnes played on the left. Hurtado started up front with Bolanos playing behind him.

While it is all too easy to get all gloom and doom as a Whitecaps fan this season, the fact is the Whitecaps played quite well in the first half. They possessed the ball well and moved it around the park with an ease we just have not seen very often this season. Captain Morales looked like he was in the mood to play, which he seldom has been this season.

Helping matters no end was 15 year old Aphonso Davies, who caused troubles for the Sounders along the right side of the pitch. Davies also tracked back and tackled well while rumors of a Manchester United scout at BC Place to watch him circulated around the stadium. Lets hope they go away and leave him for us!

Davies made a surging run around Sounders fullback Fisher who responded by pulling him down in the penalty area.

Whitecaps captain Pedro Morales stepped up to take the penalty and convincingly converted his eighth goal of the season to make it 1-0 Whitecaps after 24 minutes. Morales had glanced a shot off of the post earlier. Sadly, an error in judgment later upset Morales’ chance to have a lasting effect on this game.

Seattle’s Osvaldo Alonso won the battle of the defensive midfielders when Seattle tied up this match in the 39th minute. Seattle got possession of the ball to the right of Ousted’s goal after the Whitecaps had cleared a cross.  Alonso delayed his run into the box and then ghosted in and hit a first time shot from a low cross put in by Joevin Jones. Laba was too late to the scene and his body language after the goal told the tale that he had failed to mark his man. It was a shame because the Whitecaps were full value for the 1-0 score line and looked the more likely team to score the next goal in the match.

We were all set for a cracking second half in this important derby match when Morales ruined his team’s chances by getting sent off for a stupid foul on Seattle’s Roldan. In my view referee Salazar did not have to send Morales off for an incidental foul that was no more than a love-tap. This was an important match and only a yellow card was called for to keep the game going. None of us saw the incident, and the reaction from Salazar was consistent with MLS refs and their over-dramatic reactions to things. At the same time it has to be said that Morales let the team down, and as Captain he should have known better than to put the team at risk with such a stupid foul.

Morales has been a huge disappointment this year and hopefully this idiotic act has sealed his fate with the Whitecaps. We need our designated players to be more than just reliable penalty takers.

Even though we were down to ten men the Whitecaps looked like they were playing with eleven, (another shame on Morales!).   Jordan Smith was withdrawn for Blas Perez, and defensive midfielder Laba was taken off for Mezquida as the Whitecaps threw all caution to the wind to win the match.

Late in the match Jordan Harvey handled the ball in the Whitecaps box as he desperately attempted to block a cross in front of goal. The ball clearly hit his hand and dribbled to Ousted. Sounders Captain Brad Evans stepped up and converted the resulting penalty, sending Ousted the wrong way. It was advantage Seattle Sounders after 81 minutes.

Referee Salazar made another questionable call when he sent Evans off a few minutes later. After having words with Edgar, Evans jerked his head forward as if to threaten to headbutt on Edgar. He made no contact but ref Salazar sent him off, seemingly because of his embarrassment over sending Morales off earlier.

Like the Morales incident, a yellow card would have been better for this match. It was truly pathetic and just illustrated the fact that the worst thing going in MLS is the refereeing. MLS Commissioner Don Garber deserves nothing less than an “F” in terms of league officiating. It is inexcusably bad.

The Whitecaps fought to the end but were second best on this night, mostly because of the poor judgment of “Captain” Morales, who let his team down not for the first time this season. The Whitecaps need a rebuild and the first to go in the off-season has got to be Morales. His body cannot take the strain of playing on fieldturf, and his attitude has been very questionable this year. He started so well here a few years back but he seems to have lost any real passion for playing football.

There are still two games left to play this season, but is there any argument that this year has been the worst one on the books since the Whitecaps joined MLS in 2011? Every level of the Whitecaps organization performed poorly this year and let the team’s supporters down.

More of this in later postings!

Whitecaps tie Colorado in injury time

September 25, 2016 at 10:13 pm | Posted in Vancouver Whitecaps, Vancouver Whitecaps 2016, Whitecaps Season 2016 | 1 Comment
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There was a pall of gloom that hung over BC Place as the fans filed in to see the Vancouver Whitecaps play the Colorado Rapids.   There was no urgency as the usually lazy Whitecaps fans showed up even later than usual, and by the time of kickoff the ground was only half-filled. The fans, just like the team, were behaving like also-rans.

There was a sense of resignation that this game would be mediocre just like much the Whitecaps 2016 campaign.   This turned out to be wrong as the match eventually lurched into life in the second half when there were some extraordinary moments of quality football.

Knowing the Whitecaps were desperate and needing a win to maintain even the faintest hope of playoff participation, Coach Carl Robinson abandoned his usual one striker formation and started with two men up front: Giles Barnes and Eric Hurtado. In central midfield Laba and Morales were paired up flanked by Bolanos on the right and 15 year old Davies on the left. Smith, Edgar, Waston and Harvey protected Ousted in goal.

The Whitecaps were poor in the first half. For a team that was supposed to be playing desperate soccer seeking a playoff spot, they played like they had already given up.

The Whitecaps conceded an early goal which demonstrated that Waston’s defensive brains were not functioning. Waston was drawn forward out of position chasing a Colorado striker when Colorado’s Sam Cronin lofted a ball straight down the middle over Waston’s head to a streaking Marlon Hairston who took possession of the ball with only Harvey in pursuit. Ousted charged out of his goal and 18 yard box and tried a bizarre Kamikaze dive to head the ball away from Hairston’s feet but his timing was well off and Hairston passed the ball to an unmarked Dominique Badji who finished easily while David Edgar looked on behind the play. No less than four Whitecaps defenders were too late arriving on the scene.

It was a comical goal which underscored the naïve mistake-ridden defending that has blighted the Whitecaps entire season. We might expect to see this kind of thing in the reserve squad but it was unforgivably poor for a professional match.

Morales had a relatively good half and did play some sublime balls through for players to run on to, but those same players soon gave up possession of the ball, with right back Smith being especially guilty.

Robinson must have used some choice words in the dressing room during the second half, and well he should have done, because it was the worst half we have seen the Whitecaps play at home all season long.   The fans were chatting together like it was a baseball game because nothing was really happening on the pitch.

The Whitecaps came out in the second half with a different kind of spirit. They won a corner kick (which has been relatively rare this season) and Bolanos expertly curled an in-swinger for the giant Waston to deflect inside the far post past big Tim Howard in Colorado’s goal. It was 1-1 with the greater part of the second half to play.

Soon after the Whitecaps were caught with another ball over the central defensive pair which was not anticipated by either Waston or Edgar. The other Colorado striker Badji was through alone on goal with Waston in pursuit. As Waston tried to catch him he bundled Badji over in the penalty area and was promptly sent off by referee Toledo. Albanian international Gashi confidently stroked the ball into the Whitecaps’ net on the resulting penalty kick. It was 2-1 with 33 minutes left to play.

The Whitecaps worked hard with the 10 men they had against Colorado’s 11. Barnes and Hurtado worked especially hard up front to get the ball back and it was these two who created a second goal through their industry. Hurtado got possession of the ball from Barnes with no less than 5 Colorado defenders surrounding him on the left flank. He beat one defender and tried to cross the ball past the others but it bounced off of a defender to the feet of a surging Barnes who strode past the defenders to deliver a low cross to our waiting captain Morales. Morales coolly and accurately passed the ball into the net to level the game on 70 minutes. Morales, like the rest of the crowd, seemed shocked that he had actually scored a goal in the run of play after so long.

Soon after the Whitecaps conceded a free kick outside of the box and Gashi scored a wonderful curling free kick the likes of which we haven’t seen since a fellow called Camilo played here. It was 3-2 on 75 minutes and it looked like too much to ask for the Whitecaps to come back a third time, especially with only 10 men on the pitch.

The Whitecaps refused to give up however, and with a scandalously low three minutes of injury time left there was precious little left to work with when the Whitecaps scored to tie it all up at 3-3. Hurtado, who had run tirelessly all night, got his just desserts.

Jordan Harvey latched on to a poor clearance header from Colorado’s defence and got a decent cross in between his two markers; the ball went to the near post where it was deflected off of a Colorado defender’s head straight to Hurtado at the far post. Hurtado hit the cross bar with his header but the ball then bounced off a Colorado defender over the goal line as Howard struggled to juggle the ball out of his net. The linesman signalled for a goal and it completed a wonderful come back for the Whitecaps. It was the last play of the match.

It was a great finish to a peculiar, emotionally disjointed game.   A game which had started with the bland mediocrity which has typified this MLS season in Vancouver had ended as a thriller, of sorts. Had the Whitecaps played well in the first half they might have taken all three points to at least put some pressure on other Whitecaps teams fighting to get the last playoff spot.   With only one point to show from this game, playoff hopes dimmed even further.

 

Hurtado horror: Red Bulls 1 Whitecaps 0

September 5, 2016 at 9:52 pm | Posted in Vancouver Whitecaps, Vancouver Whitecaps 2016, Whitecaps Season 2016 | 1 Comment
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Oh, the humanity.  Poor Eric Hurtado died a horrible striker’s death in front of 20,000 or so horrified Vancouver Whitecaps fans on Saturday night.

The international matches for CONCACAF teams meant the Whitecaps were missing no less than six possible starters for the match against the New York Red Bulls.  Waston, Bolanos, Perez, De Jong, Barnes and Edgar were all missing.  The Red Bulls were missing their talented playmaking midfielder Sacha Kljestan.  They did have goal scorer Bradley Wright -Phillips, however, who sealed the Whitecaps fate on this night.

It was a patchwork team for the Whitecaps with Harvey at left back, Parker and Jacobson at centre back, and Smith at right back.  Teibert and Laba patrolled in front of the defense, and Morales, Techera and Aird supported lone striker Hurtado up front.

There was one real story to this game: the stark contrast between the scoring ability of Bradley Wright-Phillips and the lack of scoring ability of Eric Hurtado.

Wright-Phillips had one good chance and took it; Hurtado had five good chances and missed the net on all of them. It was not as if it could be said that we were robbed by an excellent goalkeeping performance by keeper Robles in the Red Bull’s goal; Hurtado missed the net on every shot he had.  The statistics showed the Whitecaps had 12 shots but no shots on goal.

We fans were subjected to another poor MLS referee in Sorin Stoica, who seemed more interested in his own in-depth explanations and conversations with players than he was in keeping the match flowing for the people who had paid to watch.  He created a first for the Vancouver Whitecaps in MLS play when he sent Carl Robinson off for disputing a throw in call.  Never were the words “ref you suck” chanted by the fans so well deserved.

The Whitecaps did a good job of keeping scoring opportunities low for the Red bulls.  They also created numerous great chances for its one striker, but the tiger was toothless and could not go in to kill the prey.

The winning goal came early in the second half. Red Bull’s defender Collin hit a high clearing header into the Whitecaps half and for some reason, Parker let the ball hit the pitch and bounce rather than clear the ball before it hit the ground.  After the bounce Parker  weakly headed the ball to Red Bulls midfielder Phillipe as his mark, Wright Phillips, slipped past him.  Phillipe found Wright-Phillips, who moved across the top of the Whitecaps penalty area with the ball to be confronted by an off-balance Jordan Harvey.  Harvey could only weakly kick the ball into the striker’s midriff, and the ball bounced down for Wright-Phillips to hit past a sprawling David Ousted.

Tim Parker’s sophomore blues continued on this night and we can only hope he is learning from these basic mistakes.  His poor defending has been a major contributor to the large number of goals the Whitecaps have had scored on them this season.

The poor fitness of Pedro Morales was laid bare as he could only last for two-thirds of the match.  The speculation is that he has tendinitis of the knees, which would only be irritated by all of the time the Whitecaps spend playing and practicing on plastic grass.  Mezquida came on in the number 10 role to finish out the game.

Kudo and Davies were brought on for Techera and Smith in a desperate attempt to score a goal, but neither made an impact.   It seemed foolish that Davies was not brought on earlier than the 79th minute.  This game needed a gamble and the Whitecaps coaching staff were too conservative to bring him on earlier.

Hurtado worked like a dog on the night,and got himself into great scoring positions, but missed chance after chance. Had Hurtado scored two of the many chances he had, it would have seen the Whitecaps back in playoff contention.  Instead, the Whitecaps face an even more daunting task than before, though they are not mathematically eliminated from the playoffs yet.  Hurtado needs to drop down into the NASL to find his scoring touch.  He simply does not have what it takes to play at the MLS level.

It is hard to believe that heads won’t roll soon.

Carl Robinson remains very popular with the fans, which was demonstrated by the standing ovation he was given when he was sent off by yet another nutty MLS referee.  There is no doubt that the people responsible for player acquisition have a lot to answer for, because the players coming in to the team in 2016 have been poorer in quality than those that left in the off season.

I put the blame squarely at the feet of the owners of the team, who have failed to stump up the necessary cash for a striker who can actually score consistently in the MLS.

Even though it has been years since Camilo Sanvezzo flew the coop down to Mexico, his ghost still haunts the Vancouver Whitecaps.  Camilo could finish virtually every chance he got, and he could create his own goals, too.  Every striker since Camilo has been a bit of a disappointment, with the exception of Kenny Miller, who also had his troubles scoring when he first came here.

Sad to say that 2016 looks like a year in which things have moved dramatically backwards for the Vancouver Whitecaps rather than forwards.

 

 

 

 

 

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