The Vancouver Whitecaps were a bore in 2016

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

 

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!

 

 

 

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2 Comments »

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  1. Your great review did not mention the biggest problem of the team, namely that there was no striker. The one they kept on using almost looses every ball and, as you said some time ago, can only run in a straight line. It was frustrating that they kept on using him again and again.

  2. Funny you did not mention that the team had no capable striker in the lineup. I see no evidence that they have filled this gap and thus are doomed to end up at the bottom again


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