Whitecaps 2014; How I learned to stop worrying and love Robbo

December 6, 2014 at 2:33 pm | Posted in Whitecaps season 2014 | Leave a comment
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The 2014 season represented a remarkable turnaround for the Vancouver Whitecaps. After a frustrating 2013 and what looked like an absolutely disastrous off-season, things were getting worse, not better.

Since joining MLS the Whitecaps had made a few coaching gaffes. In the first season they fired Teitur Thordarson and put Tommy Soehn, an inferior coach, in charge of the squad. The team went downhill rapidly and things were so bad they felt the need to prematurely announce that Martin Rennie had been signed for 2012. Rennie lasted two unspectacular years, spending the first year clearing out the players we loved so much from the year before. While the team made the playoffs in 2012, it was largely because other teams in the Western Conference were very poor. We made the 2012 playoffs with only 43 points.

Robbo's previous role in Vancouver: Midfield for TFC!

Robbo’s previous role in Vancouver: Midfield for TFC!

Martin Rennie was fired from his head coaching job soon after the final whistle blew for the 2013 season in spite of the fact the team had earned 5 more points than in 2012 and had come within two points of making the playoffs. No one really mourned the loss of Rennie, however, who came across as a rather cold technocrat who didn’t seem to be getting the best out of what was, in his defence, a young and rather mediocre squad.

During the off-season several distinguished coaches including American Bob Bradley and Canadian Frank Yallop turned their nose up at the Whitecaps when approached; it all made us look like a provincial team only someone desperate or down on their luck would want to go work for. Stuart “psycho” Pearce expressed an interest, but was rejected because he had no “MLS experience”. The thought of Pearce trying to master MLS rules such as super drafts and designated players among many others was itself a bit of a comedy.

Then, to add injury to insult, Camilo Sanvezzo absconded to Queretero in Mexico in the middle of the night. We had lost the top goalscorer in MLS and the best player on our team. The Whitecaps had failed to negotiate a pay raise for the little Brazilian, who had dollar signs in his eyes after a stunning goalscoring rampage through MLS in 2013.

Having lost its best player and having been spurned by all recognizable coaches, the club and its embattled President, Bob Lenarduzzi, faced a huge crisis. With people baying for Lenarduzzi’s blood, it looked like the teflon don was finished.

After being rebuffed by virtually all coaches who were approached, Lenarduzzi looked around the Whitecaps boot room and found Carl Robinson, who acted as Rennie’s assistant, standing there. Lenarduzzi tagged him with the job of head coach. It looked like a desperate move which would only last as long as it took to find a more high profile candidate.

Robinson was a former central midfielder who had hovered around the Championship for most of his career in England before playing in MLS for Toronto and New York. He had honed his coaching skills quietly behind Martin Rennie, building up a rapport and respect among the players in the squad. Everybody in the team liked him, even if he was unknown to the vast majority of fans.

Robbo impressed with his first press conference, immediately coming off as a more open, humble and likeable guy than Martin Rennie. He spoke about his late father and how he wished his father was here to see him take the reigns of his first club as head coach. He just seemed so earnest and likeable that we soon fell for him. We were willing to give him a chance.

The team then set about finding some much needed footballing talent. Two no-name players were signed from Uruguay, Nico Mezquida and Seba Fernandez. The club managed to make a deal to have young Argentinian star Mati Laba come over from Toronto FC. The big news came when Pedro Morales signed. Though he was no household name in world football, Morales had played in the illustrious La Liga in Spain for Malaga CF. He had even scored for his Malaga masters against Barcelona FC in Camp Nou, no less, with a stunning volley. He had eleven caps with the Chilean national team. Robbo now had some talent at his disposal, even if it was mostly no-name talent.

When the first match came at BC Place against the New York Red Bulls in March, all of the new signings showed their stuff, thrilling the crowd with a brand of football we had not seen in Vancouver since the days of Alan Ball, Willie Johnston and Rudi Krol. When Pedro Morales came on as a substitute in the second half, his performance was electrifying. The Whitecaps won 4-1.

Carl Robinson had won his first match in charge in spectacular fashion; he had put his best foot forward. One brilliant match erased all of the turmoil of the off-season, and Robinson looked well in charge of matters.

Looking back on the season, which was a modest success with the Whitecaps finishing fifth in the Western Conference and earning a one game knockout match with Dallas FC, it is hard to point to any particular coaching error where Robinson had clearly gotten it wrong. The one criticism was the dip in form the Whitecaps had in the middle of the year, especially after the World Cup break. The players seemed to lose both motivation and fitness during the break, and Robinson would have to accept his share of the blame in that.

Robinson showed he was no shrinking violet in the case of Omar Salgado, who appeared the one player who did not buy into his program. Once during the pre-season and once during the season Robinson subbed Salgado off and the young player refused to shake his coach’s hand when it was offered. Salgado became a marginal figure and barely featured for the Whitecaps all season. Robinson showed he could be tough as well. We won’t be seeing Salgado in a Whitecaps jersey next year.

Robinson seems to have discovered that the key to MLS success is to find talent in Latin and Central America, where a huge pool of talented players are seeking moves to stable leagues and clubs outside their home countries. While MLS may not pay the big salaries of the big 5 in Europe, the pay is decent and players actually do get paid what clubs have promised.

When you look at where we were in the off-season last year, Robinson played his part in pulling the club out of what looked like disastrous circumstances. While in the years since Teitur Thordarson was fired I have had my doubts about Whitecaps coaching, I now feel confident with Carl Robinson in charge. Now Robbo has had one full season under his belt, he can only get better.

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Salgado riddle comes to an end

November 17, 2014 at 8:23 pm | Posted in Vancouver Whitecaps, Whitecaps season 2014 | 1 Comment
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The story of Omar Salgado’s time with the Vancouver Whitecaps is shrouded in mystery and has me scratching my head. What promised to be a great beginning to a great career fizzled out in a way that was unsatisfactory to everyone involved.

Salgado was the first draft pick the Vancouver Whitecaps made upon entering Major League Soccer. He was young at the time, just 17 years of age, and ineligible to actually play professional football. His physical attributes were very promising: he was very tall and lean, looking for all the world like a young Ruud Van Nistelroy.

In his first interviews Salgado seemed shy and awkward, unable to suppress his teenaged giggles. During their first MLS season the Whitecaps mounted a legal challenge to declare him eligible to play, which they eventually won. Salgado scored his first MLS goal against Columbus in Columbus that year. It was a fine header which showed so much promise of future goals. It turned out to be his last goal for the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Salgado’s efforts in Vancouver were demolished by some terrible foot injuries, the first of which occurred when he went away to play with the US Men’s under 23 side. His last good game for the Whitecaps came in a home match against the Seattle Sounders in 2012. He tore up the Sounders defence although he failed to score. He was injured in that match and that is all we would see of him until the end of the season when he came back unfit and unimpressive in a few late season matches.

Another injury to his foot in 2013 killed that season off and he missed almost the entire season. Salgado attended training camp for the 2014 season and looked to be fit and ready to go. During one pre-season match, however, he started but was subbed off and stormed off the pitch, refusing to shake new coach Carl Robinson’s hand as he left the pitch. It was a direct affront to a new coach who needed to establish he was in charge.

Salgado was immediately on the outs with Robinson. It was a side of Salgado we fans did not know existed. He repeated the feat early in the 2014 season during MLS play, coming off the pitch and refusing to shake the hands of any of the coaching staff. Frankly, it was incredible to see him take the same mistake twice. By this time the fans had begun to love their new coach and it felt like an insult to us too. After being in the Whitecaps squad for three years and having scored only one goal it just boggled the mind and left a very bad taste in the mouth. It just looked like he was biting the hand that fed him.

This year’s squad seemed to be a very happy one, with one glaring exception. There were also tales of Salgado having training pitch bust-ups with teammates.

The Whitecaps made one last attempt to get money for Salgado by shipping him off to Tigres in Mexico for a trial, but nothing came of it. Last week the Whitecaps announced he had been released, and Salgado left a conciliatory message to Whitecaps fans on Twitter. As happened before he did the right thing after making the mistakes he made, but the point of it all is not to make the same mistake twice.

The whole Salgado experience was one of bad luck and bad judgement; the injuries were bad luck, but the outbursts against coaching staff and teammates were just bad judgement. So little came out of so much potential.

It is not clear where Salgado will end up, but I imagine he will be taken by another MLS team in one of the many player dispersal drafts the MLS conducts. Salgado, now a man rather than the boy who first came here, will have to act like a man if he wants to succeed in football. In spite of it all, I hope he does eventually unravel the riddle and succeed in the game.

Editor’s note: Some time after this post Salgado signed with Tigres of Liga MX.

Lazy MLS refereeing sinks the Vancouver Whitecaps ship yet again

October 30, 2014 at 6:19 pm | Posted in Vancouver Whitecaps, Whitecaps season 2014 | 1 Comment
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There is something about Major League Soccer referees which makes them think it is fine to make crazy discretionary calls against the Vancouver Whitecaps. Perhaps it is because we are a Canadian club. Perhaps it is because we are a smaller city. Perhaps it is because we are relatively new to MLS.

Back in mid-September the Whitecaps were in Dallas for a regular season match. Down 2-1 in injury time the Whitecaps had the ball headed straight towards the Dallas goal with pace on it. One of Dallas’ defenders had his arm raised in the air, not by his side; the ball struck his arm and was deflected away from its path to the goal. The ref adjudged the hand ball to be accidental and did not call a penalty kick in the Whitecaps favour.

During last night’s playoff match against Dallas, the home side had the ball going across the box, not towards goal, which took a deflection and hit Kendall Waston’s hand, which was not outstretched, but by his side. Waston knew nothing about it when the ball hit his hand, and clearly did not intend to handle the ball. There was no imminent scoring opportunity taken away from Dallas. It was called a penalty kick and the match was effectively handed on a silver platter to Dallas.

Is there any wonder MLS teams and players are regularly complaining about crazy calls and inconsistent officiating by MLS officials? Remember those two penalty calls against Jay DeMerit for challenging for the ball in the 18 yard box earlier in the season?

My own view is that referee Mark Geiger saw lots of work ahead of him in extra time and penalty kicks last night and decided he would rather have an early night. He took the lazy way out. He later claimed he thought Waston had handled the ball intentionally. All of the video and the circumstances of the play demonstrate exactly the opposite. Another bad call by an MLS referee against the Whitecaps.

Would this call have been made if it was a Seattle Sounders or a Los Angeles Galaxy defender? My guess is no. This is the kind of call a team Like little Atalanta receives when they are playing powerhouses Juventus or AC Milan in the corrupt Italian league. The refs would never dare to make such a call agains the big clubs.

It leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and it demonstrates that officiating is still one of the biggest problems with the credibility of MLS in world football.

The Vancouver Whitecaps must find a way to impress upon the League and its officials that we are not cannon fodder for other teams, but a serious football club that cannot be treated in this way.

Waston leads Whitecaps to MLS playoffs

October 26, 2014 at 10:06 pm | Posted in Whitecaps season 2014 | Leave a comment
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What a special night! This was one of the most anticipated matches in the Vancouver Whitecaps MLS era. It was the first match back at BC Place after the Whitecaps sealed both the Cascadia Cup and qualification for the CONCACAF Champion’s league. There was an air of celebration and a palpable confidence that we could qualify for the playoffs as well. Playoff frenzy and retail frenzy went hand in hand as the Whitecaps put their merchandise up for 50% off for the night.

Waston: hero of the match

Waston: hero of the match

It was one of those nights that was going to be a heaven or a hell. If the Portland Timbers won and we lost or tied, we would be out of the playoffs. As I walked along the concourse of BC Place I caught sight of Darlington Nagbe scoring to put Timbers up 1-0 in Dallas. Then, as we were waiting for kick off, news came through that Urruti had made it 2-0 Timbers in the 80th minute. It became clear we would have to beat the Colorado Rapids in order to make the MLS playoffs.

Carl Robinson started the match with Darren Mattocks up front, Morales, Rosales and Fernandez in attacking midfield, Teibert and Laba in defensive midfield, Harvey, O’Brien, Waston and Beitashour on the back line and the ever-present Ousted in Goal. Beitashour was soon injured and had to come off for youngster Adekugbe, who filled in perfectly after switching sides with Harvey.

The Colorado Rapids were eliminated from playoff contention long ago, but did their best to play spoilers. If not for some excellent goalkeeping by David Ousted, they might just have succeeded.

Manneh cranks one off the crossbar

Manneh cranks one off the crossbar

The pattern for this match was set early, as Colorado hunkered down and defended in numbers, while the Whitecaps buzzed around the park dominating possession. The tension in the crowd matched that on the pitch. The Whitecaps looked nervous and had trouble stringing passes together as Colorado broke up play after play.

Carl Robinson’s decision to start Darren Mattocks rather than Erik Hurtado up top proved to be the only questionable choice he made on the night. Mattocks had one of his feet-of-stone games, where the ball just bounced off of his foot whenever it came to the striker. His running was poorly timed and his one chance to score off of a Morales cross resulted in a poor deflected header that went wide. After this performance, will we see him play in a Whitecaps shirt next year?

As time passed by in the first half the consensus in the stands was that the Whitecaps had to score before half-time to take some pressure off of the team. It did not happen, however.

The first half did not look particularly good for the Whitecaps: they were nervous as a unit, Pedro Morales looked like he was nursing an injury, and Mauro Rosales was a bit slow and getting pushed and fouled off of the ball all too easily.

Ousted saved our bacon

Ousted saved our bacon

Seba Fernadez broke through midway through the half and was all alone on the keeper for the Whitecaps best chance, but ran out of room to take a quality shot. His weak effort was easily smothered by Clint Irwin in Colorado’s goal. The half ended scoreless and the tension in the stands grew. It was made all the more tense as just before halftime Colorado’s striker forced Ousted to make a difficult diving save to his right.

The second half began with the same personnel, but Carl Robinson did not wait too long before he rolled the dice. Ten minutes in to the second half he took out defensive midfielder Teibert and put another attacking player, Kekuta Manneh, into the fray. The move left Mathias Laba on his own protecting the back four, but greatly increased the pressure on Colorado’s defence almost immediately. Manneh did some spectacular runs down the left side of the pitch, cutting inside and striking the crossbar on one such run. All of the sudden it looked like Colorado could be broken.

In the 67th minute a sigh of relief could be heard as Mattocks, who was no threat to Colorado on this night, was replaced by the more effective Hurtado. Three minutes later the Whitecaps scored.

Waston the human missile

Waston the human missile

Kekutah Manneh won a corner kick in the 68th minute and the crowd leapt to its feet, willing the Whitecaps to score. As he had on all set pieces and corner kicks, Kendall Waston stepped up into Colorado’s 18 yard box. Morales hit the ball on the corner kick as only he can; the ball curled to the near post and dipped viciously. Hurtado jumped but the ball was just too high for him to head it. seemingly out of nowhere, Waston launched his body across two Colorado defenders with the top of his head heading straight at goal. He made contact with the ball, deflecting it low and past Irwin. BC Place erupted with the loudest sound since Peter Beardley score the first Whitecaps goal back in 1983. It was pandemonium, and the celebration lasted for a good five minutes.

Hurtado got through on goal a few minutes later to try to make it 2-0 but an onrushing defender made him snatch at his shot which went straight at keeper Irwin.

While Waston was always going to be the hero on this night, spare a thought for our Keeper Ousted who made two very difficult saves in the last minutes of the match to keep us in the playoffs. Not only did he make two great saves, he controlled the ball so no rebound was coughed up. It was superb goalkeeping from a man who has grown in stature the most this season.

Morales and Waston celebrate their work

Morales and Waston celebrate their work

When the final whistle went a party began the likes of which we have not seen in four years of MLS. Players stayed on the pitch celebrating, and fans stayed in the stands to join them.

Prior to the match Jay DeMerit took his retirement bow and gave a great speech about his time with the Whitecaps. After the match he celebrated in the Southside holding the Cascadia Cup in his hands.

The last time we made the playoffs in 2012 we got there because other teams were so terrible they were more terrible than us. This time we did it on merit: the Whitecaps got into the playoffs because they are a good football team.

The win set up a one match shootout in Dallas with Dallas FC this coming Wednesday. If the Whitecaps win that one, a home and away series with the Seattle Sounders awaits. The prospect is mouth watering; lets hope it happens.

Its over and we're in!

Its over and we’re in!

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