I’ve been around football for long enough now to know that what you do on the first day of the season more often than not counts for very little come the end of it. Seattle were a shining example of that last year, losing to TFC in their home opener but ending the year as Supporters’ Shield winners. And no, I’m not seriously going there with the ‘Caps chances.
Sure it’s nice to get off to a flying start, and we have been spoiled by that joy for the past 13 seasons here in Vancouver, but ultimately, you go through a bad run of results or a summer slump or close out the season poorly and all of it is just a distant memory.
Saturday’s 3-1 loss to Toronto is already in the history books. People viewing that scoreline years down the line won’t have a good gauge of how the game played out, and how Vancouver wasted their first half dominance, but the end result is really all that matters come the end of it all.
For all the tempo and life the Whitecaps had in the first half, it deserted them in the second. Watching the game back a few days later didn’t do anything to make that second half any better. If anything, it just adds to the frustration having watched that first half again.
I described it as being a Jekyll and Hyde performance, but it wasn’t really. Dr Jekyll knew what caused Mr Hyde. We still have no real idea of what the hell happened to the Whitecaps over the half time interval.
Now credit where credit is due. TFC reorganised superbly for the second half after the disaster that was their shape, line and marking in the first. Toronto managed the game to perfection and killed the game off the way you’d love to see Vancouver do now and again. That was a big part of the Whitecaps second half performance. TFC simply didn’t let them play.
But enough picking of the bones at that particular carcass. This weekend is a new day, a new opponent and another chance for the Whitecaps to get their season off and running. It’s a very winnable match, despite Vancouver never having recorded a win in Chicago, but there are concerns that came out of the Toronto game that need to be addressed for that to become a reality.
Last year, the Whitecaps, on the whole, were pretty solid at the back. There were some horror games where they gave up three goals against both Portland and Philadelphia in consecutive weeks, although they did take four points from those matches. David Ousted led the league with 13 clean sheets and the ‘Caps defence were stingy.
Three of the back four that finished the last regular season with four straight clean sheets started against Toronto. They were all at sea at times, especially the full backs. Did Andy O’Brien really make all that difference to the defence?
This week will be a better test of those four’s credentials going forward, if indeed Robinson doesn’t decide to freshen things up. They’re not going to be getting ripped apart by international players like Altidore and Giovinco every week. Chicago are more at the level of much of MLS.
It’s fair to say, and maybe even being a little too fair, that Beitashour and Harvey had a bit of a mare out there last weekend and Kah wasn’t too far behind. All three were getting burned with runs and runners in that second half in particular. Horrible marking in the box was one of the things that blighted the Vancouver defence last year and it doesn’t really seem to have improved. Fingers can be pointed at both Harvey and Kah for allowing Robbie Findley to run in for what proved to be the crucial go ahead goal for TFC.
The whole back four have to tighten up, but a concern I have is that they looked flat footed. You could even say they looked old out there. Vancouver have a young team, but a veteran defence. I’d like to see more of a veteran presence in attack and more of a younger, faster element at the back. Sam Adekugbe anyone? He’s breathing right down Harvey’s neck right now for a start and it wouldn’t be outwith the realms of possibility that he gets one in Chicago. And Beitashour just didn’t impress me at all last season and is a player I would happily move on if we had better depth there.
In the centre of defence, I’ve loved what Kah has brought preseason, both on and off the pitch. He can be a beast in both boxes, as two goals down in the Portland tournament showed. But he can also be a liability at the back, as that clumsy tackle on Altidore for the last penalty demonstrated. We haven’t seen enough of Diego Rodriguez to know just what he can offer to the ‘Caps in MLS, but his youth and quicker footwork may see him get the nod sooner rather than later.
Moving quickly to the other end, and this is something I wrote about over on MLSSoccer.com earlier this week, aside from the continuing concern about not taking the multitude of chances presented to them, there seems to be a tactical deficiency when it comes to changing the gameplan and moving to a Plan B or even a Plan C.
We saw that last year as well, although it hasn’t been as bad as when Martin Rennie was in charge.
Vancouver’s gameplan is pretty much guaranteed. The team will line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with the reliance on some speedy play on the wings and the hope that Pedro Morales is on his game.
But what happens when that all goes tits up? When the speedsters can’t get past their man and a resolute defence or when Pedro has an off day, which happens a lot on the road and he was way off with some of his deliveries against TFC.
The back up plan seems to be to replace one fast guy with another and keep Pedro on in the hope that one of his majestic balls pops out.
Yes, Octavio Rivero is a different kind of striker to the rest of the bunch. He’s taller, bulkier and looks like he can finish chances (and miss sitters as well!). But… there is no getting away from the fact that the rest of the attack is far too samey. Manneh, Mattocks and Hurtado put their heads down and run, often showing little control or attacking awareness in the process.
Vancouver need to have different options coming off the bench. Do those actually exist in the squad right now? Well, yes they do, as Robinson was keen to point out to me this week, but therein lies another issues.
The substitutions against Toronto were what I expected for the first two, but at the same time, the wrong choices in terms of the way the game was going. If Manneh can’t unlock the TFC defence, was Mattocks really going to?
Koffie added some physicality to the middle of the park, kicked a few players, but offered very little else. Then there’s poor Nicolas Mezquida, who finished the preseason as perhaps the strongest Whitecaps attacking player and couldn’t even get off the bench, despite showing that he and Rivero have developed a very early and productive understanding.
Robinson was outcoached against Toronto. He’ll know that. He’ll know the mistake he made. But he needs to correct them against Chicago.
Robbo pointed out that he does have different kind of players than speedsters to change a game. He highlighted Mezquida and Marco Bustos and Kianz Froese. Neither came on against TFC and the latter two weren’t even on the bench.
I see Robbo mixing it up a little this week and Mezquida must surely get the start. It could be for Manneh on the left or it could be for resting Rosales on the right and keeping the veteran as a sub for later. We may even see Morales dropping a little deeper to allow Mezquida to slot in to the number 10 role.
All that said, you don’t want to over react. That first half performance from the Caps was one of the best and most electric we’ve seen, perhaps in the whole MLS era. Those glimpses of grandeur are certainly worth persevering with and giving up on it after one game against a team many tip to go all the way, would be foolish.
Keep those eleven together, let them gel, click and run riot. That I would gladly take. They just need to tighten up at the back, take a couple more chances and have a better take on Plan B if things are working and they need to change things up.
Get that right and Chicago could be on the end of a hiding. Get it wrong and a dreary 0-0 draw could play out.
What will it be? Well, we’ll soon find out.