In three games the Vancouver Whitecaps have scored three goals. That's not awful, but it's not good.
In the wake of Saturday's 0-0 draw with DC United we're starting to hear the familiar questions about our attacking options. So far, Martin Rennie has consistently started three natural shooters up top, along with playmaker Davide Chiumiento: Camilo Sanvezzo, Eric Hassli, and Sebastien Le Toux. Hassli and Le Toux both pass pretty well but they're up there to put the ball in the net.
Le Toux and Camilo have two of our three goals this year; Hassli assisted one of them and has been involved in a few other scoring chances. None of them have looked dreadful. But at the same time they aren't frightening defenses the way we'd expect players of their calibre to do, and opposing keepers haven't had the roughest of times. Last game, the Whitecaps didn't even muster a shot on target.
They have other duties; Hassli's been holding the ball up a lot lately, for example, but the goals! We need them! As a unit they should be producing, and yet they aren't. Even as the Whitecaps defense and goalkeeping are doing their jobs, the goals from our much-hyped French Connection aren't there. So let's play armchair coach and figure this out.
I'm not too worried about the lack of production; frankly, I'm only writing about it because it's such a hot topic of discussion. It's three games, people. That's not enough to judge much, particularly when you consider the level of change that's gone on with this team. I'm willing to take a breath and show patience, but I can also find a few points of criticism.
Let's worry that Camilo, Hassli, and Le Toux each have one shot on goal this season (Le Toux's and Camilo's went in). They only have a total of seven shots between them, which for a three-man strike force that's played a combined 781 minutes is too damned few.
All three have been taking the hard way when they don't have to. Le Toux could have had a shot on goal from extreme close range with his right foot midway through Saturday's first half; instead he turned and tried to play his way around the mob of DC defenders which were rapidly coming to put him in the poor house. Eric Hassli has had many similar moments where he tried to dance his way into a glorious situation instead of just cranking it from a good one. Chiumiento had a similar, although less outrageous, moment on Saturday where he tried to play through coverage instead of shooting off his weaker right foot. Camilo beats enough defenders one-on-one or one-on-two that he can sometimes get away with it, but if I see him go for beating multiple defenders over passing to a wide-open and mid-stride forward one more time I might beat him with a steel chair.
For every fancy Hassli-flick-to-Le Toux there have been more times where similarly pretty plays didn't come off. We have three fine shooters and accomplished poachers of goals who, perhaps believing the hype that we have the biggest, baddest, most skilled attack in the solar system, try to walk the ball in rather than just doing what they're good at. The closest our opponents have come to scoring this season have been on powerful shots from decent positions; maybe our boys should take the hint.
So am I terrified that they're not really as good as the hype? No! These guys have all scored goals against MLS opponents from in close and from distance. We've all seem them do it. It's just a mental adjustment, not of a lack of skill or a natural inhibition. Whether their timing's not right yet or they're just trying too hard, all three need to lay off the fanciness and fire their big guns a bit more often.
I suggest tactical changes as well. The Whitecaps could use some true wingers to keep defenses honest. DC, in particular, loved to clump their defenders into the middle of the field and swarm whichever Whitecaps defender tried to find room there. Atiba Harris isn't the answer as he's a cut-in-the-middle type himself. Russell Teibert and Michael Nanchoff could do it, and Etienne Barbara can spread the field if he ever gets healthy. We are a little short on players used to hugging the touchline but Rennie could probably get away with putting a cut-in guy like Camilo or Chiumiento on one wing, Teibert on the other, and having them switch sides when he needed to throw a curveball at a complacent defense. Some more audacity from Alain Rochat, Jordan Harvey, and Lee Young-pyo at fullback would help, but on the other hand the defense is going so well I don't want to mess with it.
This all must seem like tinkering rather than revamping, and it is. This flawed lot has managed a few chances and a couple goals in our three games while feeling each other out. It's far from time to start ripping off the doors and rebuilding the whole work. There's room to improve but I still feel justified in a certain grim confidence.