With yet another addition to the midfield this past week, in Cristian Techera, some have questioned how Carl Robinson will be able to keep all his players happy with adequate playing time. While it will certainly be an obstacle that Robbo will have to navigate cautiously, I think we can all agree that having ‘too many’ options is better than what the Whitecaps had in seasons past.
Several players have seen their playing time cut more than others. In 2014, Jordan Harvey played 2939 minutes and started all but one game, due to yellow card accumulation. This season, Harvey has played only 194 minutes (2 starts). Likewise, Erik Hurtado started 19 games last season (1805 minutes), Darren Mattocks 20 (1802 minutes), and Gershon Koffie 17 (1541 minutes). This season the Whitecaps have played 9 games. In those 9 games, Hurtado has appeared in 6 (141 minutes), Mattocks in 7 (340 minutes), and Koffie in 6 (325 minutes). Not bad for appearances but very light on minutes; especially Hurtado and Mattocks (until late).
There are multiple ways to look at this. First, the roster has been improved so much that players who were regularly called on in the past are having difficulties getting minutes. This is not a bad thing. The Whitecaps were not winning in past seasons so clearly the players were not doing the job. Moreover, this means that players who were good enough to start in previous seasons, and thus have the experience, can come off the bench and make an impact. There were many times in the past where the Whitecaps needed a spark off the bench late in a game but were unable to find it. This season, the players being substituted in have made a difference multiple times already.
Second, the constant rotation will hurt chemistry as players will not be familiar with one another. Although this might be possible, remember that these players are practicing together on a daily basis. Some have played together for several years, or at different levels previously. Finally, multiple players, even the veterans, have mentioned that this is the best dressing room they have been a part of. I do not believe that chemistry should be an issue.
Third, players will be unhappy that they are not receiving playing time, and what about the young players? While it is always a concern keeping players happy when they are not playing, those concerns should be minimal if the team keeps playing well. The problem of playing time arises when the team begins to lose and those not playing say ‘I could get us a win. Put me in!’. Additionally, the new players understand the competition that exists and this means they know they will have to play well to be in the starting XI. I believe that Robbo has made it clear to any player coming in that they will have to fight for their place in the starting XI. While some may not have to fight as hard (e.g., Morales, Laba, and Rivero) to be pencilled in, do not think that Robbo will have issues sitting anyone should the need arise.
The emergence of the ThunderCaps has been a key component of the building process for the Whitecaps. It has allowed them to provide important minutes to fringe first-team and developing players in a competitive environment. Kianz Forese, Caleb Clarke, Ben McKendry, Ethan Sampson, Deybi Flores, Christian Dean, and Tim Parker have all played in at least two ThunderCaps games with Kianz Froese playing the fewest minutes out of those listed (166). Mind you, Froese has also played 66 minutes for the senior team. The presence of the ThunderCaps has also allowed Paolo Tornaghi to actually play a game (2 actually) in net! Even veteran Robert Earnshaw suited up for the ThunderCaps this weekend, playing 64 minutes, in an effort to keep fresh and get some minutes.
The importance of the ThunderCaps is evident in keeping players happy and getting them time. Despite Earnshaw playing this past weekend, I would not expect this to be a regular occurrence with other players such as Harvey and Hurtado; namely because of their contracts and taking minutes away from developing players. So, that raises the question whether there is such a thing as too much depth and does this mean that players like Harvey rot away on the bench all season? The Whitecaps’ fans have yet to see it much yet but the answer is ‘no’, for three reasons.
First, the Whitecaps will play more games this season than they ever have in the past. For example, in May, the Whitecaps will play 7 games; 5 MLS and 2 Canadian Championship. In June, the Whitecaps will only play 4 games, but all will be on the road, because of the World Cup, and 3 will be on the East Coast. In August and September the Whitecaps will play, probably, 14 games (8 MLS, 2 Canadian Championship, 4 Champions), with at least 1 game in Central America mid-week.The squad depth will be required in these hot and busy months, especially with the extensive travel.
Second, the Whitecaps will have injuries throughout the season that will require depth. In seasons past, what would have been the mentality of fans when they heard that Koffie was injured to begin the season, or Rosales went down in the second game, or Rodriguez strained his hamstring? This season? No problem, we will just put someone else in there.
Third, whether legitimate or not, it would appear that the Whitecaps are going to rack up cards this season. They have already received 2 red cards and while the questions around when Kendall Waston will pick up his 5th are being discussed, it is important to note that Sam Adekugbe is ALSO sitting on 4. Matias Laba is sitting out the important match against Portland next weekend. While not nearly as good, I am content with Russell Teibert in a diamond or Teibert and Koffie in a 2-man defensive midfield. It is not the end of the world when a player is not able to play, as it may have been in seasons past.
To conclude this long entry, the Whitecaps are in an enviable position. They are successful and they are having players sitting on the bench, or not even making the 18 (e.g., Hurtado), who could play regular minutes or start for many other teams. If the fans of the Whitecaps want the team to be successful in MLS, Canadian Championship, and Champions League, then this depth is necessary and, even with this depth, it will be tested at multiple points this season!