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The Perks of Flexibility

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This season, the Caps are blessed with more strength in depth than ever before and head coach Carl Robinson is benefitting from that immensely


Depth is an invaluable commodity to any manager and the wealth of options at Carl Robinson's disposal this season is arguably what sets apart the 2015 Vancouver Whitecaps from last year's version. It could be said, to some degree at least, that the displays which have yielded the 3-1-0 record through March haven't accurately reflected the talent within the roster at the moment. Some have labelled the recent wins over Orlando City and the Portland Timbers 'smash and grab' for pretty good reason, but that shouldn't take anything away from the value of the successive victories. It's very rare that you'll find a team in MLS play to their full capacity in March and for the most part that is down to roster turnover. This is something which has affected the product the Caps have put on the field to this point but not what it records in the standings, and that's great reason for supporters to be encouraged.

As we grow further into the campaign there's a hope that the side can establish a baseline in performance of a higher calibre to what we've seen at BC Place to this point and in aspects of the trips to Toyota Park and the Citrus Bowl. It's then a matter of marrying that improved quality to the same results picked up since falling 3-1 to Toronto FC in the opener. I believe that's feasible over coming months with new additions acclimating and new responsibilities becoming more familiar, but what's starting to prevail as the outstanding incentive for optimism is the flexibility Robbo now holds tactically. Thus far, we've seen the 4-2-3-1 system deployed to varying degrees of success. In the meeting with the Chicago Fire, the formation facilitated the threat in attacking transition that Vancouver are starting to be renowned for, yet for swathes of the Timbers game the hosts were largely unable to release the waves of pressure to the same effect.

Personnel can be identified as an explanation for that, Russell Teibert's absence through international duty and Mauro Rosales' ankle injury meant that Gershon Koffie and Nicolas Mezquida entered the line-up. In Bridgeview this wouldn't have been such an issue, but in a match where the team struggled to keep the ball and methodically build out from the back it wasn't the most difficult task for Caleb Porter to exploit the weakness. The dynamic began to change right around the 72nd minute mark though, as 18-year-old Deybi Flores replaced Koffie to make his debut in the city of glass. His introduction alone injected much needed energy at perhaps the most pivotal moment of the game with the visitors from lower Cascadia looking increasingly likely to flip the scoreline on its head. Flores offered the penetration through the middle elusive throughout Gershon's appearance, relieving the relentless pressure while opening up areas of the pitch so often left vacant in the second half. The young Honduran's 87.5% pass completion rate also went a long way in weathering the storm and his cameo is an example of the rewards that can be reaped from having such strength in reserve.

Flores, Koffie and Teibert each provide a different dimension in tandem with consistent defensive midfield monster Matias Laba and the engine-room really is at the heart of all this possibility. According to TSN's pitch-side reporter Perry Solkowski, Flores replaced Koffie alongside Laba in a midweek training game after initially starting on the other side - an early warning to the Ghanaian that even when Teibert isn't available he'll have to earn every minute of participation. This is almost unparalleled across the league and is nothing but healthy with CONCACAF Champions League and Amway Canadian Championship play to consider too, but isn't necessarily exclusive to only two places in the starting eleven. Pedro Morales has not struggled to the extent many have claimed, however this competition could open the door to the 4-3-3 and an array of other systems that don't require the #10 in order to function. Coaches are finding new ways to restrict what Morales is capable of in his second year in North America so the idea of playing without him - be it to afford him the rest he missed out on in 2014 or to simply keep the opposing manager guessing - warrants consideration. Nevertheless, having the choice in itself is a huge boost and could pay dividends somewhere down the line if not immediately.

Kianz Froese's two outings from the bench this term have been in place of Nicolas Mezquida on the left flank and this is another instance where Robinson benefits from having two contrasting styles effective in different circumstances. Mezquida is most dangerous in the counter-attack where there's a lot of uninhabited space in the final third for him to run into, however the Uruguayan's job becomes a whole lot more difficult when the Caps are as deep as they were on Saturday for such a sustained amount of time. Instead of dribbling out of trouble - unviable due to the congestion - he had to rely on his less than remarkable passing abilities and for the side with 34% of  the possession on the day that was always going to be a recipe for disaster. Froese made such a positive contribution after coming on because what he lacks in direct intent he makes up for with measured distribution of the ball, linking up with those around him to at least generate some temporary respite. This by no means dictates that Kianz is of greater worth to Robbo, Mezquida impressed many against the Fire in a more favourable situation and will do so again once the usual blend of soccer is installed. What it does highlight, however, is how well set up and thoroughly prepared the Whitecaps are this year and moreover, why it will be so hard to take points from them.

Octavio Rivero's red hot start to life in MLS is stark contrast to the lackluster production of yesteryear and when all is said and done most will likely point to that astute piece of business as the difference between this term and 2014. It remains to be seen whether or not the young designated player can sustain his current form, but right now you'd be brave to bet against him. In addition to his influence, the flexibility highly touted throughout this piece will help turn the draws that severely restricted Robinson's men during his first season at the helm into the less than glamorous Ws already picked up in this campaign. "At the moment we have a good, winning habit in this group, so it's important that we continue to work hard, continue to do the small details correctly and get a bit of luck along the way," remarked the Welsh tactician earlier in the week. That sort of winning mentality has taken Bruce Arena's LA Galaxy to three MLS Cups in the last four years. Even when Saturday's visitors to BC Place are missing key individuals or enduring an off day, they regularly grind out the result and that's the essence of what has made them so exceptional. It's no mean feat to harbour this resilience factor and hopefully it can be developed in much the same fashion in British Columbia as in Southern California under the former USMNT boss.