The first season of HBO's much acclaimed crime series True Detective was truly special. Nic Pizzolatto achieved the kind of cinematic brilliance not often found in television today, from the depth of the plot to the effect of the dialogue. Viewers were treated to a spectacle they hadn't experienced before throughout the eight episodes; a philosophical journey narrated with enthralling perspective. It made for a surreal watch every week without fail. Pizzolatto, with help from director Cary Fukunaga, showcased the versatility of Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in a way unlike anyone before them, setting a dangerous precedent in doing so. Expectations for its follow-up, the hotly anticipated second season, were naively unrealistic in hindsight but felt so appropriate at the time. Hysteria tends to work that way when the phenomenon represents something so unique. Rust Cohle was just that good.
2015's narrative heralded a new Hollywood cast to preserve its pre-eminence on the small screen, a new location to create its invaluable landscape, and a new theme to broadcast the same genius evident a year earlier. Change was aplenty: Rust and Marty were no more, Fukunaga was out the door, and occult Louisiana made way for corrupt California. Perhaps that was the architect of its downfall, the responsibility to surpass the artistic quality came with an unhealthy desperation that lost the essence of its sensation. The only way to enjoyably consume True Detective season two was to embrace the chaos and abandon the hopes you had harboured heading into it. Many parallels can be drawn between that described above and Whitecaps captain Pedro Morales, partway through a turbulent second campaign in Upper Cascadia after setting the league alight a year earlier. There is one significant variation that distinguishes the two though, in that the high priest of through balls has time yet to deliver on the hype surrounding him.
Thanks to that upside, and what he's proven he's capable of since swapping La Liga for MLS, Morales has penned a new long-term contract to extend his stay in Vancouver. We haven't yet learned details regarding his salary, whether he's receiving more than the $1.4m of his last deal or if he's opted for a more team friendly agreement, but that is largely irrelevant as the 30-year-old is here to stay regardless. Ultimately, this bold move is a sign of confidence from the Caps that they trust him to take the team to unprecedented heights with the armband. If you were to offer a future filled with new Pizzolatto storylines to fans of True Detective a few weeks back, with time yet to salvage the maligned second season, the consensus would have looked forward with optimism. The same can be said about the fulcrum of Carl Robinson's side, a man that remains one of the most creatively gifted individuals in the league. A new kind of excellence exposed to supporters at BC Place from his debut against the Red Bulls onwards.
Securing Pedro makes a lot of sense in many respects. Most notably in the value of keeping one of the most talented experienced players in a group designed to endure turnover in personnel. He has adopted his role as skipper in a different way to how Jay DeMerit did, leading by example rather than by vocal encouragement. Among many youngsters, the ability to inspire team-mates through his play can pay dividends in ways the traditional method of captaincy cannot. Morales will be around, pulling the strings in the same capacity, when the likes of Mati Laba, Octavio Rivero, and Kekuta Manneh have moved on to the next phase of their careers. He'll provide balance to the coach's system through continuity, meaning that members of the line-up eventually departing won't dictate a new brand of soccer for the squad to grasp. 2014's MLS Newcomer of the Year holds the key for what the Blue and White can achieve for the foreseeable future, alleviating the concern promoted by the club's model in the transfer market of buying low with the view of selling high. The monster at the end of the dream.
El Capitan's playmaking form remains an extraordinary asset. His passing range cannot be matched by anyone in North America at the minute - watching him switch the play at a moment's notice and unlock defensive units without breaking a sweat has been mesmerizing. His diverse repertoire of techniques with which to create has helped to get the best of the many attacking options at Robbo's disposal. To that end, his vision has become a fundamental element of the team's lethal counter-attacking game. Morales is a backpedalling back-line's worst nightmare insomuch that he can exploit the vacated space with one swift stroke of the ball to devastating effect. The fact that Rivero, Manneh, and Techera are still so young and are only going to get better heightens the importance the Chilean Maestro will hold over years to come. Recently, coming back from a calf injury that has seriously hindered him this term, Pedro has poised a dangerous threat with his free-kick taking. He's scored three goals from dead-ball situations in his last five appearances in all competitions, contributing much like he did the previous campaign.
With that being said, the Whitecaps have played some of their best football this season without Morales featuring in the XI. Nico Mezquida's emergence from quietly effective substitute to electric starter can be credited with this. The 23-year-old has benefited tremendously from collaborating with compatriots Rivero and Techera within the final third, exhibiting an almost telepathic understanding in how they've linked-up together. His greatest impact though can be found in his energetic pressing behind Octavio high up the pitch. It has enabled the team to start matches on the frontfoot, in some part helping to overcome the home woes of a few months back, while subjecting the opposition to tremendous pressure as unwelcome visitors. Transition remains an integral part of Robbo's game plan, however the objective is to regain possession further up the field where there is less dependence on passing. This has been necessitated by the absence of Pedro and Mauro Rosales because the pace of the counter from deep demands their calibre of decision-making in order to be successful.
Many observers have asked for a change in formation, ostensibly to circumvent opposing managers working out the Caps tactically. Having Morales and Mezquida as contrasting options in the #10 position eliminates the need to switch to a diamond or a 3-5-2 *shudders* at this moment in time. Robbo has the flexibility to alternate between the two South Americans and the approaches associated with their presence. Sitting deep and absorbing pressure is an effective strategy, it has reaped many rewards under the Welshman's tutelage, and will see more time down the stretch and possibly in the playoffs too. For this, there are three guys that he has to deploy in order for it to function: Waston to negotiate the waves of attack on the ground and in the air, Laba to turnover the ball, and Pedro to service the forwards. That much is true for the Uruguayan trident when pressing is the order of the day, with Laba again making the difference as an insurance policy in-front of the defence. Other managers would kill to have the same opportunity to alternate at their discretion without sustaining a decline in collective performance.
I have neglected to mention the third choice behind the frontman, Marco Bustos, another option different to his competitors for minutes. He has netted four goals in his last three games for WFC2, spearheading their push towards the postseason. He also made a very promising outing in the CONCACAF Champions League meeting with Seattle earlier this month. His outstanding quality is that consistent production; more direct than Morales and Mezquida, the Winnipeg native is most comfortable finishing attacking moves with intricate movement inside the box. In open play, the midfielders rarely offer the same commitment to the attack, leaving the front three isolated on certain occasions. Bustos could deliver that elusive contribution with further involvement in the first team, and is seemingly on the verge of that promotion. How dynamic he is right now is reason for excitement, owing much to USL participation - a superb resource in supporting his development. I'm predicting that 2016 will be the year of Marco, to some extent that view will be shared by the club also awaiting the same spectacular breakthrough.
How best to facilitate the 19-year-old amid this current dogfight for limelight is a dilemma Robbo will have to contemplate with time. A trajectory that I could personally see coming to fruition is Morales returning to the right flank, where he was stationed in Europe, fulfilling a very similar job to the one Rosales currently conducts. This would leave Mezquida and Bustos to battle it out and rotate in the hole, something that could potentially be accelerated if Mauro doesn't return next year. Defensive work-rate is a slight concern in using Pedro out wide, but Laba, Teibert or Koffie could flatten to protect the right-back in such a circumstance. At present, the set-up is well-equipped to succeed in its current form. VWFC have never had it so good in this department, the talent on this roster is all the more incredible when compared to former editions of the team in recent memory. We as fans are living in the golden age, only we don't quite seem to appreciate that concept yet. Nevertheless, as Rust remarked to conclude that epic first season of True Detective, "once there was only dark. If you ask me, the light's winning."