Whitecaps Twitter descended into chaotic outrage on Thursday. It marked the closing of the secondary transfer window, drawing an abrupt conclusion to any hopes of investment from the Blue and White before heading down the stretch. That was until Jordan Smith was announced as a loanee to serve as depth to Steven Beitashour, and to keep Tim Parker central, a day later. Activity, but not of the same significant proportion as some had anticipated. This sense of crisis isn't totally foreign as it occurs to a lesser extent whenever tarps, Canadians, or Robert Earnshaw develop into an online discussion. Nevertheless, there was a widespread state of panic sweeping social media as the clock ticked towards disappointment. Panic fueled by 'statement signings' across the league over recent weeks and months, inflating expectations by means of envy. This changing landscape has created scope for a new kind of philosophy with a fresh approach. To that end, it has opened the minds of supporters to unprecedented possibility with postseason aspirations escalating by the day.
Sebastian Giovinco's move to Toronto FC in January has affected the perception of Major League Soccer to those plying their trade in Europe drastically. His unexpected arrival has encouraged others insomuch that they too are considering the same leap of faith before their performance starts to decline. Gio dos Santos, Tranquillo Barnetta, and Andreas Ivanschitz headline the list of the individuals acting with similar intentions to the Atomic Ant, while more typical acquisitions have been made in the form of Steven Gerrard, Andrea Pirlo, and Didier Drogba. Then there are the Central and South Americans following in the footsteps of many key members of Vancouver's roster, with head coach Carl Robinson building much of his squad from that reservoir of under-appreciated talent. Moreover, the introduction of Targeted Allocation Money has helped to increase the opportunity for clubs to capitalize on this influx of quality. Despite this, TAM has ostensibly been neglected in the club's endeavours to better itself moving forward, doing very little to inspire confidence in the front office to take high-stake financial risks.
The above paragraphs may seem like reinforcement of the pessimism that has surrounded this situation, however they merely serve to empathize with those frustrated at this moment in time. Personally, I don't believe that the investment so many were desperate for was necessitated by the product on the field nor the forecast for the future. MLS may share certain aspects of its operations with other North American sports entities, but the Caps are not the Blue Jays and Bobby Lenarduzzi is not Alex Anthopoulos. I feel that the importance of the trade deadline in baseball, hockey and basketball is owed some blame for the manner in which some fans regard this juncture of the season. For one, there's the fact that the league isn't of the highest standard on the planet. This means that there are greener pastures for the elite playing soccer in the US and Canada. The current model of developing with the aim of making a substantial profit makes this especially relevant to VWFC. Lamentably, that eventuality is nearing reality.
As much as we can complain that the Whitecaps don't garner the attention they deserve south of the border - with very good reason - the same argument cannot be made against the eagle-eyed scouts sent from across the Atlantic. Mati Laba's genius reading of the game, Octavio Rivero's intelligence leading the line, and Kendall Waston's dominance against opposing strikers are admired to the same degree by potential suitors as they are in Upper Cascadia. As the team exceed their objectives, the interest in those striving towards the top will increase. Bids will start to arrive and the next cycle will be set into motion. Therefore, the cap is something that Robbo has to be very conscious of as he attempts to achieve great things with a group of players designed to depart before their peak. Vancouver simply cannot afford to sign someone for the sake of signing someone, as many have pleaded for. It's misguided business like that which ultimately dooms clubs to prolonged mediocrity.
I would also contest the notion that the front office are incompetent, and are restricting the team from realizing its potential. To claim so much would be to criticize the South and Central American identity associated with the Caps. The FO soon appreciated the coup they had pulled in appointing Robbo in December 2013, affording great control over personnel to a first-year coach without any experience in a managerial role. That decision has been completely justified over time; the Welshman's scouting connections, abilities building a roster, and tactical nous have put the club in a position nobody could have seen coming just a season and a half removed from Martin Rennie's reign. This foresight isn't commonplace throughout MLS, but hasn't to this point received the credit it deserves amid the success enjoyed on the pitch. Robinson was handed a long-term deal on the back of an impressive debut campaign, and the future appears incredibly bright for all parties involved. However, the former TFC midfielder's value would have been severely restricted at most clubs. It's an example others would be wise to follow.
Specifically, the focus of the hunt for fresh blood has centred on the attacking department. The theory is that as brilliantly selfless as Octavio has been since joining the ranks, his service is wasted by his supporting cast. At the top of the wish list was another striker to maximize that hold-up play and force a two-forward system. I have a number of issues with that, the first of which revolves around Kekuta Manneh. Scooter has exhibited newfound maturity this summer, not only scoring in crucial fixtures but showcasing markedly improved decision-making. The former isn't a big shock, however the latter has denied the speedy Gambian from reaching the unstoppable nature we all know he's capable of. He is lifting his head up and is able to see more of the field in front of him than he had done before. He has shown an exceptional passing range in doing so, becoming a creative force as well as the direct outlet he's renowned for. Now would be the worst time to reduce his minutes and participation, because if he can continue on his current trajectory there won't be any incentive to worry about goals. Although it's by no means guaranteed that he'll do so, we finally have tangible proof of this elusive progress and must take full advantage of it.
Balance is an invaluable commodity to every team challenging for MLS Cup glory, and must also be taken into the equation. While tactical flexibility shouldn't be understated, the cohesion right now shouldn't be risked as far as I'm concerned. Robbo can apply the 4-2-3-1 in a variety of ways both at home and on the road, alleviating the risks of predictability as a result. The formation works just as well absorbing pressure deep for large swathes of the game as it does on the front foot, employing energetic pressing in the midfield and final third. That is in part a consequence of the options at the coach's disposal and to me is reason enough to hold true - more so when Rivero starts to hit the back of the net on a regular basis again. I believe Manneh would be the perfect candidate to partner Rivero if the technical staff come to expect that such a strategy would be most effective. Their chemistry is apparent in their interchangeability, something that would hypothetically translate well to two-forward attack, and will only be honed further with extended collaboration.
Make no doubt about it, the Whitecaps are in safe hands and are well set up for success in the near and distant future. That has only been possible thanks to meticulous planning coupled with a distance from irrational decision-making. Did the club try to match the bold moves made by their rivals to improve their chances of going deep in the playoffs? Absolutely. Does falling short in those efforts dictate that those that have strengthened are going to climb above Vancouver in the standings? Not at all. Robinson has four top three position players in his spine with the most calculated #9 in the league set to supplement his industrial work off the ball with the goals that gave us all hope to begin with. Kianz Froese, Marco Bustos, and Victor Blasco will all be able to contribute down the stretch, helping their growth into first team mainstays enormously whereas erratic spending could have resulted in their downfall. At this particular moment in time there are far more things to be excited about than there are things to be worried about. We're on the verge of feats nobody ever felt were feasible, with a nucleus that improves in rhythm with every matchday. Enjoy what is happening and let the rest sort itself out.