On paper, the Vancouver Whitecaps have a strong squad. This is not homerism, but an actual fact that many others in the media and in Major League Soccer have noted. In part, this is why the season has been so frustrating. Fans can see the talent that is on the roster, but it seems that the players cannot function together as a unit. Part of the blame must be placed at the feet of manager Carl Robinson. After all, he is the person who put the team together. However, not all the blame needs to fall on Robbo.
We have seen throughout sports history, teams that are full of talent but unable to be successful. Whether that is too many egos, players used to occupying the same role, or other reasons, there are plenty of examples. Likewise, there are always stories about 'blue-collar' teams that rise to the occasion and 'win-it-all'. How do these teams differ? Well, they tend to have players who may not be flashy, but fill certain roles. They also have strong leadership and everyone pushing for the same goal. These are two traits I do not see evident on this season's Whitecaps squad.
I pose a simple question to you: Who is/are the leader(s) of the Vancouver Whitecaps?
The most obvious answer to that would be the captain Pedro Morales, but I feel that we can all agree that he is not the leader of this team. He is the captain because he is the most expensive player on the team. For some reason, Russell Teibert was demoted from assistant captain some time last season and is probably not a leader right now. His replacement David Ousted could certainly be touted as a vocal leader who will kick people in the ass. The problem is that he is the keeper and for half the match he is at the other end of the field. Okay, with how the Whitecaps play, Ousted is on the other end of the field for 25% of the game. Fair enough. The point is, there needs to be vocal leaders on the pitch elsewhere.
There are mixed feelings around Kenny Miller's tenure with the Caps, but one thing you could say is that he led the team from the front. He was vocal and he held his teammates accountable on-the-pitch. Kendall Waston has tried to be a vocal leader on the pitch, but a) it seems to have impacted his ability to perform and b) sure he is big but from what I have seen and read he is a big teddy bear. Do you really think that Waston goes up to one of his teammates who is not performing and gets in their face about it? Doubtful.
There is no spine/back-bone to this team that will hold one another accountable. Look at the last match where Pedro Morales was invisible. Now, I have been critical of Morales in the past (although I was praising him at the start of this season), so you might feel this is AtlantisB going off on Pedro again, but I assure you that is not the case. It is just the example most fresh in the minds of fans. When your captain is playing with such a lack of passion and heart and no one is willing to call him out on it, then you have a problem. You might argue 'well, he is injured'. Fine, if he is THAT injured, then he should not be on the field. If he is on the field then he needs to be that leader.
The other key aspect of a successful team is that players have defined roles and you have some 'blue-collar' players. What are the roles for people on this team? Players are moved around all over the place. Yes, some of those moves are because of international duty, but let's look at some of them.
There has been a revolving door at RB, while CB has seen combinations of Jacobson, Parker, Edgar, and Waston (we will omit Kah and Seiler for now). Of course, you have had blue-collar Jordan Harvey holding down the LB spot, but otherwise, it has been a mess.
In the midfield you have Matias Laba, but outside of that, who knows. Pedro Morales has played in almost every position in the midfield. When Nicolas Mezquida has a good game, that apparently means he needs to sit the next. While Cristian Techera has not been nearly as good as last season, as soon as he seems to be getting into a rhythm, he is benched as well. Christian Bolanos scores two goals last night for Costa Rica, from the left side, but Robbo continues to play him on the right, which means Techera plays on the left, despite having success last season on the right. From match to match, we have no idea who is playing in the #10 role. Morales? Mezquida? Perez? Barnes? Anyone else? This is not to defend the atrocious scoring, but no wonder the team cannot score.
To play devil's advocate, granted players tend to play fairly fluid on the pitch and wingers switch sides all the time, so maybe what I have described is not the main issue. However, I don't think that there is one 'main' issue, but rather a bunch of little things.
Speaking of little things, it is those little things that matter right? You rely on those players with heart and drive to aid the team when they are down. I have already noted Harvey as one of those guys, but who else, who plays regularly, can do that. While I am not sure what to do with Russell Teibert as he seems to be in limbo with this team, they certainly play differently with him on the pitch. He has an engine and he gives it his all every time out there. I used to say the same about Mezquida but the last few games I think he has become (justifiably) frustrated at being yanked in and out of the lineup for no apparent reason and seeming to sit on the bench at times simply because another player makes more than him and thus must play.
Going forward, I believe that the signing of David Edgar will prove to be important. I am not his biggest fan, although last night he impersonated a striker better than most on the current Whitecaps squad, but he is a vocal leader and someone that I believe will hold players accountable. If he has the support of Harvey and Ousted then I see them being able to correct that backline and get Waston back up to form. The key is that front-end. Bolanos is a good player, no question. Probably the best offensive player currently on the squad, but he is not a vocal leader type. The Caps need to find one or two of those this off-season to supplement Bolanos. Despite my dislike for the 4-2-3-1, and Laba saying he likes to play the position alone, I think he needs someone beside him to bark at him and keep him focused (I think Teibert actually does that well).
Anyway, I could go on and on, but I feel this is long enough. Now I want to hear from you.
Do you feel that the Whitecaps lack leadership? If not, who are the leaders? If so, what is the solution?