Well, that was an interesting match wasn’t it. It is hard to come up with accurate assessments of performance after that match, but we will attempt to give out a few grades. Usually, I provide a grade for each Whitecaps player, but the game conditions make that more difficult, so I will focus on a few key players. For reference, a C+ is an average grade.
Jake Nerwinski (B+): Like has been the case with previous right backs, Jake Nerwinski’s first match got off to a poor start, however, as he has played more, he has looked better. He still had some problems against Real Salt Lake, and might have been called for ANOTHER penalty kick, but he looked good going forward and was able to track back when needed. I think he has some potential as an attacking right back who will maintain defensive responsibility. I feel it is a big compliment to say that he could be Jordan Harvey like in the future. Nothing flashy, but dependable and offensively supportive.
David Ousted (B+): Good match, like usual. Some wonderful saves. Listening to the opposing team’s broadcast on MLS Live, the same comments I hear so often came across yet again. “If not for Ousted, the score would be a lot worse” and “Usually, when a keeper gives up 3 goals he had a bad night, but Ousted was the best player on the Whitecaps this evening” I am not sure if that is a compliment to Ousted or an indictment on the players in front of Ousted. Regardless, Ousted (along with Nerwinski) were the best performers for the Caps on this Winter night. What? You say it was Spring? Hmm....
Christian Dean (F): YIKES!!!! I have been a vocal fan of Dean over the past two seasons. I have written several pieces about him, including one about how he would fit nicely into a 3-back formation. After a great first match of the season, I was optimistic that this would be his breakout year. However, a mistimed jump and collision in San Jose led to a red card for David Ousted and some time on the bench. That is fine, every player can make mistakes. He made his return at Rio Tinto Stadium. Granted, not under the best conditions. I was excited to see what he could do in a 3-back formation and to show that San Jose was just a blip. Wow, was I wrong! I don’t know that I have seen a worse defensive performance by a Vancouver Whitecaps player since Greg Klazura got ran-over by Seattle. Despite being a big fan of Dean, I honestly cannot find a single positive to say about his performance, except that it ended early!
Russell Tiebert (D): I was excited to see what would happen with Teibert playing more forward. He has been stuck in as a defensive midfielder for the past few seasons and that has led to a stalling of his growth. Remember when he was a leading assist man with the Caps? No? that is because he has been buried for so long. Granted, the Whitecaps were scrambling for most of the match so it is hard to judge performances, but what was most disappointing about Teibert is many times I had to remind myself that Teibert was even in the match. I wanted to give him an incomplete here because I barely saw him. It was surely a forgettable performance.
Carl Robinson (B+): I wanted to comment on Robinson here as he gets a lot of, deserved, criticism of late. However, I felt he did well for the most part in this match. I liked that he gave the 3-back formation a try. It was a ‘throw-away’ match, so it was good to see what the team had. Interesting note, the ThunderCaps played a 3-back formation earlier in the day too. Robinson also provided some support to the new formation by playing several defensively-minded players ahead of the defense. One could argue that is why there was little going forward, but I saw it as Robinson trying something new and making sure that there was some cover should things go bad. He could not have predicted how bad it would go; coupled with the blizzard (more on that later).
I also feel he did fairly well with his substitutions. Robbo did not wait until too late to make the switch. Yes, some were calling for an abandonment of the 3-back formation at half-time, but I understand letting it play out a bit after the break. Have a chat at half-time and see if you can right the ship. It was clear that wasn’t happening, so he made two substitutions before the 60 minute mark. The uncommon early substitution showed that he wanted to see if they could figure things out but was quick to pull the plug.
The only critique I had of Robinson was his unwillingness to play Kyle Greig. Fredy Montero is just up to game speed/fitness and while I have no doubts he wanted to play and was fine (like defenders, Montero is not a big runner, so I am sure his energy is fine), I feel that this was a good opportunity for Greig. With the 3-back formation, I get wanting the veteran as there would probably be few opportunities, so no fault there. But as the match progressed, it seemed like a good opportunity to put in a big body. The game became less about finesse (Montero’s game) and more about direct play (Greig’s game). Instead, Jacobson came in for Laba. Weird.
3-5-2 (F): I have been an advocate of playing this formation and was excited to see it come out. Yeah….that was brutal. We could the failure all on Dean, but I don’t feel that was the only problem. I would like to see it again at some point as I don’t feel this match was a proper assessment of its ability. De Jong is a natural left wingback while Nerwinski looked good on the other side. Bolanos is used to playing with 3 at the back, so I would like to see it with him in there too. I think, for now, Dean is not cut out for it, which is surprising as I felt his combination of speed and size made him ideal for the formation. I am curious what Parker/Edgar/Waston would look like. Anyway, a conversation for another day (maybe I will write an article on it tomorrow).
The Weather (A+): Finally, what can you say about that weather. Kuddos! That was impressive. I began the match laughing at the chaos play by the Whitecaps defense and the mini heart attack every few minutes that companied that play. In the second half, the laughing was more about how ridiculous the playing conditions were. Seeing someone kick a ball and a play waiting for it, only to see the ball roll and then…just..stop! Was great!
I didn’t cover everyone, so let us know what you thought of some of the other performances. How was Tony Tchani in his first start? What about Marcel de Jong in a wingback position? Did you like the two-striker formation with Nicolas Mezquida and Fredy Montero? I have my thoughts, but I will see what all of you focus on first.