As we head off to the Gold Cup break, the Vancouver Whitecaps are sitting (perhaps surprisingly) in 6th place, with the potential to rise higher with at least a game in hand on all of their Western Conference foes. Several of the players returning from long-term injuries--new men Yordy Reyna and Bernie Ibini and old friends Christian Bolanos and Nicolas Mezquida--could not be returning at better times.
But this means that the Carl Robinson could be presented with some tough choices after the international period ends. With key matches against FC Dallas and Portland Timbers on the horizon, will he stand by the 4-1-4-1 formation that he has settled on? This type of tactical decisiveness has been rare for Robbo in the past and, despite some naysayers about the role of Tony Tchani and Andrew Jacobson, has been fairly successful. It has certainly been better than the game of tactical roulette that he has played in the past.
But the problem, at least from where I sit, is that neither Ibini nor Reyna slot in particularly well to that formation. It is possible that Robbo will choose to use Bernie Ibini as a super sub, having him spell Fredy Montero late in matches and using the Aussie’s pace and energy to frustrate tired defenses (a la Alphonso Davies). And we have not seen Yordy Reyna play in a non-substitute role, meaning that we don’t know where Robbo would like to play him most. In both matches thus far, the Peruvian international has subbed in for Brek Shea, meaning that Reyna could play out on the wing if called upon.
However, I would like to see his flair and passing slot in behind Montero. That formation would look something like this (yes I know the numbers and colors are wrong):
Putting Reyna here would achieve several objectives. It would give the Caps a creative spark in the central part of the park (something neither Tchani, Jacobsen or Laba provide). It would also perhaps encourage Montero to get further forward, something which he has not done in recent matches and may have contributed to his goal drought. Frankly, when given lots of space Montero enjoys using it and fancies himself as a creative player which he (in general) is not. You could also conceivably swap out someone like Mezquida for Reyna in this scenario.
The problem with this formation? It creates issues in central midfield. While Robbo went with essentially a 4-4-2 Wednesday against NYCFC, with Montero and Shea up top, this was only because Matias Laba was serving a one-match ban. With Laba back, it stands to reason that he will slot into his usual role behind Jacobson and Tchani. And while both of those players have drawn ire from some segments of the fanbase, I feel as though they have been vital in sealing off the middle of the field and forcing teams to play out wide. While some notable exceptions exist (see: last weekend), I see both Tchani and Jacobson as effective in many regards and a not-insignificant piece of why the defense has been better this season. In the formation proposed above there is also the matter of leaving either Brek Shea or Bola on the bench.
There also is the matter of Bernie Ibini. I don’t know that I’ve seen enough to #FeeltheBern and consider Ibini as a first choice player. But squad rotation is a thing and there will be times when he starts. I see Ibini as a different player than Montero--less of an out-and-out striker and one able to drop back a bit more. For similar reasons as mentioned above, I would be curious to see how this formation looks:
Again, this formation is sort of a killing-time-at-the-office-on-a slow-news-day fantasy, as it ignores things like who to play in central midfield, injuries, suspensions, transfers in, transfers out and the question of where Brek Shea’s best position actually is (a question as deep and existential as any on earth). But the fact of the matter is we have a lot more options than we did earlier in the month, when the squad was feeling the hurt in terms of depth. This doesn’t even begin to address the question of where to slot in Davies, who got a cameo in central midfield last month (an idea which I’m not opposed to).
All in all, the Caps coaching brass will have a lot to ponder over the international break. You’ve heard my armchair coaching analysis--tell us how you would like to see the Caps line-up in the comments below.