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The Right Back Controversy

The 2017 Whitecaps right back controversy feels a lot better than the 2016 version but it’s an equally tough question.

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps FC at New England Revolution Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

In the 2016 season the Vancouver Whitecaps had their playoff hopes dashed in large part because of their weakness at right back. Fraser Aird showed a lot of talent going forward and certainly tried hard, but never looked completely comfortable on the defensive side of the ball. Jordan Smith was the worst player I have ever seen play for the Whitecaps since I became a season ticket holder in 2007. So it’s a welcome change of pace to be arguing about which right back should start between two options who are actually good.

Sheanon Williams came in from the struggling Houston Dynamo and brought stability to the ‘Caps backline that was missed greatly after the departure of Steven Beitashour. Unfortunately in June Williams was charged for an alleged assault and suspended. This gave rookie Jake Nerwinski a chance at the starting role. A few hiccups aside, Nerwinski filled in admirably. So now that the charges against Williams have been stayed and he’s made a couple of appearances, it begs the question: Who the first choice right back going forward?

Comparing Jake Nerwinski and Sheanon Williams

. Nerwinski Williams
. Nerwinski Williams
Starts 9 13
Minutes 809 1169
Tackles 1.3 2.8
Interceptions 1 2.2
Clearances 3.4 2.2
Dribble Past 1 0.2
Blocks 0.3 0.3
Assists 1 2
Key Passes 0.6 0.6
Dribbles 1.8 0.7
Crosses 0.8 0.6

From a statistical perspective it’s really no contest. Williams is better in just about every category. The one that stands out to me is how much less Williams is dribbled past. You could argue that more tackles, or more clearances could be down to other teams targeting one side but Williams is better in tackles and interceptions in addition to be being dribbled past less.

Interestingly they also provide about the same amount of attacking input. When I started writing this I assumed that Nerwinski would have offered more going forward based just on the eye test. However they have the same key passes (0.6) and I think if Nerwinski had played the same number of minutes they’d probably have the same number of assists. Nerwinski has slightly more crosses but it’s a pretty negligible difference.

Recent Form and Future Potential

One thing to note when looking at these statistics is that they cover the full season. Nerwinski has played 810 minutes compared to Williams’ 1170. At the beginning of the year Williams was one of the first names on the team sheet and was playing very well. In the last two weeks we’ve seen Williams play poorly against Colorado, gifting them a goal with a poor clearance and we’ve seen Nerwinski put in a man of the match performance against New England. Indeed Nerwinski seems to improve with every game. With Nerwinski’s improvement and making less then half of what Williams does it might make sense to give Nerwinski the reigns because of his potential to one day be better then Williams even if he isn’t necessarily better right now.

Team Cohesion

I like the way that Nerwinski links up with Cristian Techera. Although Techera is a winger he doesn’t really provide width. Techera’s move is to cut inside and hit a whipped ball into a dangerous area. It’s what he knows and it can be pretty effective. However it also means that having someone to provide width with those overlapping runs. I know the stats suggest that Nerwinski and Williams offer about the same going forward (with slightly more dribbles from Nerwinski) but it’s pretty well established in the field of psychology that facts don’t change peoples minds and thus I still feel that Nerwinski does that job better.

The Uncomfortable Stuff

Williams was accused of a serious crime. Now he wasn’t convicted and it’s a cornerstone of a free society that people are innocent until proven guilty but we all know how these things tend to go. With so little information it’s hard to establish exactly what happened. In a way though, it’s easier to feel good about Nerwinski’s successes then it is to feel good about Williams’ after the incident. I believe firmly in giving people second chances but the only comment on the incident has been a strange apology from Williams where he seems to be more concerned about causing a distraction then what he did (whatever that might have been as, again, we don’t know specifically what it was). Some people don’t care about this sort of thing, arguing as long as a player hasn’t be convicted he should be played if he’s the best player available. Others can find it difficult to support a player who may have committed something sickening (and to be clear “may have” is an important part of that sentence as Williams has not been convicted of anything). I don’t have a strong stance on this issue and I don’t pass judgement on either of those sides. I think both of those stances are perfectly defensible positions.

Have Your Say

Now that we’ve dealt with the more difficult stuff let’s do something fun. A poll! As always leave a comment to explain your answer if you feel so inclined.


Who should be the first choice right back for the Vancouver Whitecaps?

This poll is closed

  • 69%
    (90 votes)
  • 30%
    (40 votes)
130 votes total Vote Now


Nerwinski per Match

. Pass Success Aerials Tackles Interceptions Clearances Blocked Shots Accurate Crosses Key Passes
. Pass Success Aerials Tackles Interceptions Clearances Blocked Shots Accurate Crosses Key Passes
San Jose 68.8 1 1 0 3 1 0 of 0 0
Salt Lake 61.3 0 2 0 3 1 1 of 8 1
Dallas 55.6 1 1 1 3 0 0 of 0 0
Minnesota 42.9 0 1 1 5 0 0 of 4 0
Chicago 76 2 1 3 3 0 0 of3 0
NYCFC 85.3 1 2 2 3 0 1 of 2 1
LA 83.7 3 2 0 2 0 2 of 3 2
Portland 77.4 3 1 1 4 1 0 of 2 0
New England 77.6 3 1 1 5 0 3 of 5 1