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The Attack Of The Vancouver Whitecaps: An Analysis

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at Vancouver Whitecaps Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

Author’s Note: I wrote this before Carl Robinson and his staff were fired. Perhaps the analysis I’ve done is a little less relevant now but I still think there’s some stuff that’s worth looking at. A few stats will now be out-of-date but the general trends still hold true.

Quite a bit has been made of the Vancouver Whitecaps’ attack this season. It’s often floated that the Whitecaps’ new focus on attacking play is the reason for their defensive frailty. We’ve already seen that in terms of underlying numbers the team’s defense is hardly different from last year’s. However there is no denying that they have scored more goals. So, let’s examine what it is they are doing right and what aspects of the attack have been effective.

Things That Are Going Well:

Counter Attack: The Whitecaps lead the league in goals scored on the counter with nine. They are second in the league in shots generated off counter attacks, behind only Atlanta United. The counter attack is working about as well as one could reasonably ask for.

Shot Location: The Whitecaps are fourth in the league in shots inside the six-yard box, despite being seventh from the bottom in terms of total shots. They are thus, unsurprisingly, in a three way tie for the highest percentage of shots that come inside the six yard box. This is very good because it means that when the Whitecaps generate shots they are from positions where one would expect them to score more often than not.

Dribbling: The Whitecaps are second in the league in dribbles, thanks in large part to Alphonso Davies, and are also the second least dispossessed team in the league. This means that despite their famously low possession numbers the players aren’t being dispossessed on the dribble or tackled very often. Then what is the culprit for so little possession? Fear not, I’m sure we’ll come to that later.

Things That Aren’t Going Well:

Crossing: The Whitecaps like to cross. In fact they cross more than anyone else. The Whitecaps put in an average of 20 crosses per game, for a total of 560 crosses into the box for the season. They specifically went out and got Kei Kamara, a striker known for scoring goals with his head off crosses. How many goals, then, has crossing generated in league play for the Whitecaps? Ten. This means that their crosses have a success rate of about 1.7%. Now, I don’t know about you but if I was trying to accomplish something and my method only had a 1.7% rate of success I’d probably try to find a new method. Now there are teams that cross a lot that do well, Atlanta United for example, and teams who don’t cross very much and do poorly, Chicago Fire for example, so it’s not a perfect predictor of success, but you can’t help but feel the team would be well served to tone it down just a bit.

Volume: The biggest problem the Whitecaps’ attack has is volume. They simply don’t create enough shots to move from being pretty good to being a truly great attacking team. The Whitecaps are seventh from the bottom in total shots. If they were able to produce the same number of shots as the top team (SKC) and their shooting percentage held they’d have 62 goals and be comfortably the top scoring team in the league. Despite having a lot of shots in the six yard box, when it comes to shots inside the 18 yard box the Whitecaps drop dramatically. This suggests to me that when the Whitecaps have the ball, despite relying to much on crosses, they are doing good things. The problem is they barley have the ball. The Whitecaps are dead last in the league not only in terms of possession but also simply in terms of total passes completed. This is partly down to relying so much on the dribble to move the ball up the field but a big part of it is pumping so many low percentage balls into the box. This has to be shortcoming #1 for the Whitecaps. Their lack of ability to keep possession of the ball is killing them on offence and defense.