The Vancouver Whitecaps finished up the first phase of their preseason this weekend, falling to Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo in the inaugural Pacific Rim Cup 1-0.
There were a lot of positive takeaways from this tournament, including Stefan Marinovic looking in mid-season form. We also saw the debut of newcomers Efrain Juarez, Kei Kamara, Anthony Blondell, and Doneil Henry. While Blondell did not impress (he does have a slight knock), Kamara did score in his debut and looked dangerous at numerous points. In addition, he seemed to find some positive chemistry with Alphonso Davies, so hopefully we see more of the youngster this season.
With the positives also come some concerns. The Whitecaps started their trip strong, defeating Hokkaido 4-0. However, they were only able to sneak a 1-0 victory away from Japanese 6th division club Iwaki FC on a 90th minute penalty kick, and were held in check by Hokkaido in the final, losing 1-0.
Tomosakata, on Twitter, shared some of the interesting comments from Iwaki FC head coach during the final between Hokkaido and Vancouver. He noted “Whitecaps players are very strong at 1vs1 duel. But, for example, DMs are not good at watching 2 men at the same time”. He also said “Players play hard individually but they don’t work as a unit so much. So, controlling the game wasn’t very difficult for Iwaki/Sapporo. But, dueling against likes of Waston/Parker was very tough and gave us an invaluable experience.”
"Players play hard individually but they don't work as a unit so much. So controlling the game wasn't very difficult for Iwaki/Sapporo. But dueling against likes of Waston/Parker was very tough and gave us an invaluable experiene." Fair view, I thought. #VWFC— サカタ＠カナダ (@tomosakata) February 11, 2018
The comments from the Iwaki FC head coach are quite damning, mainly because we all know it to be true. The comments were even supported in the two Pacific Rim matches, with Iwaki FC and Hokkaido making the Whitecaps look anemic offensively, after that first 4-0 match. Granted, these were preseason matches and we do not want to put too much weight into the outcomes, especially when there are complete lineup changes at the half and several of the players in these matches will not be with the club to start the season. However, is this evidence of a bigger problem? Don’t forget, the two Japanese clubs were doing the exact same thing with wholesale changes at the break.
There have rarely been any questions about the quality of players the Whitecaps have. However, they seem to falter as a unit. With the up-and-down play of Christian Bolanos last season, it is hard to remember that he was coming off of being named CONCACAF Player of the Year. Last season, we saw the Whitecaps win when they had little to no offense/possession, thanks to set-pieces. When they were unable to get those few set-piece opportunities in a match? It was a guaranteed loss. With Kamara’s recent comments, it seems the club is going to be leaning into that set-pieces reliance even more.
Look, I get it. You have some great crossers, effective set-piece takers, and a bunch of big bodies that can get their head/body on a ball whipped into the box. Tim Parker did it twice in the Caps preseason opener, while Kendall Waston had several important set-piece goals last season. This season, they have one of the best get-on-the-end-of-balls strikers in MLS in Kamara. However, is this something that the Caps should be so reliant on? More importantly, what does that say about the club?
Last season, it was not uncommon for the Caps to have opportunities in the first half, and fail to convert, only to come out in the second half and be run over because the opponent made adjustments and the Whitecaps did not.
We have been chatting with Robin Bristow (@rob_bristow_CA) on Twitter about the issue, and I thought it would be good to bring the question too all of you here on 86Forever.
Is it poor coaching, or because of the skill sets of the players the team has had in the past? You couldn't ask previous teams to play the Barca way because they couldn't. This looks like a decent group. Effy is all class. Ghazal better than Laba. We'll see.— Robin Bristow (@rob_bristow_CA) February 12, 2018
The Vancouver Whitecaps clearly have the talent to compete. Despite what everyone wants to say that they need to spend money and blah, blah, blah, the club has a strong group of players. I believe Marinovic is great in net, you have a strong centerback pairing, Ghazal is smart and strategic as a defensive midfielder, you have some creativity with Reyna and Davies, good set-piece delivery from Techera, potentially solid strikers in Montero (last season) and Kamara/Blondell, and there are solid bench pieces that can make a late impact. Are they among the best rosters in MLS? Probably not. Can they compete with those rosters and win? I honestly believe that with the talent they have, they can. However, it doesn’t come to be. Therefore, what is the issue?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments. Hopefully this doesn’t turn into just a Carl Robinson bashing.