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The Struggle Bug

Set pieces and crosses have been the bread and butter of Cristian Techera, but so far he’s failed to deliver with quality in 2018.

MLS: Montreal Impact at Vancouver Whitecaps Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

After a bright start to the 2018 campaign, where he picked up an assist and looked very lively running at the Montreal Impact back line, Cristian Techera found himself on the outside looking in as the ‘Caps traveled to Houston and Atlanta respectively. Last week, he finally made it back into the Starting XI, but he struggled with his final ball.

On the road in Houston, the thinking was that keeping tabs on DaMarcus Beasley was more important than the attacking presence Techera provides. The following week in Atlanta, the team setup appeared to be about cancelling out the opposition. In both situations we saw Carl Robinson opt to select players that track back on defense more than Techera, selecting Felipe on the right against Houston and Jordon Mutch in Atlanta.

As the strategy away from home continues to be sit back, defend, and hit the opposition on the counter, that essentially means El Bicho’s role in the side is going to be limited to matches at BC Place. While the away tactics have proved successful, and long may it continue, it does mean that getting regular games is going to be a challenge for Techera.

Now, obviously the centre of the park is an area that the ‘Caps are very deep. There’s a lot of competition and a wide variety of ways to configure the midfield, especially with the play of Russell Teibert, and Aly Ghazal coming back to full fitness. Add to that the additions of the aforementioned Felipe and Mutch, Efrain Juarez, Yordy Reyna, Nico Mezquida and the forgotten David Norman Jr. and you have a veritable log jam for places.

Competition is good but keeping this squad sharp is a challenge, and getting into games regularly is what each of these players are going to need over the course of the season.

Which brings us to the matches that Techera is playing. There are positives, but there is a glaring hole in his game right now and it’s something he’s made his name in - his crosses and set piece delivery.

As I just said, he has had positives. He made aggressive runs against LA Galaxy and Montreal taking on his man, and asking questions of the opposing defense. He’s shown the same flair on the ball he’s always had, and he’s not afraid to take on anyone off the dribble (though he only completed two dribbles against LA), or even in an aerial battle. Say what you will about playing 45-yard diagonal balls to a man who stands 5’2”, but the commitment is there.

The problem though is that this is a team that expects to thrive from set pieces in 2018. After all, of the 50 goals the Vancouver Whitecaps scored last season, 18 of those came from set-pieces. That’s a really high percentage, and obviously you play to your strengths. Over the off-season, Robbo brought in some players that were directly suited towards dead ball goals and crossing goals; namely Kei Kamara and Anthony Blondell. During preseason there was so much confidence in how the team would fair from set-pieces that Kei Kamara came out saying that the Whitecaps were “going to be the most dangerous team in the league on set plays.”

With hindsight, and a few transactions, the landscape has changed slightly. After all Kamara was saying this right after Tim Parker had bagged a pair of goals from set pieces in preseason. Even with Parker’s departure though, along with big man Tony Tchani, Vancouver is still one of the tallest teams in the league and should still be able to win plenty of aerial balls (#HeightXI). Or at least that’s what you would think. While it has only been four matches, the Caps have yet to score from a dead ball.

Which comes to the problem again. The delivery.

Carl Robinson said after the match on Saturday, “I think the wide players, we know they can be electric at times, I think they hit the first man too many times.” Which is an understatement really. Per the ‘Caps attempted 33 crosses throughout the match against LA Galaxy, and of those only 6 of them found a teammate. Again here, Techera in particular was culpable as he attempted 12 total crosses (including corners and set pieces) but only 2 of those found a teammate.

While it’s been acknowledged that Vancouver played poorly, that’s 10 wasted possessions alone. Add to that the two shots he attempted, which failed to find the net, and it really does not make for good reading. Of the ‘Caps 12 shots, and 33 crosses, Techera alone accounted for more than 25% of the opportunities spurned throughout the game.

These numbers of course include the open play opportunities and the dead balls. Now let’s be clear, when I started writing this I had to think long and hard about the crosses that were completed, and even after doing so I couldn’t think of one that Techera did complete. I’m literally going with the word of

What I do remember quite vividly is that of Techera’s five corners, not one found another Whitecap. Add on a free kick which missed the net from a great position where you should really be working the keeper, and another two set pieces which lead to nothing and you have a very disappointing display from a player that’s supposed to be a free kick specialist.

So what’s going on? Is it a matter of rust? If you look back at the opener against Montreal, Techera completed 3 of 4 crosses. However, he struggled with his shot, only finding the target on one occasion, despite taking on four attempts. That’s much more positive, but it’s still not the clinical delivery that we’ve come to expect from the Uruguayan.

What are your thoughts? Is it too early to read into it, or is it time that Robbo looks at his depth and decides that Techera’s contributions don’t hold enough merit to continue selecting him?