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I Feel Like I’m Taking Crazy Pills | Thoughts on the Midfield of the Vancouver Whitecaps

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MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps FC at New England Revolution Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve had a few article ideas about individual Vancouver Whitecaps midfielders over the past couple weeks but none of them were really long enough to justify an article by themselves. So I’ve smashed them all together into one rage fuelled anthology.

In-Beom Hwang:

There is a creeping sense among Whitecaps fans that In-Beom Hwang has been a disappointment. Russel Berrisford has said in a number of his articles that Hwang offers nothing going forward. Michael McColl said on the most recent AFTN podcast that he feels Hwang has not delivered as advertised. Random dudes on Reddit and Facebook have also said that he’s a waste of money (realistically I'm only one or two levels of posting above them so my air of superiority is probably unearned). You know what? I can’t say I'm totally unsympathetic to this point of view. A goal and an assist from the marquee signing isn’t a great return. I can see why someone would feel this way.

In response to this, head coach Marc Dos Santos would probably remind everyone, as he has in the past, that Hwang is getting used to living in a new country, hasn’t had a proper rest in quite some time, and that it’s unfair to expect him to be Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Again, these all seem like reasonable points in a vacuum. But to all these fine gentlemen I pose a simple question

Are you out of your damned minds!?

As you can see in the above chart, Hwang leads the Vancouver Whitecaps in key passes. Not only does he lead the team but he does it by an almost 2-1 margin. “Oh but Caleb,” you say pedantically, “Key passes are a flawed stat. He could have gotten a lot of these by making short passes to a player who shot it 40 yards over the bar.” Ok, sure, maybe. But consider this: The other guys on the team can’t even do that!

If you look at Hwang’s underlying data you can see that he’s an above average MLS midfielder but probably not quite at un-TAMable DP level.

So is it ok to be a little disappointed with Hwang? Sure, I suppose so. But nobody else is even coming close to providing what he provides. Just for the sake of comparison, here are Felipe and Yordy Reyna.

So you can be disappointed in Hwang if you like, that’s fine. But if you are then you should be absolutely livid that he’s by far the best player on the team not named Ali Adnan.

As for Marc Dos Santos saying he shouldn’t be expected to be Zlatan. Ok, fine, but you can’t say that you don’t want to put pressure on a player when he’s leading your team in chance creation by a 2-1 margin. Whether it was done deliberately or not, whether it’s entirely your fault or not, the way your team is constructed relies on Hwang being a Zlatan level player. He’s the only player with any kind of ability in the middle of the park. If he’s not at his best then the ball isn’t getting moved forward, or at least even less than it does normally. So for god’s sake, get that man some help.

Andy Rose

Andy Rose is really bad. Rose is normally a defensive midfielder, but in 1136 minutes he has made eight tackles. Eight! To put that in perspective Efrain Juarez, who was so bad they banned him from the training facility and bought out his contract, made three times that many in almost exactly the same amount of minutes. Rose has also made 12 interceptions (almost enough for one per appearance but not quite). To put that into perspective, Nicolas Mezquida (an attacking midfielder in a system that famously did not press) made 13 interceptions in fewer minutes. When Rose is in attack he does very little, having made three key passes in 2019. This would sandwich him between Brian Rowe and Jose Aja on the 2018 team.

Essentially Rose does nothing in either attack or defence when he’s on the field. Yet he captained the team as the ‘Caps fell 4-0 to the New England Revolution. This is concerning. Because it would seem that Rose’s poor play is being rewarded with increased playing time and responsibility. Now I understand that players who are playing well and are deserving of playing time and responsibility are thin on the ground at the moment, but Rose is a player who should be phased out for an academy grad, not captaining the team. Chance Carter or Damiano Pecile are probably not ready for MLS but if you put them out there for 1000 minutes I'm sure they could manage to make eight tackles.

The other concerning aspect of Rose playing so much is that it was completely predictable that hewas going to be this bad. To quote from the americansocceranalysis.com Whitecaps season preview;

“Andy Rose is an English professional player who spent the past season in Scottish Premier League. His most similar match is Kofi Opare. Looking at the data, they do nothing well except for the aerial challenge: both players go for the headers an insane amount of times at a decent success rate.”

On the one hand we have this high minded rhetoric about a high pressing possession based system and on the other hand a huge amount of responsibility is being put on a midfielder who’s closest comparison is the worst centre back on the Colorado Rapids. I am willing to allow some leeway for mistakes, since the squad was assembled in such a short period of time, but almost anyone would have been a better choice than Rose. The fact that the Whitecaps signed him, continue to give him playing time, and even have him captaining the team from time to time suggests to me that there are serious problems with how the Whitecaps as a whole are evaluating talent.

Russel Teibert:

Normally Teibert is unfairly maligned as someone who shouldn’t be in MLS. This season that maligning is warranted. Simply put, he has been bad. Since being converted to a centre midfielder, Teibert has been a guy who isn’t particularly dynamic but works hard and can be relied on to not screw things up. But his 2019 has been awful. His tackles and interceptions per 90 minutes have halved from 2018. His attacking play continues to be predictably bad. But despite that, there is a not unreasonable argument he is the second best #8 on the Whitecaps at the moment. I don’t have much analysis for this situation other than to say that’s pretty bad.

Epilogue

You can’t win with one good #8 in a system that requires two. Changes obviously need to be made but in the meantime I would like to see what Michael Baldisimo and Simon Colyn can do. Are they ready? Perhaps. Perhaps not. But the bar they have to clear to be an improvement over what the Whitecaps are running out at the moment is so incredibly low that I suspect they could manage it.