Anyone that has been watching the Vancouver Whitecaps this year has to be wondering, “Why now?” The Caps have been one of the most potent teams all MLS season, scoring 39 goals in league play and 46 goals through all competitions this season.
In the last 6 games the Whitecaps have experienced a scoring drought, only netting an average of 1 goal per game. Unfortunately for the results column, they have allowed an average of 1.5 per game and have a record of 1 win, 2 draws and 3 losses.
Prior to August, the Whitecaps scored an average of 1.6 goals per game and at least 5 goals per month. The team peaked in June where they scored 12 times in 5 games (2.4 goals per game). But in August, the goal well dried up and the team could only muster 3 goals in 4 matches and 2 of them came in the only win of the month for the club.
Camilo, whom had the league lead in goals, is in the midst of a 4 game goalless drought and has netted only 1 in the last 7 games. Kenny Miller has also gone without a goal for 4 games and only 1 goal in the last 9 games. Darren Mattocks and Kekuta Manneh have combined for a meek total of 2 goals in the last 11 games.
Where did this sudden drop in finish come from? Is it the formation? Is it the plan of attack? What about fatigue, injuries, complacency or is it simply the competition?
I have narrowed it down with the following rationale. The team hasn’t had a lot of turnover that would mess with the chemistry, so unless there is something happening quietly behind closed doors, that’s not it. They haven’t been injury free but the majority of the banged up players have had the luxury of time to heal because of the strong position in the standings allowed it. The same can be said about fatigue, as Martin Rennie has been able to rest players this season when required, so those excuses are gone.
The formation, well this can be debated and will be in another article but in the grand scheme of things the formation is just a visual guideline for players and fans to reference. Once the game is flowing, the reads made by players during play, such as the timing of their runs, decision on passes, player overlaps and other such choices distort the formation to the style of game being played.
This brings me to the three reasons, I believe the Whitecaps are failing to score lately: Plan of Attack, Complacency and Competition
Plan of Attack:
Over the last 4 games Vancouver has become predictable. Everything against LA Galaxy on August 24th was down the right side for the entire first half. If the ball didn’t get put outside and touched by Teibert, the advancement of the attack was stalled and once that repeated approach became evident, every attack stalled. It wasn’t until the second half that the team even showed attempts to attack down the left flank.
Conversely, against the San Jose Earthquakes, and not surprisingly the Whitecaps last victory, they spread the ball around well. They changed their point of attack by using the width of the field and they pressed the ball forward through an effective mix of long balls and short quick give and goes to change the pace and create space for a number of different players joining the attack.
In the most recent games against Chivas USA and Dallas FC, Vancouver struggled with consistency in their attack and to control the ball. The tactical approach to the game seemed to be lost to a bunch of random acts of insight, of which the players didn’t appear to be on the same page. The Whitecaps were without Nigel Reo-Coker being in the middle of the park for both of those games and I believe that has something to do with the lack of tactical grace shown on the pitch. His experience may not be always viewed by the fans through excellent play but his leadership on the field that he dictates with the adjustments to the pace of the game, his underappreciated overall skill set and the educated decisions he makes and influences while at the center of the formation have a stabilizing effect on the entire team.
This one is troublingly to Whitecaps fans. This team has been known as hard working group that plays every game with an immense effort and regardless of outcome there are very few games that the fans walk away from feeling the team didn’t put their best foot forward. Most recently I can’t say that is the case and it appears that the players on the pitch are comfortable in their position as a starter. Brad Knighton played his best games of the season once the Whitecaps signed David Ousted but since Ousted earned the starting job his performances have slowly decreased and many fans I have spoken with are under impressed with his play as of late. This is only one example, and it’s an easy one as goals against are very easy for fans to critic, however, the overall efforts of those in front of the keeper are what is troubling to me. The sense of urgency that the players have when they feel the need to earn their spot every game isn’t as evident as it was early in the year. It is now or never for the leaders of this team to lead by example and overcome the current adversity and stagnant play facing the team.
The early season schedule appears to have been the beneficial part of the season for the Whitecaps. They have very little travel left; in fact the lone trip to Montreal is the only Eastern matchup that remains on the schedule. This means the fatigue of travel is not a viable excuse for lackluster performances, however, the competition is going to be tough as all remaining 7 games are against teams that are currently in a playoff position.
With the tight standings, it is instrumental that Vancouver finds their scoring touch again and wins at least 4 of their last 7 to have a chance at the playoffs this season. It is time for the goal scorers of this team to step up and deliver down the stretch as this is the time of year where the focus on star players increases and the demands for them to perform intensifies.