What has Carl Valentine learned so far this season?
Our Vancouver Whitecaps FC got off to a fast start in the 2014 Major League Soccer season, scoring lots of goals, playing exciting soccer, and picking up plenty of points.
Things have slowed down a little as of late, but the ‘Caps are still very much in the thick of things in the Western Conference playoff race.
So, what have we learned?
Changing the culture
From day one, Carl Robinson said he wanted his team to play an exciting, attacking brand. He wanted his team to play the same way on the road as they do at home and he wanted to give the team’s young talent a fair chance to prove themselves at this level.
So far, he’s ticked off all the boxes.
For the most part, the 2014 ‘Caps have been a lot of fun to watch. They’re now comfortable in possession and on their day have boatloads of speed and trickery up front that has cut through the opposition almost at ease.
It’s there for everybody to see that this team goes into pretty much every game, home or away, trying to win. And our young players are being given every chance to play and contribute.
With young players, however, there are always going to be ups and downs. When this team is clicking, they’re a joy to watch and hard to contain. There are going to be some games when that isn’t the case though, which might frustrate the coaches as much as it does the fans.
But often a coach has to let the players try to and play through these inconsistencies, which will hopefully pay off in the long run. It’s sometimes easy to forget that we have one of the youngest teams in the league.
Of course, adding a veteran player or two would help – as Robinson has mentioned. For now, though, he’s finding out what this young squad is all about right in front of our eyes.
Finding a balance
It’s something I’ve discussed before, but finding the right balance between exciting, attacking soccer and sound defensive play is something this team is still trying to figure out. Being too attacking-minded can leave you vulnerable at the back, and vice versa.
For instance, we have drawn four games 2-2 in addition to a 3-3 draw in Philadelphia. Scoring two or three goals in a game should be enough to get you three points. As we have seen, this team has shown it’s fully capable of shutting the door at the back – as we recently saw in a scoreless draw with Chicago Fire – as well as creating plenty of chances, as we saw in an exciting 2-2 draw with FC Dallas.
The tricky part is doing them both in the same game. That’s what brings me to the strikers. They know that when we’re on our game, there will be lots of good chances created. And in games where we aren’t firing on all cylinders, there will still be at least one or two good chances that could make a big difference in the game.
The life of a striker can be wonderful when the ball starts hitting the back of the net, and oh so lonely when the goals start to dry up. It’s all about confidence and getting on a run, as we’ve seen from both Erik Hurtado and Darren Mattocks this season.
Pieces of the puzzle
If you look at this squad and some of the keys pieces that are in place right now, it’s hard not to be encouraged by what lies ahead for our club.
David Ousted has been absolutely stellar between the posts. He’s commanding his box, starting attacks with his distribution, and has made a number of big saves at key times – he’s already won two MLS Save of the Week honours.
In midfield, it’s hard to find a better defensive midfield duo than Matias Laba and Gershon Koffie, who are building a fine partnership that just keeps on getting stronger and stronger. They really complement each other’s play and have made the ‘Caps midfield a position of strength.
And what can you say about the player in front of them: our new captain Pedro Morales. He’s one of the few players in the league that gets fans on the edge of their seats every time he touches the ball because you don’t know what he’s going to do. He can score, he can create, he can do it all.
In a nutshell, that’s what I’ve learned so far this season. I’m excited to know that this team is heading in the right direction and the best has yet to come.
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