Vancouver sports fans have a lot on their plate right now. Now, we all love soccer, but how distracted from a regular season match would we be if one of our sports teams was in the Finals of another sport? Probably a bit. That isn't the only issue facing Vancouver Whitecaps supporters. The Canadian National Team is competing in the Gold Cup, and despite the 2-nil loss the the United States should still advance from the Group Stage, but they have a match down in Tampa and some of their supporters and Whitecaps supporters crossover. Ben Massey over at EightySixForever provided three answers in the environment of supporting club, country and hating on the Vancouver Canucks.
SaH: With two other MLS head coaches on staff was the Teitur firing really inevitable? If so, why hire him in the first place, wasn't the plan to grow slowly?
86Forever: We're learning that what the Whitecaps say the plan is and what the plan actually is can be two different things. The plan was to grow slowly, bring in good young players who can contribute for the long haul. Then again, if you listen to Bob Lenarduzzi and the like, the plan was to win immediately and make a rapid splash in Major League Soccer. The team never had that much faith in Teitur Thordarson: they gave him a one-year contract with two club options, for heaven's sake, and brought in both Tom Soehn and Denis Hamlett to look over his shoulders. You don't splash a guy after a dozen MLS games if you think he's basically a good coach.
It looks more and more like the left hand of the Whitecaps simply doesn't know what the right hand was doing. The front office hired Thordarson because he's coached three successful years in Vancouver and won us a championship, but they never really believed in him so we got the worst of both worlds. With the exception of a few high-profile acquisitions, the Whitecaps mostly focused on building slowly, bringing in players under thirty years old, and counting on success in a year or two. Yet, with ticket sales in Vancouver soft (except for marquee matches scalpers are getting rid of their tickets for less than face value) thanks to high season ticket prices and poor promotion, the team is terrified there'll be an attendance catastrophe in Year Two unless there's a quick fix. So they panic, and they lurch from ill-considered decision to ill-considered decision, and all in all do the best Toronto FC impression they can manage.
SaH: Eric Hassli is able to produce offensively when he's on the pitch, but it seems an early reputation is hurting his ability to stay there. How can the team adapt in order to get him to play 25+ games this year?
86Forever: It's easy for a Vancouver Whitecaps fan to say it, but Eric Hassli is the victim of his own reputation as much as anything. He is an aggressive player and I'd even say a dirty one. However, he's ramped back his aggression in the past month to the point where it's actually hurt him as a striker: he's afraid to even engage defenders physically right now because if the defender trips over his own feet he thinks he'll get booked.
Luckily, reputation tends to correct itself with time. Hassli needs to reign in the worst of his excesses (Tom Soehn should fine him every time he slide tackles unless it's literally to save a goal) but Vancouver also needs to realize that he's going to get cards and accept it. He's a physical forward who's big and skilled but whose ability to get into dangerous areas to no small extent relies on taking liberties with defenders. That's just the way he plays and trying to take that out of his game is suicide. If Hassli gets sent off every three games but scores goals in two of them, that's better than Hassli staying on the pitch and only scoring once every four outings. The coaching staff must work with him (the offense that get him sent off against Chivas didn't earn a red card, but it was reckless and you can see why a referee would show one), but they must do so carefully.
SaH: Can you just get all free form on the Canadian Soccer Jesus and why you love him?
86: Russell Teibert, or as I prefer to call him Canadian Soccer Jesus, is one of the three quickest Vancouver Whitecaps in a straight line. Moving laterally with the ball at his feet he's rivaled only by Camilo. Unlike Camilo, Teibert is smart: he doesn't play his way into trouble and, if anything, errs on the side of conservatism. His defensive play is poor but this season he's been putting the effort in and you can already see the improvement: he's a better defensive winger than Shea Salinas right now. He's the best crosser on the team and yes I'm aware of Alain Rochat. He's a natural left-footer with great playmaking instincts. He needs to learn to shoot more but when he does the shots are worth it. You can see the rawness in him with some of his decision making or in a few of his one-on-one battles against veteran defenders, yet he comes out on top more often than not. When Russell Teibert is on the field, you know. You sit a little straighter in your chair. Players all around him suddenly look a bit more effective. 30-year-old central defenders who have made a career marking the stars of MLS find themselves cheating a little to the right to try and keep Teibert under control.
If you consider him in every category of the game... shooting, passing, running, ball-handling... he's probably the Whitecaps most all-round gifted offensive player.
And he's eighteen years old. Eighteen! He can't buy a beer at Qwest Field until December 2013! When I watched Teibert in the USL PDL as a sixteen and seventeen-year-old, I fell in love with his obvious superior ability and athleticism but was a bit considered: he was small, he was injured sometimes, he was a bit too selfish. Yet he's worked the bad habits out of his game and has managed to avoid aggravating any of the lower body issues that made last year such a bust: he had his toe stepped on by a Montreal Impact player but that's just bad luck. I can't believe this kid. He's brilliant on the field, he has the right attitude, and he's just getting better. I'd buy season tickets to any team Russell Teibert played on.