After five matches, the new look Vancouver Whitecaps under head coach Martin Rennie seem to be generating more questions than answers.
Going into Saturday’s game against the San Jose Earthquakes, the story was all about Vancouver’s impenetrable defense. Ninety minutes later, the 'Caps had set a new MLS record for shutout minutes to start a season at 427, and inexplicably lost 3-1 thanks to three rapid-fire goals in ten minutes, two of which came via the boot of Chris Wondolowski.
That ten-minute meltdown changes perception – the undefeated team that couldn’t be scored on is now the team that hasn’t won in three matches, and only has one goal in those games.
For a team loaded with plenty of forwards, this sort of defence-first approach, whether deliberate or incidental, wasn’t expected by many observers.
The big question in preseason seemed to be: where is Rennie going to play all of these forwards? The Scotsman repeatedly told media then that a team could never have enough forwards due to the grind of the long MLS season.
Between injuries, suspensions and the bizarre kitchen accident suffered by Darren Mattocks in which the Jamaican suffered burns warranting a stay in hospital, Rennie’s decision to keep a hold of a large attacking group seems to be a wise one.
But where are the goals going to come from? Eric Hassli showed glimpses of his quality against San Jose and seemed to link up with Sebastien Le Toux well enough, combining impressively for Saturday’s opening goal, but he really doesn’t look like the player that took Major League Soccer by storm in 2011.
The big Frenchman is carrying a knock to his ankle which kept him out of the match against the Philadelphia Union, which is worth considering, but if his goalless drought continues it’s going to be hard to justify continuing his selection. It’s incredible to think that the at-times irrepressible Hassli has failed to score in his last 14 competitive appearances for the club.
Still, there were signs of promise. Six shots attempted, two of which hit the target, and most importantly the assist for Le Toux’s goal.
Another player the Whitecaps will hope gets going soon is last season’s club Player of the Year, Camilo. The Brazilian attacker scored in the team’s 2-0 win to open the season against the Montreal Impact but hasn’t shown much apart from that as of yet, often running into dead ends and failing to link up with his teammates. It's unclear whether it’s a lack of faith in his teammates or simply a chemistry issue, but the player who looked so deadly in 2011 looks isolated in the early stages of this campaign.
What’s the solution to get these players going? Well, it may be as simple as giving them time to adapt to Rennie’s new system and the additions to the team.
Rennie says he believes the team is creating enough opportunities, despite the lack of production, but one thing is for sure – four goals in five games isn’t good enough and the Whitecaps need to get their big offensive guns to start scoring goals – or find someone who will.