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Jack: Whitecaps' Robinson puts faith in youth and in himself

Kristian Jack
4/14/2014 10:12:41 PM
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As a football manager you can easily be distracted by what the league table tells you.

Take Vancouver Whitecaps boss Carl Robinson, for example.

The young manager has now taken charge of a grand total of six professional matches as the boss of a club side.

Many men in his position wouldn't be sleeping as easily lately after watching his team suffer back-to-back defeats in the past two weeks, after previously starting his career on a four match unbeaten run.

However, it is clear Robinson is not concerned about how results have turned against him lately.

If he was, his starting XI in Los Angeles on Saturday would have been very different.

For a first year manager, who just seven days earlier had suffered his first loss to Colorado, it would have been the easy thing to do to insert veterans Nigel Reo Coker and Kenny Miller into the starting XI against the superpower Galaxy.

Except, in the days before the game, Robinson took a look at all of the matches the Whitecaps had played against LA in their stadium.

Four games. Four losses. One goal scored. Ten goals conceded.

Battered. Bullied. Humbled. With the veterans all playing.

Robinson decided to go against an unflattering history and opted for the long-term risk card from the dealer rather than taking the safe one.

LA Galaxy is, themselves, quietly going about a transition of their own as they work on a new tactical shape featuring a pair of technical midfielders.

However, any team featuring the likes of Robbie Keane, Landon Donovan, Juninho and Omar Gonzalez, will always be a real handful. Their midfield diamond features a lot of technical players that works superbly on the counter but can also ensure they can keep the ball better. With the movement of the front two it often can be a flexible 4-6-0. In fact, it is a fascinating system to keep an eye on in MLS and one that provides a stern test for their opponents.

Robinson decided Gershon Koffie and Russell Teibert needed to face that test in a double pivot central midfield tandem inside a labeled 4-2-3-1 that was effectively a 4-3-3 hybrid.

He decided Kekuta Manneh needed to take that test on the left. Three men, all 22 or younger, given a huge responsibility by the manager.


Some called it bold, others felt it was risky but what it was, even before a ball was kicked, was a decision from a manager completely comfortable in his job and his own ability.

It was not a move of caution. The move required the manager to have extensive discussions with both Miller and Reo-Coker on Saturday morning. That could not have been easy.

The Game

The Whitecaps would lose the match 1-0.

Robinson told us on the TSN broadcast at half-time that the team couldn't afford to switch off from the tactical discipline they had shown in the first half.

Within minutes, one lapse cost them as Keane ran untracked from a deep area and volleyed home the game's solitary goal.

The Positives

For the Whitecaps it was a kick in the teeth because they had contained their bullies for 45 impressive minutes. Koffie and Teibert needed to be aggressive, smart and tactically sound, not separating too far from the centre-backs, which would give space for Keane and Donovan to come into.  They did exactly that. Teibert, in particular, impressed against Keane.

The veteran Irishman was a victim of Teibert's physical style early in the match and from that moment Keane put a target on the Canadian's back and tried to intimidate him. Teibert didn't run away from the fight and stuck to his game. The visitors struggled to find outlets on counter attacks but Teibert did look, on a number of occasions, to play the long diagonal balls that Gonzalez plays for LA (something the Whitecaps defenders cannot do).

The Weaknesses

The decision to play 4-2-3-1, rather than match up diamonds in midfield, was vindicated by the play at the base of midfield but, much like the last away game in New England, issues with the '3' remain.

Manneh defended his flank well when required and cut in centrally to make up an attacking two when the Whitecaps moved forward but he remains very raw and needs more time in the team to help him get a better read of a through ball so he doesn't get caught offside as much.

Pedro Morales and Sebastian Fernandez struggled. Juninho was excellent against Morales who simply didn't find enough space to be effective. Fernandez, however, had much more room in a game that was very narrow but was too hurried in possession and made wrong decisions in distribution. Both were removed in the second half and Morales looked less than 100 per cent physically. If he wasn't hurting it would have been interesting to see if Robinson would have pushed him wider to find space and leave Morales, Mattocks and, the other substitute, Kenny Miller on the field at the same time.

Star Man

Keane scored the game's only goal and was a class apart from most of the players on the field, however, it is important to note that most of his chances (other than the goal and once the game was stretched late) all came from deep areas on the field, which meant the Whitecaps had done their job. The same can be said about Donovan.

And that is one of the positives that Robinson will take away from this game. Never once did he see his selections as a gamble. He rewarded his young players with key roles in a big game and they paid him back.

The final score meant the Whitecaps got nothing in the standings but for Robinson this was short-term (minimal) pain for long-term gain, giving himself and his young players a platform to learn some things about each other.

It is not often a young inexperienced manager puts the vision of the club first ahead of his own reputation and win/loss record. For a team who has had too many managers in their short time in Major League Soccer, this was a night where a loss showed their decision to hire Robinson was indeed a correct one.

Finally, it appears the bosses are all singing from the same hymn sheet in Vancouver.



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