This is the kind of column you write at the midway point of the season.
This is not the midway point of the season.
But this follows the first long break the Vancouver Whitecaps have had in their inaugural MLS campaign and its back-to-school time. With that in mind, here is the first annual Vancouver Whitecaps Report Card.
Note that players with little playing time were not included and t hose that are have been alphabetized by last name.
Michael Boxall: C
With the 'Caps holding a tenuous lead, the tense final few minutes against Houston three weeks ago on Aug. 27, the Dynamo slipped a searching ball through the Vancouver defence that forced Boxall to turn and chase down his man along with the ball.
The drunk guy next to me, speaking to no one in particular, said in a tone of mild incredulity, "Hey! Boxall stayed on his feet!"
Those who heard him chuckled because we remembered too well how Boxall tripped on a similar play against the L.A. Galaxy, allowing the gifted but highly annoying Landon Donovan to bury a goal and break what had been a hard-fought, mostly even, deadlocked game between the worst team in the league and one of the best.
Though these things are always easy to say and harder to prove, it felt like a turning point not just in the game but in the season. The Galaxy went on to slot three more goals in quick succession. And the 'Caps went on to a couple more embarrassing losses.
Of course, it's patently unfair to put this all on Boxall because of one mistake.
He's done an adequate job filling in for Jay DeMerit and, when necessary, Alain Rochat. But is the 23-year-old a starter? No. Not yet. Better players get better when the games get more tense. (See: DeMerit, Jay.) That's not yet Boxall. But he's still young.
Jeb Brovsky: C+
It's hard to grade the 'Caps second pick (19th overall) in the MLS draft since he hasnt played a lot of minutes. He had a solid game in Portland, replacing the benched Jonathon Leathers, but the game was notable for the lack of attack coming out of the back, especially since Rochat was injured.
Joe Cannon: B
His acrobatic saves have kept a few games close. And his loose attitudeinterspersed with honest and pointed self-directed and team criticismsets the right tone in the locker room.
Davide Chiumiento: B+
Hard to argue with someone who's fourth in the league in assists while playing for a last-place team. Plus, with Velcro-like control of the ball and the desire to embarrass opposing players, Chiumiento's been one of the most exciting players to watch.
That said, there's a sense he's getting less and less effective with each game. Perhaps opposing defenders have learned not to dive in and instead let him get himself into trouble. Like most players with incredible skill and the ego to use it, there's a risk of predictability. This is a shortcoming to watch for in the few remaining games.
Jay DeMerit: A-
The Whitecaps would not be a last-place team if DeMerit were on the field regularly.
He's the kind of player who can grab a game by the scruff of the neck and drag it where he wants it to go. He organizes the back-line and is the motivational centre of this young team. It's hard to imagine anyone with more will to win.
However, through no real fault of his own, he hasn't been on the field regularly due to injury. So, what would have been an A becomes an A-.
Atiba Harris: C+
Injured in one of the first games of the season, it's hard to remember what Harris brought to the game, though he was one of the bright spots early on. Let's hope he comes back strong and fights for his position, though it'll be tough with Camilo, Hassli, Salgado, and Long Tan all doing well.
Jordan Harvey: C
He was directly responsible for three of the four goals the L.A. Galaxy scored against the 'Caps. To be fair, it was one of his first games with the team. Harvey plays a more physical than quick style at fullback. Not my favourite style but at least the team now has a natural left back and can stop shuffling defenders around.
Eric Hassli: A
More than just a nimble big man who scores outrageously amazing goals from ridiculous angles (see: Seattle; goal, amazing), Hassli is set apart by his competitive fire and an apparently guileless love for the city and its soccer fans.
Sure, he got into a little trouble with the officials in the first part of the season, partly because he got swept up in the spirit of the games and partly because referees didn't seem to appreciate his physical style, but those days are behind him and he's gone on to become one of the leagues leading goal scorers.
Some say he whines too often if a call doesn't go his way, which is probably true. But this is how the referees trained him at the beginning of the season.
Regardless, an A for the big man.
Mustapha Jarju: C+
The 'Caps second designated player, Jarju's not overly impressed thus far but the potential appears to be there.
To be fair, he came into the team halfway through the season and out of shape (it's currently the off-season in Belgium, where Jarju was playing before the 'Caps picked him up.). He's one to watch in the last remaining games of the season.
Nizar Khalfan: B
During the Thordarson reign, early in the season, games got interesting and the attack came alive whenever Khalfan was put on the field, which was usually in the second half as opposing defenders were tiring.
He's not getting near as much time now since it appears there's a glut of players at left midfield with Shea Salinas making a strong claim to the position. But next in line is Khalfan.
Gershon Koffie: B+
For a 19-year-old to start and ably control the central midfield position is remarkable. He wins the ball with aggressive tackles and doesn't panic when it's time to distribute.
Sometimes, however, he gets pushed off the ball, which should happen less and less as he gets older and stronger.
It's going to be fun watching Koffie grow with this team.
Jonathan Leathers: B+
At 5'9" and 160 pounds, Jonathon Leathers is a model fullback. If you haven't noticed him, it's because he's doing everything right: keeping the opposing winger to the outside and blocking his crosses, distributing the ball coming out of the back, overlapping and joining the attack. But for a horrible game in Washington, he's been a steady force on a constantly shifting backline.
Jay Nolly: C+
Athletic, fit and acrobatic, the only thing lacking is a bit of mental toughness, as the goal that slipped through his legs against Washington showed.
Alain Rochat: A
Rochat commands respect on the field, as much for his distribution of the ball out of the back as for his defensive skills. The backline is in good hands with his great touch and calm demeanor.
Doesn't seem surprising that once he and DeMerit teamed up at centreback (against Houston), the 'Caps won.
Omar Salgado: C+
It's tough to grade a 17-year-old kid who's playing in a senior league with seasoned pros. For his age, he's an A+. He's got a surprising amount of speed for a kid with a lanky 6'4" frame, and he gets into positions to score.
But he's yet to consistently impact the game. Like the other youngsters on this team, though, it's going to be fun to watch him grow if he continues on his current trajectory.
Shea Salinas: B
Speed on the flank and a deft touch around the net are his hallmarks. No question he's won the left-midfield position ahead of Nizar Khalfan, but a bit more consistency would be nice.
Camilo Sanvezzo: B+
Like Hassli, he's near the league lead in goals and he plays for one of the leagues worst teams. He works hard and has one of the best free kicks in the game. I'm a fan.
One quibble: enough with the gratuitous diving.
Yes, by all means, if someone touches you in the box, fall to the ground like you've been hit by a sniper. But not anywhere else. The referees will tire of it.
And, really, if you can't beat a man with pace, don't flop to the ground and beg for a foul. It's embarrassing.
Long Tan: B
Tan electrified fans in the Houston game by setting up a number of quality scoring opportunities, including the game winner, in the dying minutes of the game. If he plays like that in a few more games, the Whitecaps will have a rare but pleasant problem on their hands: too many players who can put the ball in the net.
John Thorrington: C+
It feels like Thorrington is a step behind and is still getting his game touch back after a long recovery from injury. He does little wrong but is not setting the world on fire yet.
Peter Vagenas: C+
A solid player who distributes the ball well. If he's going to play in centre midfield, he needs to be more aggressive when trying to win the ball. Like Thorrington, solid but not a stand-out yet.
After more than 35 years playing soccer with stints at some of the highest levels in the North American game, Vancouverite Geoff DAuria recently discovered it's much easier on his knees to watch the game than play, though he does still play in the Vancouver Metro Soccer League. Hes followed professional soccer in Vancouver for decades.
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