VANCOUVER, B.C. — It’s too early to tell whether the midseason decision to change coaches was the right move for the Vancouver Whitecaps, but one thing is certain: The ‘Caps under Tom Soehn are getting much better at keeping possession, especially on the road.
During his eight games at the helm, Soehn’s side has managed an average possession of 47.2 percent, in comparison to former coach Teitur Thordarson’s average of 44.6 percent.
But the statistic worth closer examination is the away possession, as Soehn has only been in charge of two home matches to date. In his six away matches at the helm, Soehn’s team has maintained 46.8 percent of the ball in comparison to the away average of 40.3 percent during the Thordarson era.
That difference of 6.5 percent is significant, especially given the grueling nature of Major League Soccer’s schedule. Keeping the ball has obvious benefits: It means your team spends less time chasing the opponent, less time defending and more time putting your opponents under pressure.
With a change in style comes new challenges. Players must have the courage to hold onto the ball and try to maintain possession, rather than simply "hoofing" it under pressure.
“I still don’t feel too comfortable playing too short,” Whitecaps goalkeeper Joe Cannon said. “I think at times we try to overplay, but there are guys on the team who do want to play [that way]. The midfielders are starting to get more comfortable. But it does depend on the other team — some teams give you more space to play at the back, but other teams try and press and that’s when you’ll see [me kicking it long].”
The change in system also means a change in personnel. Not every player suits a possession-focused system, but one player who looks to suit the role is veteran midfielder Pete Vagenas, who has started the team’s last three MLS matches.
“I bring something a little different to the game,” Vagenas said. “I come from systems that dictate run of play, where we want to be on the ball. I’m aggressive in that sense and hopefully I can bring that to this team.”
While the team has improved its possession statistics, coach Soehn says there’s still a ways to go, especially higher up the field in the danger areas.
“Keeping possession in the middle and offensive third is something we want to do a better job of,” Soehn said. “We’re keeping possession at the back, which isn’t necessarily useless possession, but those areas further up the field [are] where want to improve, and I think we’re getting there.”