The Whitecaps have a plan, and sometimes it’s working

A complicated graphic shows the positions and roles of attackers and defenders in a Vancouver Whitecaps training drill.

Instructions to a training drill presented to participants of the Vancouver Whitecaps’ third annual coaching clinic (Photo: Martin Schauhuber).

Much ado has been made about the Vancouver Whitecaps’ offensive inability.

After a good start to the season and a five-game unbeaten streak this summer, the club lost its winning ways. A scoreless four-game streak saw them lose their playoff spot to the rival Portland Timbers.

Just in time, they turned it around.

It took a Mauro Rosales’ penalty against the San Jose Earthquakes to break the scoring drought and give the ‘Caps their first win in exactly one month on Sept. 10. Two disappointing outings away from home followed, but in BC Place, the offense kept clicking.

Visiting Real Salt Lake and FC Dallas suffered 2-1 and 2-0 defeats, respectively. Looking back to August, the difference for the Whitecaps is the simplest of them all in sports: They are scoring goals. But why now?

During the third annual coaching clinic on Oct. 4, assistant coach Gordon Forrest let visitors peek into the Whitecaps’ system.

Vancouver Whitecaps Assistant Coach Gordon Forrest stands at the sidelines of the pitch at the empty B.C. Place.

Vancouver Whitecaps Assistant Coach Gordon Forrest explains a drill at the Whitecaps’ Coaching Clinic at BC Place on Saturday, October 4 (Photo: Elias Margieh).

He explained that the club adopted a general playing model through all ages, genders and skill levels. It is focussed on what they call the “four moments of the game”: Attacking transition, defensive transition, in possession and out of possession.

A special focus lies on attacking transition. After showcasing a practice drill that had players attacking 3-on-2 immediately after gaining possession, Forrest elaborated on the importance of reacting quickly to this special moment of the game.

It sounded reasonable in theory. After the loss of possession, a defense is disorganized and vulnerable. The Netherlands made a living off that fact at the World Cup, while Real Madrid took last season’s Champions League by counter-attacking relentlessly.

Now, the Whitecaps make it work.

That afternoon’s game against FC Dallas featured the best proof Forrest and his fellow coaches could have asked for.

A double-team led to a Rosales break. Just as in practice, the Whitecaps offense had numbers on the opposing defense. Rosales easily found Sebastian Fernandez, who scored his second goal of the game.

Focusing your strategy on transition attack is a risky proposition. By nature, there are limited opportunities. If both teams try that tactic and wait for their opponent’s mistakes, a scoreless tie becomes likely.

For the Whitecaps, none of that matters. It is pure logic.

According to Forrest, their plethora of fast offensive players played a significant role in deciding on the overarching playing model. The midseason trade of Nigel Reo-Coker to Chivas USA for Rosales was another move towards quick, mobile players.

The Whitecaps seem to trust their playing model.

And for now, it is working.

Martin Schauhuber

I'm an exchange student from Austria. If you speak german (or like photos), you can find more of my work at


  • Trevor
    Reply October 14, 2014


    The Fernandez goal was a good example of the attacking transition strategy put to work on the field. Hopefully they can score more goals through this strategy because as you mentioned, goals have been hard to come by this season.

  • Ryan Lehal
    Reply December 7, 2014

    Ryan Lehal

    I agree that focusing on transition attack is a risky way of playing the game, but it can also lead to much success. If you look at Liverpool from last season, they destroyed teams on the counter-attack and much of their success was attributed to pouncing on their opponents early in games. Yet, this style did leave them exposed at the back and essentially cost them the title. It really is a risky style of play for a team that is not solid at the back.

  • Martin Schauhuber
    Reply December 9, 2014

    Martin Schauhuber

    Ryan, while their styles were certainly similar, I would argue that the Whitecaps and Liverpool played a slightly different style of transition attack – Liverpool usually pulled their back four and midfield further up to force turnovers (which made them vulnerable), while the Whitecaps tended to play a pretty safe defense and just went full steam ahead once they somehow got the ball. That resulted in a lot more opportunities (and goals) for the Reds, while good chances were hard to come by for the ‘Caps. In the rest of the season, the Whitecaps’ limitations showed: They scored one more goal via transition attacking (, the other two were the result of setpieces – there was not a single goal from a “regular” game-flow offense in their last four games.

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