In the 2nd installment of AGR’s Analysis, Alexandre Gangue-Ruzic dives into some Vancouver Whitecaps game film and breaks down what he dubbed as ‘Caio Alexandre Theory’, explaining why it’s so important for the ‘Caps to buy into that going forward.
He may only have a handful of MLS games under his belt, but he’s quickly impressed in his short time in the league.
Caio Alexandre might have only played 5 games for the Vancouver Whitecaps, but he’s quickly shown his importance to this ‘Caps side, becoming a key cog for head coach Marc Dos Santos in midfield.
As the 2nd most expensive player in Whitecaps history, he was always going to have plenty of pressure on his shoulders to perform, but at only 22 years of age, and heading to a new league for the first time, the expectations were that he’d take his time adjusting to MLS.
Alexandre didn’t receive that memo, though, as he’s hit the ground running for the ‘Caps, looking like a player who has played in MLS for years, quickly adjusting to the physically grinding style of play that can bog down players not used to that kind of soccer.
And that’s exciting.
With plenty of more still to come from him, he can only grow from here, and based on what we’ve seen so far, that’s a tantalizing possibility to try and visualize.
For someone who’s had to fight through the adjustment of moving to a new country, playing with new teammates and in a new league, he’s taken those challenges on with a positive mindset, which for his coach, has been something he’s enjoyed seeing.
“Caio needs to get more and more adapted to MLS,” Dos Santos admitted when asked about Alexandre on May 5th. “But the only pressure the guy is going to have is maybe from people from the outside, but not from me.”
“I travelled a lot in my life, I know what it takes to adapt to another place, another environment, another country, and Caio, when he is going to get more and more adapted, he’s going to become a better and better player.”
But while Alexandre has impressed, what does he do that’s so special? He’s yet to score a goal or pick up an assist, but yet he’s quietly been one of the most important ‘Caps offensive players since he’s come into this lineup.
In this installment of AGR’s Analysis, let’s dive in and break down what he’s so good at, all while introducing the concept of ‘Caio Alexandre Theory’, which is something that the Whitecaps need to buy into as soon as possible.
Caio Alexandre theory:
And what is Caio Alexandre theory, might one ask?
An intent to progress the ball forward at every possible avenue, with no worries about what the consequences might be.
If you could read Alexandre’s mind, there’s probably a part of his brain repeating ‘progress the ball’ every 5 seconds, at least if his play is to be any indication.
Plus, he’s a true #8 in every sense of the number, doing his best to go box-to-box at every opportunity, meaning that there isn’t an area of the field where he can’t have an impact in when in possession.
To get an idea of how he looks to play, here are a few clips to demonstrate that.
First, he’ll drop deep and progress the ball in possession if needed.
In this clip from the ‘Caps game against Minnesota United last week, he finds a pocket between the ‘Caps centre back before playing a nice ball forward to Janio Bikel, which created a nice transition moment for the ‘Caps.
Then, he’ll inch his way up the field, getting touches in whenever possible.
Here, he helps the ‘Caps switch play and diversify their point of attack in their build-up play.
Afterwards, he’ll start pushing further and further up the field, helping the ‘Caps break defensive lines and attack teams in transition.
Here, he receives the ball in a nice pocket, before immediately playing the ball forward on his second touch, allowing Deiber Caicedo to get isolated 1v1 down the flank.
And one might wonder, what’s so special about some of these clips?
It’s that intent to drive the ball forward at all costs, because for most other players on the roster, the first option that comes to mind is always the cautious one, whereas Alexandre’s brain is always wired to turn his hips towards the opponents’ goal and move the ball that way.
He does it so effortlessly, as well, making it seem a lot less special than it is.
Here’s another example of that. He receives a pass out wide and immediately pivots his hips, playing a nice ball forward.
Most other ‘Caps players would have played it back to the one who passed it to them, but instead, Alexandre immediately looked for a way to push his team forward.
It’s something his teammates are continuing to get used to, as his constant flux of movement hasn’t been all that common in midfield areas in past seasons, but the intent is always there.
As soon as he finds space, he tries to move the ball and his body into it, showing his strong attacking IQ.
In this next clip, he finds a bit of green grass, runs into it, plays the ball to Caicedo, before shading back towards him once he realized his teammate didn’t have another option, making himself available for the pass.
Almost caught off guard, Caicedo missed the pass here, but once he and other ‘Caps teammates realize that Alexandre will always try to show for them at every opportunity, it should allow them to be better at retaining possession in these sorts of moments.
But that’s just the build-up play.
When the ball gets into the final third, Alexandre truly springs to life.
Here, he gets the ball and immediately plays Caicedo into space, opening up a nice run from Bruno Gaspar down the right channel.
And it’s that sort of intent that the ‘Caps need to capitalize on offensively right now.
If you play the ball into Alexandre, good things will happen, so his teammates just need to continue to find him in pockets, and then move into space of their own.
Cristian Gutierrez understood that quite well in this sequence, continuing his run once he realized Alexandre was going to get the ball, and he quickly was rewarded for his smart run, getting a bit of space to try and play a nice ball in.
What’s so fantastic about all of those clips?
There aren’t necessarily any wild long passes, or wavy dribbles, either, but instead, it’s just solid, fundamental and progressive soccer.
And that’s Caio Alexandre theory.
His goal when in possession is to be as active as possible, be it in his movement or how he plays the ball, as he always tries to present himself as an option without the ball, and tries to orchestrate play when he does have the ball.
It’s something Dos Santos has quickly grown to like, as he recognizes the value that it brings to his team.
“He has quality in his pass,” Dos Santos said on May 8th. “He finds little pockets, he finds little angles that allows the team to have more of the ball.”
It might not be revolutionary, or all that complex, but it’s everything the ‘Caps need right now, and it’s given them a new look in attack, and hopefully his beliefs can start to rub off on some of his teammates soon.
“For me, it helps my game,” Alexandre said of his play. “it helps me try and improve those around me, and it fits my skill set. We want to possess the ball and move quickly down the sides.”
Plus, what’s scary is that he does have flashy passes in his locker, but he doesn’t rely on that part of his game all that often.
When he does, though, he has a penchant for the spectacular, as this line-breaking, penetrative aerial ball shows.
So even though that sort of pass isn’t necessarily a fundamental aspect of Alexandre theory, (it’s more up Michael Baldisimo’s alley, instead), it’s good to know that he also does have that in his back pocket, if needed.
As more and more ‘Caps start to embrace Alexandre theory, he’ll be able to make more plays like that, which is a nice prospect to think of, as well.
For a guy who already leads the ‘Caps in progressive passes with 23, it’s tantalizing to think he hasn’t fully tapped into that part of his game yet, but that stat just shows how effective he’s been by keeping the game simple but fundamentally sound.
Off-ball movement also key:
But as we sort of mentioned earlier, while Alexandre theory centres around the sort of ball progression abilities that Alexandre shows in possession, a big part of what makes him successful is his contagious off-the-ball movement.
Whenever he releases the ball, he immediately tries to make himself an option, doing his best to serve as a facilitator.
And what’s interesting about his movement is that he often makes runs to open up space for others, instead of just always demanding the ball into his own feet.
Take these next few clips as an example of that.
Here, he makes a couple of runs into space while in possession, quickly playing the ball back to his teammates after sucking in a few opposing defenders, allowing them to progress the ball.
They didn’t quite succeed in that mission, but Alexandre quietly did a good job at making it possible, but unfortunately, a bit of hesitation from Ranko Veselinovic allowed Minnesota to recover from Alexandre’s initial movement.
And these runs don’t have to be all that complex, either.
In this next clip, Alexandre just makes a simple run forward, but it was one that allows Gaspar to quickly play the ball backwards and facilitate a switch of play from the ‘Caps.
And this next clip may be one of the better examples of the sort of off-the-ball movement that he makes.
Here, he starts the sequence at the right of the screen, immediately cutting into space to receive the ball.
From there, he quickly bursts forward after giving the ball to a teammate, before immediately jogging back to present himself in possession when his team decided to recycle that particular sequence.
Again, much like his play in possession, he isn’t reinventing the wheel with these sorts of concepts, but that sort of simple movement can help out his teammates a lot in possession, opening up pockets for them to play into.
That’s the beauty of Alexandre theory, and it helps show how and why he’s quietly made the ‘Caps more dangerous in possession.
4-3-3 the solution?
So considering all of what we’ve seen above, where might be the best position for Alexandre on the ‘Caps?
In Brazil, he played more in a double-pivot, a role he played in his first few games with Vancouver, but one has to wonder what he could do in a 3-man midfield where he has the freedom to exercise Alexandre theory without having to think too much about positional or defensive responsibilities.
While the ‘Caps did sort of technically play with a 3-man midfield before, with Russell Teibert playing as a hybrid winger/midfielder in the ‘Caps 4-4-2, as Marc Dos Santos mentioned after the ‘Caps 3rd game of the season, it’s still something worth pondering given Alexandre’s skillset.
“We tried to protect him by playing more of a three-man midfield with rotation and freedom to come and get the ball in deeper spots,” Dos Santos explained after that Colorado result. “ I think that he’s very busy, he wants the ball, he’s a player that wants to give rhythm to the team. He’s one of our midfielders that looks forward, he’s looking to play that pass forward, and sometimes he even exaggerates in there so he can become better there.”
But then, against Sporting Kansas City, we truly saw what it could look like in practice, and let’s just say the results were quite encouraging.
Chasing the game, the ‘Caps reverted to a true 4-3-3 with Alexandre, Baldisimo and Bikel in midfield, and that allowed Alexandre to make some magic.
Just to get an idea of what kind of magic he was making, here are some clips from the 10-minute period between the time the ‘Caps made the change (35th minute) and halftime from that game.
First, we have a 40-second sequence of Alexandre theory at its finest.
In that short span, he made a few nice progressive passes, made some dangerous cutting off the ball runs, and then finished with a nice long ball that just evaded Lucas Cavallini.
It might not have been the most exciting sequence, but it gave a glimpse of what was to come in the 3-man midfield.
And speaking of which, here’s some of that good stuff we’re talking about.
In that sequence, he made a nice run into space for goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau to find him in, and despite being pressured, he calmly looked up and played a fantastic ball into Bikel, who then sent the ‘Caps into space.
It was Alexandre theory at its finest.
Then, he started to get involved in the final third, playing a nice progressive ball to Gutierrez before attempting a shot on goal.
Then, to close off the half, he had his finest moment of this 10-minute sequence.
After moving into space, he received a nice ball from Baldisimo, quickly turned in between two defenders, and then played a through ball to Lucas Cavallini on his weak foot, creating a chance that should’ve been buried by the ‘Caps #9.
Again, like many of the clips before, there wasn’t anything particularly complex about the sequence, but it was a mix of good attacking IQ, good instincts and some nice technical ability to actually play that pass.
The big difference, though?
Where he played that pass, as he was able to play in the final third due to the formation change, and it allowed him to be more involved offensively.
Considering that the principles of Alexandre theory can be applied anywhere in the field, and the fact that the ‘Caps have a pretty good double-pivot in Baldisimo and Bikel that can sit back and do a lot of the defensive and deep progression work, it makes the idea of using a 4-3-3 more often going forward a smart one, especially if it puts Alexandre in these sorts of positions more regularly.
With his intent to drive the ball forward, it can only help out the ‘Caps even more if used further up the pitch, so it has to be in Dos Santos’s best interests to make this happen going forward.
And based on what Dos Santos had to say after the SKC game on Sunday, it sounds like a 4-3-3 could be in the ‘Caps future plans, which is exciting to hear.
“Of course, it’s something that we could (try),” Dos Santos admitted Sunday. “When you try to originate goalscoring opportunities, and you’re trying to find the balance between attacking and defending well, and you think the players in the team that can keep you more on the ball can allow you to find more goalscoring opportunities, when you’re in a situation like that, you have to consider going towards that.”
So for Alexandre, that’s great to see, as it’ll allow him to wield even more influence on the game, which can only be a good thing.
For a ‘Caps side that is struggling massively to score from open play this season, as it’s something they’re actually yet to do through 6 games, you have to imagine Alexandre’s fingerprints will be over the goal that breaks that slump, which based on what we’ve seen here, wouldn’t be all that surprising.
On a ‘Caps team that has struggled at progressing the ball through midfield in recent years, seeing what he and Baldisimo have done to improve that area of their game has to be exciting, and hopefully Dos Santos can continue to find ways to get the most out of them going forward.
Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs Houston Dynamo, Saturday, May 22nd, 18:00 PDT, 21:00 EDT (BBVA Compass Stadium, Houston)
Cover Photo via: Vancouver Whitecaps/Enerex