As they sat in their locker-room stalls at B.C. Place Stadium moments after a 31–17 loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders on October 4, the B.C. Lions were certainly dejected. This was a home game against a division rival with playoff implications, and the Lions simply didn’t measure up. On top of the frustration, there was a sense that more than a few members of the Lions’ vaunted defence were almost apologetic after an unusually substandard performance.
For much of this season, almost all of the club’s success has been based on a defence that consistently makes plays and usually delivers one or two game-changing moments that turn the tide in the Leos’ favour. But against Saskatchewan, that big play never arrived.
With an offence that has sputtered since training camp, the Lions need their defence to deliver those knockout blows. Without them, it was the Lions who found themselves flat on the canvas against the Riders.
It’s a dangerous way to play the game in the high-scoring Canadian Football League—banking on your defence to be the difference-makers each week. But with starting quarterback Travis Lulay sidelined with a shoulder injury, his understudy Thomas DeMarco still learning the ropes, and a running game that’s regressed considerably as the season has unfolded, the Lions’ best hope for a victory sits on the broad shoulders of their defenders.
If they’re merely average—as they were against the Riders—the team is in trouble.
And the loss to Saskatchewan was costly. Not only did it drop the Lions to 9–5 on the season and likely dash any real hope they had of a first-place finish in the West, it leaves them tied with the Riders and in a sprint to the finish to host a playoff game this season.
“Anytime you shoot yourself in the foot, it’s hard to walk that mile to victory,” defensive back Lin-J Shell told the media in a quiet Lions locker room following the game. “When things aren’t going the way we want them to flow, we’ve got our leaders who stand up and make plays. And we just have to do that consistently.”
With two of their remaining games against the 11–3 Calgary Stampeders and one more left in Saskatchewan, the Lions will have their hands full the rest of the way. If they want to host a postseason game, they’ll have to rise to the challenge and be better than they were against the Riders.
To their credit, the Lions—particularly their defensive stars—have found a way to bounce back from all five of their defeats this season, following each one with a win.
Getting knocked down by Saskatchewan obviously wasn’t what any of the Lions wanted. But the true test will be how they pick themselves up and get back in the fight.
“We were aggressive, but we were undisciplined,” defensive halfback Ryan Phillips said of the many penalties the Lions were flagged for against the Riders. “And that’s kind of disheartening. We gave up too many big plays off missed tackles, and anytime you give an offence a chance, it’s going to hurt. You want to reach a peak at the right time, and now is the time to start rolling.”
There’s every reason to believe the Lions’ defence will return to form over the final few weeks of the season. But the loss to Saskatchewan serves as a harsh reminder that if these players don’t step up, the team’s playoff stay will likely be a short one.
While a second straight late-season collapse by the Vancouver Whitecaps is inexcusable, let’s hope that soccer fans can separate the sensational performance of Camilo Sanvezzo from the club’s tailspin. Ultimately, it’s a team game, and the Whitecaps’ goal was to build on their first Major League Soccer playoff appearance a year ago and push further this season. It’s pretty clear that’s not going to happen, and Camilo would likely trade all of his personal success for a chance to play when the games matter most.
But it’s crazy to imagine where the Whitecaps would be this season without the Brazilian and his offensive brilliance—the scissor-kick goal against Portland on October 6 was just the latest on his individual highlight reel. (His first goal of the game, off a set piece from 30 yards out, probably makes it in too.) Camilo has established a Whitecaps record with 18 goals this season and sits one back of the league leader with three games to play, so finishing as the top MLS goal scorer isn’t out of the question.
What makes his goal-scoring accomplishments all the more impressive is the fact that over the second half of the season, he’s been the only Whitecap to show any kind of finish—and the other teams know that. After Camilo, Kenny Miller has scored eight times and no one else has scored more than four. Opponents have been able to build their game plans around defending against Camilo, and yet no one has had an answer for him.
It’s a shame the Whitecaps haven’t found a way to lend their scoring star a little more support. He’s been a one-man show, and he’s fun to watch. But with three games remaining, that show is about to end, and much sooner than anyone in the organization had hoped.
Camilo will be the hands-down, no-brainer selection as the Whitecaps’ MVP this season. If the club had even a handful of guys who did their jobs the way Camilo has done his, there’s no doubt that there would be playoff soccer in Vancouver this season.