The Vancouver Whitecaps seem to have captured the hearts and minds of Vancouver sports fans in 2017 like few other teams—aside from, perhaps, the Vancouver Canadians.
So it was a bit off-brand to see the team play an uneventful, largely unexciting first playoff game on Sunday against the Seattle Sounders that ended in a scoreless draw. The game was the first of a two-game playoff series against the Caps’ rivals from the Emerald City.
And, really, it was exactly what coach Carl Robinson dialed up with two of the team’s top offensive factors in Yordy Reyna and Cristian Techera injured and not able to start the game.
Reyna and Techera did come on later in the game, but it didn’t matter as the two couldn’t muster up anything meaningful. Now, Robinson is saying that both might not be able to play in tomorrow’s series finale. (FYI: in soccer speak, "not fit" means they are injured. He's not calling them fat.)
The Whitecaps came third in the MLS in points during the regular season and generated a lot of fanfare doing so, but a quick look into how the team actually performed during those games is very telling.
The Whitecaps had a goal differential of plus-1, which is not what'd you normally expect out of a top three team in the conference. The only team in the playoffs with a worse differential was sixth seed San Jose with a horrid minus-21. The Whitecaps dispatched the Earthquakes (widely regarded as the worst team in the playoffs by a mile) 5-0 in the first round.
Seattle has a goal differential of plus-13, best in the conference.
The Whitecaps differential is actually pretty good when you take into consideration the team had 132 shots on goal during the season, tied for third-last with the terrible L.A. Galaxy and ahead of only Minnesota and Colorado. In fact, those were the three worst teams in the Western Conference this year.
Vancouver's strengths are coaching and goaltending, and while those factors have helped the team contend this season, it should be clear that the team isn't nearly as good or as exciting as they often seem to be regarded as being.
That's not to say it's a slam dunk that the Caps go home on Thursday night for good, but it doesn't inspire much confidence in a team that many have—perhaps foolishly—a lot of confidence in.
And while most MLS teams have pretty slanted home and away records, Seattle has an astounding 11-1-5 record at CenturyLink Field (apparently the 12th man isn't just a football thing). The Caps are 6-9-2 on the road, which, while quite strong in the MLS, probably doesn't bode well for the club.
Keep your hearts safe, Whitecaps fans. Maybe wait till next year. This is a solid, well-coached team. It's not a cup contender yet. However, with a good foundation in place and some of the best goaltending in the league, fans might not have to wait too long.More