The Whitecaps are good, however simply haven't been ok

Essentially the most-talented Whitecaps group in membership historical past is ninth within the West, however is {that a} reflection on the group or the extremely aggressive league?

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It was Sept. 9, 2015, and the Vancouver Whitecaps have been the very best group in Main League Soccer.

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Sure, really.

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They’d simply dispatched the Colorado Rapids 2-0 and have been atop the league standings. Solely the six video games left within the common season separated them from glory and the Supporters’ Protect.

What adopted was a five-game winless swoon, and by the point they beat the Houston Dynamo 3-0 at B.C. Place on Determination Day, the Caps had dropped to 3rd total.

Nonetheless, it was an incomparable second within the membership’s younger historical past, with the 53 factors and second place within the West marking the group’s finest end to a season.

Two years later, Vancouver was again among the many elite as soon as extra. Once they once more beat the ever-helpful Rapids 2-1 on Sept. 23, it pushed them into first place within the Western Convention. With video games in hand on each their Cascadia rivals and closest opponents, they appeared destined to match Toronto FC’s standing as convention champs.

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However, once more, swoon time. They received simply as soon as of their remaining 5 video games, dropping a Determination Day showdown with the Portland Timbers at B.C. Place, a sport that decided who would end first within the West.

Portland received 2-1, and the Caps sunk to 3rd.

Neither of these seasons resulted in playoff success. The 2015 marketing campaign crashed out with a goalless two-leg matchup with Portland, whereas 2017 noticed a 5-0 knockout spherical win over San Jose adopted by … a goalless two-leg matchup towards Seattle.

Why revisit these dusty yearbooks of seasons previous? Why decide open these long-healed scabs to permit the angst and ache to ooze out as soon as extra?

Merely to ascertain the Whitecaps’ high-water marks as a franchise. They have been the very best season finishes in group historical past, and stay the usual to this present day.

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That 2015 membership had Octavio Rivero, who banged in 5 targets in his first six video games with the group, the dual towers of Tim Parker and Kendall Waston at centreback, “The Bug” Christian Techera, Matias Laba and Pedro Morales working the midfield present. The 2017 group swapped out Rivero for Fredy Montero, however remained constant in personnel in any other case. They have been good gamers — nice, even — and had success with the group.

Nicolas Mezquida #9 of the Vancouver Whitecaps FC celebrates with Octavio Rivero #29 and Kendall Waston #4 after scoring a goal against the Portland Timbers in MLS action on March, 28, 2015 at B.C. Place Stadium.
Nicolas Mezquida #9 of the Vancouver Whitecaps FC celebrates with Octavio Rivero #29 and Kendall Waston #4 after scoring a aim towards the Portland Timbers in MLS motion on March, 28, 2015 at B.C. Place Stadium. Photograph by Wealthy Lam /Getty Photos

However I say this with no irony: the 2023 Whitecaps are higher. Demonstrably higher.

Participant to participant, top-end expertise to top-end expertise (aside from the freakish aberration that’s Alphonso Davies), this 12 months’s squad is the very best the membership has ever had. Ryan Gauld, Andres Cubas, Julian Gressel, even Brian White. And never solely that, the fashion they play could be a joyous repast of talent, passing and buildup, a much more interesting prospect than the bunker-and-counter technique of years previous.

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However right here is one other fact: this 12 months’s group is in ninth place within the West. And it wouldn’t be a shock if that was the place it sat at season’s finish. Coach Vanni Sartini has stated, on a number of events, it’s the very best group he has seen since he arrived in Vancouver at the beginning of 2019.

“However it’s additionally the very best league that has been performed since I’ve been right here. Actually, I believe there’s 10 groups which are actually, actually comparable by way of high quality,” he stated. “And that’s the great thing about this league, that each sport is open and each sport is just like the final sport towards Sounders. If Brian scored one minute earlier than, we win, and it’s three factors extra, and we’re possibly sixth or seventh, after which now the dialog can be fully completely different.

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“So it’s a problem to us, but additionally thrilling within the sense that we have to be higher within the decisive moments of the sport. As a result of that may be the distinction in being ninth, like we at the moment are, or possibly fifth or fourth. Or possibly even eleventh or twelfth.”

Vancouver Whitecaps' Pedro Vite, back left, and Levonte Johnson celebrate Vite's goal against Austin FC during the first half of an MLS soccer match in Vancouver, on Wednesday, July 12, 2023.
Vancouver Whitecaps’ Pedro Vite, again left, and Levonte Johnson have a good time Vite’s aim towards Austin FC in the course of the first half of an MLS soccer match in Vancouver, on Wednesday, July 12, 2023. Photograph by DARRYL DYCK /THE CANADIAN PRESS

And that’s the distilled fact. The Whitecaps have gotten higher, as a group and a company, since their halcyon days close to the highest of the West.

However the remainder of the league has improved quicker. It’s just like the Caps have gone from utilizing a machete to an axe to cut down bushes, whereas all of the groups round them are utilizing chainsaws.

Vancouver hosts the LA Galaxy this weekend, then a break from league play that may see greater than a month move earlier than they return to face the San Jose Earthquakes. After that, it’s seven straight street video games for a group with only one away victory within the final calendar 12 months.

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That present ninth place standing appears a bit extra tenuous via that lens, and the prospect of lacking the post-season for the fifth time in six years is an actual chance. However with 10 factors separating St. Louis on the prime from the Caps on the backside of the playoff pack, taking part in previous October is simply as seemingly.

“Is that this a ninth-place group?” centreback Tristan Blackmon is requested.

“We’ve had outcomes not go our method this little stretch,” he stated. “And I believe with the couple video games in hand that we do have, I believe we are able to actually make a push to get in … at the least prime seven, I’d assume.

“As soon as we get everyone again from worldwide obligation, getting the group again collectively, we’re going to indicate what sort of group we’re within the stretch.”

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L.A. Galaxy (5-7-9, thirteenth West) at Vancouver Whitecaps (7-7-7, ninth West)

7:30 p.m. PT, Saturday, July 15, B.C. Place.

TV: Apple/TSN Radio: AM730

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