Will the Vancouver Whitecaps Make the Playoffs?
The team has qualified three of the past four seasons but could be in tough this year.
August 23, 2018
The main story surrounding the Vancouver Whitecaps this season has centred on young superstar Alphonso Davies. The Ghana-born but Edmonton-raised forward isn’t old enough to win the team’s Man of the Match award (it’s sponsored by Budweiser), but he’s already signed a multi-million dollar contract with German club Bayern Munich FC.
The question has thusly become this: How long do Vancouver fans have to catch the 17-year-old in a Whitecaps uniform?
Unfortunately, if the club continues at their current pace, it’s entirely possible the Whitecaps will miss out on the postseason for only the second time in five years.
It’s a surprising turn of events after last season, in which the Whitecaps finished third in the Western Conference and made the second round of the postseason before falling to their biggest rival in the Seattle Sounders.
After Davies’ emergence, one would think the Whitecaps would be even more of a force this season, but that hasn’t happened. Currently in eighth place in the West, it’s easy to see the team missing out on the playoffs, as only the top six teams in the conference make the dance.
Digging into the numbers
The Whitecaps currently have a record of 9-9-7 (wins-losses-ties), good for 34 points in 25 games. MLS seasons are 34 games, so the club has nine more to vault itself into the top six.
The five teams from fourth to eighth are separated by only four points. That means that even one win (worth three points) can significantly alter a team’s playoff chances.
Real Salt Lake and the LA Galaxy currently sit in fourth and fifth respectively and have both played one more game than Vancouver, which bodes well for a team trying to play catch-up.
On the other hand, both teams directly in front of the Whitecaps (Seattle Sounders FC and the Portland Timbers) have one and two games in hand on Vancouver, respectively.
As far as the underlying stats go, the numbers aren’t pretty.
The Whitecaps sport a goal differential of minus-9. That’s tied for 18th in the 23-team league. Things are particularly rough on the defensive side of the ball, where Vancouver has allowed the fourth-most goals against in MLS.
The team is also in the bottom-half of the league in terms of both total shots and shots on goal. Because the Whitecaps have some standout talent in players like Davies, Costa Rican international Kendall Waston and forward Kei Kamara, the squad can boast a potent counterattack, that’s why, despite not shooting ton, the team is seventh in goals scored.
But not having the ball for long stretches of play is a death knell for any team. And according to Whoscored.com, the Whitecaps have the lowest possession percentage in MLS. That’s not good.
Looking at the schedule
Here’s what’s on tap for the Whitecaps in their remaining nine games.
August 25: @ the San Jose Earthquakes
September 1: vs. the San Jose Earthquakes
It’s a home-and-home against San Jose, which just happens to be last place in all of MLS. The Earthquakes have won just three times this entire season, and last year they were the team the Whitecaps stomped 5-0 in the first round of the playoffs.
If Vancouver can’t win both these games, they probably don’t deserve to make the postseason.
September 15: vs. Seattle Sounders FC
Rivalry night! The Sounders are currently a point ahead of the Whitecaps with a game in hand. This game is at BC Place, and it’s an absolute must-win for the home team.
September 23: vs. FC Dallas
Dallas is first in the Western Conference and has only allowed 30 goals in 24 matches. However, they’ve also scored 39 (one less than the Whitecaps). If the ‘Caps—playing at home once again—can keep this one to a scoreless draw, they will be in good shape.
September 29: @ LA Galaxy
One of the teams the Whitecaps are chasing, the star-studded Galaxy allow a lot of goals, but they score a bunch too. With former international stars like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Ashley Cole, the Whitecaps could be in tough here.
October 6: @ Toronto FC
The reigning champs in Toronto are having a rough year and seemed destined to miss the playoffs in the East. This game is very winnable: Toronto is tied for the most losses in the league. Vancouver needs to add to that total and not settle for a draw like they did a few weeks back at BC Place.
October 17: vs. Sporting Kansas City
Sporting KC is one of the best teams in the league (though the club’s name could use some work. Actually, pretty much half the names in MLS could use a complete rebrand), currently sitting second in the Western Conference. They are also one of the top teams according to possession metrics, meaning that they’ll probably have their way with the Whitecaps.
October 21: @ Los Angeles Football Club
Yep, there’s both the LA Galaxy and Los Angeles FC. Like the Galaxy, LAFC has had no trouble attracting big names (see Carlos Vela). They’re also near the top of the Western Conference table and this could be another rough one for the Whitecaps, who will be on a short amount of rest having played four nights earlier.
October 28: vs. Portland Timbers
Oooh baby. If things go right for both teams, the season finale could be an intense match. As it stands now, the Timbers are three points ahead of the ‘Caps with two games in hand. If Vancouver can gain some ground, this game may determine who makes the playoffs.
The Whitecaps toppled Portland at Providence Park earlier this month, so they might be able to do the same at home.
However it shakes out, the next nine games will be ones to watch as the Whitecaps make a push for the postseason. The schedule is decent and the team is (mostly) healthy. Let’s see what the club can do.
What do you think? Will the Whitecaps make the playoffs?