While my colleague Mr. Massey figures the Vancouver Whitecaps are headed for the promised land of the MLS playoffs, my Sports Action money is on a definite no. Of course, I have the benefit (if you can call it that) of having watched the debacle tonight that saw the Whitecaps soundly outclassed by the 17th place Portland Timbers.
For the first time this season, the team has lost three straight -- and in all three, the Caps' performance has been exceptionally poor. This is a team that has now transitioned from being stuck in neutral to moving backwards -- and they're accelerating.
As late as mid-season, this run of crappy play would not be anything more than a developing slump, but with less than a handful of matches left in the season, and the Caps clinging desperately to the final playoff berth in the Western Conference, it's a sign that there's something very, very wrong with this squad.
The first WTF moment came even before the opening kickoff, when the pre-game lineup showed that Kenny Miller was starting, with Darren Mattocks riding the pine at Jeld-Wen Field in Portland. Forget the fact that Miller would later score -- his netter came on a setup that a Timbits player would have potted. Forget the fact that Mattocks would rack up another red card for an elbow on a play that was as stupid as it was dangerous. The way things have been going for the Whitecaps lately, Mattocks could well earn more than just a one-match suspension from the MLS Discipline Committee. With any luck, we should hear their decision by noon next Saturday. The rest of the WTF moments filled just about each of the 90 minutes of tonight's match.
It was a night when the Caps should have been pumped. Instead, to a man, they looked as if they'd downed a batch of three-day-old sushi left to fester in the August sunshine somewhere along the side of the I-5. No link-up, no touch, no imagination, no pace, no cohesion, no chance.
Certainly there will be those who'll say that Cannon's howler blew the shot at a single point. Others will point to the (truly) horrendous reffing job put in by David Gantar. But that would be too charitable to the Caps. The Timbers didn't look an awful side tonight, but on the strength of a 13-point difference over 27 matches, they're a side that the Whitecaps certainly should have dispatched.
With seven matches left to play in the 2012 season, here's the situation:
The Caps are now winless in their last six road games. Their last road victory came July 4, and there's no compelling reason to expect a turnaround in their road performance. The Caps have 7 matches remaining (3 of which are on the road -- vs LA, Dallas, and RSL). Of the four (consecutive) home matches, two feature Seattle and Portland, teams that have proven thorns in our sides.
Sixth-place Dallas has the tougher home stretch, but they've got far more momentum than Vancouver, two matches vs Chivas, and a key matchup at home on September 15, versus Vancouver -- a side that looks like they'll be entering that match riding a four-match losing streak.
Much earlier this season I was prompted to write that while my Whitecaps pint hadn't quite runneth over, it was looking rather full. Well, tonight some guys in green just spilled my brew -- with a whole bunch of help from their visitors.