Ever since the Vancouver Whitecaps got off to their great start last season, we've all been waiting in eager anticipation to crown them 'elite', or 'upper echelon' in Major League Soccer. However, we all saw how 2012 ended, so that coronation had to be put on hold for a long while.
At certain parts of this season, the Whitecaps have looked like a first place seed, and then they've looked like that same awful club from 2011. They've posted wins over the New York Red Bulls, The L.A. Galaxy (finally!) and even their I-5 rival, The Seattle Sounders. They've also drawn against Real Salt Lake and the Portland Timbers, and defeated the San Jose Earthquake just a few weeks ago.
Those are impressive wins against impressive teams, and while many analysts will tell you that a win is simply a win, trust me, a win against Chivas USA does not mean nearly as much as a win versus the Galaxy.
The Whitecaps currently sit in the fifth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, although they were in second just a week ago, and could still climb up the standings from week to week, so that's not really a help. Their road record is horrendous, but that isn't exactly a rarity in MLS. With so much parity in the league, a losing road record isn't exactly a deal breaker these days. Plus, the Whitecaps have been nearly invincible at home, the true mark of a top team. They might have fallen off a bit in Colorado, but the 'Caps boast a potent attack, as they're tied for third in the league in team goals, with 36.
On the flip side, they've given up 32 goals, which ties them for third-worst in the Western Conference. By comparison, Portland and Seattle have given up just 22 and 26 goals respectively. The 'Caps defensive woes can largely be contributed to injury, but it's not like the club has been horrible in that regard. With Andy O'Brien and Jay Demerit back in the lineup, that stat might be very different.
In terms of personal stats, you don't need to look far to find Whitecaps on the leaderboard. Camilo is still tied for tops in the league in scoring, with an incredible 14 goals. Russell Teibert is tied for fourth in assists, while Kenny Miller has seven goals despite missing a number of matches due to injury. Those 7 goals have him tied with guys like Thierry Henri, by the way. The club also boasts one of the most electric midfielders in the league in Nigel Reo-Coker, although Gershon Koffie isn't exactly a slouch either.
Anyways, I've prattled on enough; are the Whitecaps an elite team yet? Would you mention them in the same breath as the Galaxy? Or how about the New York Red Bulls? In my opinion, this club has a whole lot to accomplish before we can start tossing names like that around. A playoff win would be nice, for starters. Until then, let's just call this team 'very good.'