Each season, and on every team around the globe there are winners, and there are the losers -- be that measured in terms of salaries, games started, minutes played, media attention, or something more ethereal, like a coach's confidence for example. In Major League Soccer, and on the Vancouver Whitecaps' roster in particular, you certainly don't have to rummage very far to see who the odd man out has been for 2012.
With his team some 12 matches into the current campaign, Long Tan's stat sheet looks thinner than Kate Moss with a fistful of appetite suppressants. And while his isn't the proverbial case of how the mighty have fallen, it is a reminder of how capricious the soccer gods can be, and that once opportunity knocks, she doesn't exactly linger around the doorstep waiting for you to answer.
While Tan enjoyed a reasonably successful first year in MLS, the 2012 season has been, if not a setback for him, certainly a very difficult row to hoe for the Vancouver forward. And it remains to be seen whether or not coach Martin Rennie will be able to offer him the chance to once more seize the day in a Vancouver uniform.
Fade back to late 2010, and Tan joins the Whitecaps on trial after the Whitecaps acquired his rights from Tampa Bay. He becomes the first Chinese-born player to make it to MLS, and signs a deal with the Caps in March of the following year. Tan makes his MLS debut a couple weeks later, and things are looking good, and why shouldn't they? After all, he was born in the Year of the Dragon -- a sign in the Chinese zodiac that is considered by many Chinese to be lucky and blessed.
He played in 13 matches for the Whitecaps last season, breaking into the starting 11 four times, all en route to a total of 437 minutes played in 2011, with one goal and two assists. In addition to the matches with the top side, he also put in half a dozen matches with the WC Reserves, notching five goals in those six appearances. While he wasn't exactly setting the world alight, he did put together a pretty reasonable portfolio for a rookie.
Fast forward to 2012, however, and what a difference a year makes. As luck -- or maybe misfortune -- would have it, it's once again the Year of the Dragon, but not much is going Tan's way. One-third of the way through the season to date, and he's only had three appearances for a grand total of 27 minutes on the pitch. The numbers get even more meager: 1 SOG, with 2 fouls committed.
To a large degree, Tan has been a victim of circumstance, but he's also not completely blameless. At the pre-season Disney Pro Soccer Classic down in Orlando, Tan drew the ire of Martin Rennie for attempting a cheeky chip down the middle on a PK against Houston Dynamo backup keeper Tyler Deric. The attempt was as feeble as it was ill-advised, and Deric simply stood on his line waiting for the ball to land in his arms.
But the reasons for Tan's woes this year extend well beyond the man himself. With the additions of established MLS star Sebastien Le Toux and speedster Darren Mattocks, the overall no. 2 at the 2012 MLS SuperDraft, and to a lesser extent Maltese international Etienne Barbara, Tan has plunged down the depth chart. Early signs of an emergence on the part of Omar Salgado this season haven't helped Tan's cause either.
The most telling sign that Long Tan is on the outside looking in came during the Whitecaps' recent Canadian Championship run -- a period that saw the team faced with seven matches (MLS and CC) in a hellish 21-day span. If there was ever an opportunity for Tan to get back into the mix, this gruelling three-week trial was it. He played all of 12 minutes -- in the first match versus Edmonton, and hasn't made the 18-man roster in the seven matches played since then.
Barring a spate of injuries or suspensions up front, it would certainly appear that for this season, and perhaps Tan's tenure with the Whitecaps, both time and circumstance have conspired in such a way that even a dragon might not be enough help.