Perhaps the most frustrating thing for Vancouver Whitecaps supporters is not that the referee was so horrible on Saturday night or that the team was beaten by one of the league’s basement dwellers, it’s that the 'Caps themselves looked so incredibly average.
Five games into the season this Vancouver team found themselves floating on top of the standings. Despite exuberant fan optimism and rumblings of a run for the supporters shield, this team was never actually riding the winds of change to the top of the table. The results were good, perhaps even great, but the Whitecaps were never much more than a balloon on the breeze. Major League Soccer is not made to support perennial league leaders. The standings are constantly shuffled and turned upside down from week to week.
Without a subscription to MLS Live, there aren't a lot of opportunities to watch the rest of the league on a regular basis (or enjoy the gong show that is Univision's English commentating). So most Whitecaps fans are confined to a weekly dose of their team without the context of the rest of the league. This isolation can have a big impact on the psyche of the average fan. For those who don't keep up with the other 19 teams in the league (I don't blame you, it's exhausting) it's important to realize that any team can beat any other team at any given time. This league is led by the teams that have the most consistency and is won by the team that peaks at the right time.
After next weekend's game against Real Salt Lake, the Vancouver Whitecaps will have played sixteen games in the first three months of the season. Fourteen of those games will have been MLS matches, their most since joining the league. The sheer number of opportunities to rack up points was bound to bring Vancouver near the top of the table. Unfortunately for Whitecaps fans, most of these points were found all in one place. A famous four game winning streak inflated the opinions of fans and media beyond sustainable optimism. Now the balloon we all rode to the top is well and truly deflating, bringing the Whitecaps softly down to the mid-table scrapping we’ve been accustomed to.
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what’s going wrong with the team at the moment. Theories about referee conspiracies are being bandied about, centre backs are being hung out to dry, and dead horses are being hauled out and beaten all over again regarding the impotence of our speedy draft picks. Beyond all the argument it’s important to realize that this dip in form was always inevitable. The balloon that carried us to the top is deflating and we need to accept it. The only thing left to do is trust that this team still has enough breath to reinvigorate the rest of the season. Be grateful that this is a slow leak, not a burst.