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Can the Vancouver Whitecaps Defeat a Playoff Team or Have They Lucked Out Beating Non-Playoff Teams?

Throughout the season there have been questions around how good of a squad are the Vancouver Whitecaps. Have they feasted on poor teams while faltering against high-caliber squads? We look into their record a bit more to try and answer that question.

MLS: Western Conference Knockout Round-San Jose Earthquakes at Vancouver Whitecaps Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

The Vancouver Whitecaps were able to advance past the knockout round of the MLS Cup playoffs on Wednesday evening, thanks to a 5-0 victory over the San Jose Earthquakes. While some have certainly taken note of the Caps dominance, many have noted that the Earthquakes were probably the squad most teams would have preferred to face in the first round. In other words, the Earthquakes were not an elite team and should not be taken as a measuring stick for how successful Vancouver will be when they face Seattle Sounders in the next round.

Vancouver were the first team in the Western Conference to secure a playoff spot, thanks to a surprising 1-0 victory in Kansas City; snapping Kansas City’s 21-game home unbeaten streak. Needing just one victory from their final three matches to secure first place, the Caps finished the season with a loss 3-0 loss at NYRB, a 1-1 draw at home to SJE, and a 2-1 loss at POR; all three being playoff teams.

There have been many arguments as to what type of team Vancouver has. Are they a contender or a pretender? Their rise to the top of the Western Conference standings was helped by five wins and two draws streak from August 19th to September 23rd. However, six of those seven matches were at home, with the only road match being in Orlando City. In addition, four of the opponents were non-playoff teams, with the two matchups against playoff teams (Columbus and Seattle) ending in home draws. As a result, it is easy to understand why fans are not overly impressed with the Whitecaps 5-0 drubbing of San Jose and question whether the Caps can actually go far in the playoffs. Their recent performances suggest that they can beat up on poor teams, but fail to capitalize on playoff teams. However, is this a fair assessment?

I decided to look at how the Vancouver Whitecaps performed all season against playoff and non-playoff teams, and compared that to their next opponent, Seattle Sounders, and Portland Timbers.

Record Against Playoff Teams

Team Wins Losses Draws Total Points Points Per Match
Team Wins Losses Draws Total Points Points Per Match
Vancouver 6 9 3 21 1.17
Seattle 6 7 5 23 1.28
Portland 7 6 7 28 1.40

While it is true that the Vancouver Whitecaps averaged the fewest points per match, of the three clubs, against playoff teams, it was negligible compared to Seattle (1.17 versus 1.28). Of the three clubs, Portland actually had the best average (1.40) while having to play two more games than either Vancouver or Seattle against playoff teams.

Record Against Non-Playoff Teams

Team Wins Losses Draws Total Points Points Per Match
Team Wins Losses Draws Total Points Points Per Match
Vancouver 9 3 4 31 1.94
Seattle 6 7 5 23 1.43
Portland 8 5 2 26 1.73

Against non-playoff teams, Vancouver certainly did perform better, averaging 1.94 points per match compared to Portland’s 1.73 and Seattle’s 1.43.

What Does It Mean?

Examining the records of the three Cascadia clubs against playoff and non-playoff teams in 2017, it certainly appears that seeing is believing. The Caps were the best of the three against non-playoff teams and worst against playoff teams. However, I believe that the difference is not as pronounced as many might believe. Although the Whitecaps stumbled down the stretch, it is worth noting that their last five matches of the season were against playoff teams and four were on the road. Comparatively, only two of Portland’s last five were against playoff teams (loss at SJ and win vs VAN) and only Seattle’s 3-0 home victory over Vancouver was their only match in their last five against a playoff team.

The Vancouver Whitecaps ended the season on a bit of a sour note while Portland and Seattle used their easier schedule to jump ahead of the Caps. As a result, Portland and Seattle are coming into the playoffs on a bit of a high, while the Caps are coming in on a bit of a low. However, Vancouver has been involved in difficult road ‘playoff’ matches for the last month. Will the big victory over San Jose be enough to give the club the momentum they need to beat their Cascadia rivals? We will begin to have that answer this Sunday.