It is September and even though the Autumnal Equinox is not until September 22 at 1:02PM, it feels like summer is over. Gone are days by the beach, car trips and poking around the house on a weekday afternoon, and in are back to school, the full traffic rush and everyone back at work. The end of summer also means that the dreaded Vancouver Whitecap summer swoon is officially over. Yes, the seasonal dip in form that has plagued this team since it joined MLS and kiboshed its hopes of post season glory nearly every year. And this year, the Vancouver Whitecaps had their summer with nary a swoon in sight.
I will consider June the beginning of summer swoon season, and in 2017 the ‘Caps have a June through August record of 6-3-4. That’s 22 of 39 possible points and they had notable wins against Atlanta, NY City and Houston, plus remarkable wins on the road against, Dallas, LA and Orlando. They never seemed to fully find their form for more than one game, and they served up some true disappointments (see the Portland game at home), and they have even won while being significantly out played. So, while we aren’t breathing the same heady air that TFC is right now, ‘Caps fans and their emotions have been lurching along with a team that finds itself fourth place in the Western Conference.
Where does this moniker come from? The team traditionally struggled in the summer and we can go back to 2014 for an example of a classic Whitecaps summer swoon. Up until March that year, the ‘Caps earned a very average 17 of 32 points, but in the summer months of June through August ‘Caps fans only saw their team win 3 times with a record of 3-4-7 for 16 of 42 points. They turned it around come September and won enough games to sneak into the final playoff position.
The following year, 2015, was a year of such promise. That summer the team actually came out of swoon season with a record of 7-5-1 for those months with 22 of 39 possible points. This was the year the ‘Caps hosted their first playoff game against Portland. Unfortunately, as soon as September hit they finished the season with a 2-4-3 record and were quickly disposed of in the postseason.
Last year could be categorized as a season long swoon, but just to be thorough, I’ll include the summer record here. Their summer earned them a paltry 15 of 39 points with a 3-4-6 record. It was a season that could never get going with a summer that stopped it dead.
A sobering similarity between 2015 and 2017 is how both teams took identical points in the summer months, 22 of 39. That 2015 team looked so powerful through June and even enjoyed first place in the standings for a week or two, but there was something amiss under the hood that fouled the rest of that season, and 2016 as well.
This season, I don’t think anyone can say they thought this would be a first-place team in the West, and with at least two games in hand on the top two seeds, it’s actually a possibility. As I said earlier, even when they win they show their warts: difficulty maintaining possession, low passing rates and greatly outshot. Just what kind of team is this that has defied the summer curse? Is it one we can reasonably hope could enjoy playoff success? With flashes of brilliance from Yordy Reyna and Cristian Techera, recent goals from Fredy Montero and a ceiling that continues to shatter by the play of Alphonso Davies, how good can this team be if those flashes become a full-fledged fire? The ‘Caps lost a key workhorse in Laba for the season, but there is another named Ghazal that hasn’t left the stable yet.
The Whitecaps are a team with a very average look about them. If they follow the summer by putting up points in an upcoming home stand against some beatable teams, they will emerge with a respectably above average record.
How good are they? And do we dare to hope?