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The Confusion of 2017 Vancouver Whitecaps

With 8 matches to go, we still have no idea what team are the Vancouver Whitecaps. Are they a contender or pretender?

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at Vancouver Whitecaps FC Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

The Vancouver Whitecaps 2017 Major League Soccer has been a confusing one. As Edmondk noted, the Whitecaps have had a tendency to swan-dive in the summer. This year, that has not really occurred. As a result, they have an opportunity to really make some noise in the Fall, heading into the playoffs. However, many feel that they are just as likely to fall apart. Why? Well, one reason is certainly built-in pessimism. However, another reason is that many of us do not know what type of team are the 2017 Vancouver Whitecaps.

In an effort to understand what statistics contribute to success in MLS, we have been producing a series called Beyond the Numbers (I realize it should really be Behind the Numbers, but whatever). So far, we have looked at possession, passing, shots, and types of goals. What has been most frustrating about writing this series is that, according to most of the numbers, the Vancouver Whitecaps are over-achieving. Or rather, they are defying the numbers. As CWilkins commented, in the most recent article on types of goals and success,

When you look at each of the statistics it kind of seems that way. The Whitecaps are adequate at home, but certainly not stellar. They have the fewest points from home matches of any team currently in a playoff position. However, they have been stellar on the road; a notoriously difficult task in MLS. In addition, their success on the road comes despite having the greatest travel distance of any club in MLS. Maybe they are just used to it now?

The Whitecaps also have a goal differential of +2. Only the Columbus Crew have a lower GD (0) and are currently in a playoff position. Goals scored? Again, their 37 is only better than Sporting Kansas City’s 31. They have allowed 35 goals. Is that good? Not really. It is average. Most playoff teams are hovering around that mark. This accounts to an average of 1.40 goals per match allowed. Last season? 1.53. Better, but certainly not by a large margin.

Despite all of the numbers to the contrary, the Vancouver Whitecaps are 2nd SECOND! in points per game in the West. Their next four matches are home matches against Real Salt Lake, Minnesota United, Columbus Crew, and Colorado Rapids. Their combined road record this season? 8 wins, 37 losses, and 7 draws. Colorado has yet to win on the road this season, while Minnesota won their first last week against the struggling Chicago Fire.

This next stretch of four matches will be critical to the Whitecaps season. There is no reason why the Whitecaps cannot win all four and obtain a vital 12 points. However, it is conceivable that they could do poorly and only take half of those points. Why? Because at home, they have drawn Philadelphia and lost to D.C. United and a depleted Portland Timbers. They have only strung together consecutive wins twice this season (April 29th at Montreal and May 5th at Colorado; July 5th vs NYCFC and July 19th at LA Galaxy). In the same breath though, they have only lost twice in a row at the beginning of the season, while playing in Champions League (at San Jose and vs TFC). For these reasons we have no idea whether the Whitecaps will win all four of the upcoming, ‘easy’, home matches or whether they will win twice, lose once, and draw the other.

Have you drawn any conclusions on what team are the 2017 Vancouver Whitecaps? What are your expectations for this stretch run of games? As Edmondk said, there is an opportunity for so much more. Will they achieve that next level? What are your keys to success at the end?

Let us know your thoughts.