With another MLS regular season officially in the books, it seems like a good time to reflect not only on today’s match against the Timbers, but also on the season as a whole.
If I recall correctly, in our preseason roundtable Eighty Six Forever’s general consensus was that this MLS season would look relatively similar to the last one. Personally, I predicted the Whitecaps to finish 3rd in the West and bow out early in the playoffs. I felt that this expectation was realistic based not only on the strength of the roster but also on a playing style that defied many conventional soccer metrics.
Carl Robinson’s Whitecaps were always teetering on the verge of crisis: from playoff futility against Dallas, to watching the Canadian championships slip through their fingers deep into extra time. In spite of this, Robinson always found a way to keep the ship afloat, it might not have been pretty, but most felt he was making the most of what the penny-pinching ownership group bestowed upon him.
This year, something changed.
Well that’s not entirely true, I think the shift started with the ‘Caps embarrassing two-leg performance against Seattle in the playoffs last year. In playing not to lose again against a Cascadian rival on the club’s biggest stage yet, trust was irrevocably lost.
As we approached the new season, there was hope. Anthony Blondell would prove to be everything Octavio Rivero might have been and Erfan Juarez would provide the World Cup experience and defensive truculence lost in the departure of Matias Laba and Cristian Bolanos.
But oh, how wrong we were!
From the outset, this season just had a different feel to it. Tim Parker (who hours before his transfer was rather hilariously photoshopped off the Whitecaps website) headed to New York and Felipe arrived in return.
On the pitch, the season would end up being marred by the Whitecaps inability to keep the ball out of their own net. To make matters worse, they also struggled to convert on their chances at the attacking end of the pitch when it mattered most. Match after match the team (and manager) bemoaned “what could have been” - but fans weren’t convinced.
The “key” additions had faltered, Blondell struggled to find the team sheet and Juarez was busy being red carded or completely embarrassed defensively. Felipe was either invisible or petulant (often both). Meanwhile, everyone was still confused at how Brek Shea could possibly be considered a designated player.
What was once a charming underdog story slowly became an embarrassment, a laughing stock.
What we all knew, but hadn’t wanted to face was finally coming to fruition: Robbo-ball just wasn’t sustainable.
To add insult to injury, the Whitecaps weren’t being as frugal as we were all led to believe. Blondell and Juarez represented a woeful return on the ‘Caps investment in comparison to other MLS clubs and an investigation was launched into the club’s suspect relationship with “certain” player-agent groups.
Things moved fast. What was once only a joke of meme-worthy proportions (“Robbo out”) became a reality quicker than any of us probably expected. Robinson’s assistants weren’t extended and as a result the fated post Canadian Championship fracas ensued. That night Robinson’s fate was sealed.
While the Whitecaps were still within a shout of making the playoffs it felt as though the season was already over. These feelings were given confirmation when the Whitecaps decided to let Robinson go with five games remaining in the season.
In failing to win by epic proportions at LAFC last weekend, the Whitecaps were officially eliminated from playoff contention.
And that brings us to today.
Missing in my narrative so far is the fact that the Whitecaps played this season with the most prolific player to ever don the uniform. That might seem a reactionary statement to some, but it’s worth remembering that entering the season, Davies had not yet scored an MLS goal. To me such a notion seems as unbelievable as it is absurd to think about. In less than a season the young Canadian has risen from academy success story to rising international superstar. He’s the reason why the Whitecaps managed to win as many matches as they did this season - and that’s not up for debate. It’s hard to imagine just how disastrously the Whitecaps may have fallen apart if it weren’t for Davies. What’s more, the seventeen year old has provided the club with a financial nest-egg, something that if used wisely could completely re-chart the course of a franchise in turmoil unlike anything we’ve seen since expansion.
Ultimately, today is a day to be thankful, not only for the player we were so privileged to experience but also the potential his departure has afforded the club’s future.
Above all else, thank you Phonzie!!!
A thing of beauty.@AlphonsoDavies scores his first of the game.#FarewellPhonzie pic.twitter.com/TY1NiHMQKv— Vancouver Whitecaps (@WhitecapsFC) October 28, 2018
The kid rises to the occasion. AGAIN. @AlphonsoDavies gets his second of the game and eighth of the season. #FarewellPhonzie pic.twitter.com/plyj3VJbE5— Vancouver Whitecaps (@WhitecapsFC) October 28, 2018
For those of you who were looking for an in-depth analysis of the final match of the season, I apologize, the Whitecaps won 2-1.
I’d also like to thank everyone in the Eighty Six Forever community for their continued support over the course of the season, we really appreciate it! If there’s anything specific you’d like to see us address as we begin the offseason don’t hesitate to let us know.