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What is Worse Than Fan Anger? Fan Apathy

In response to the Vancouver Whitecaps play over the past few seasons, a new attitude has set in among casual and die-hard fans: Apathy. This new reaction is far worse than the anger that fans have expressed previously, as it highlights their feeling of being detached from the club they love so much.

MLS: Canadian Championship Semifinal-Vancouver Whitecaps at Montreal Impact Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

This past week, the Vancouver Whitecaps began their 2018 Voyageurs Cup run, played their first Cascadia Cup match, in Seattle, and saw their young star Alphonso Davies transferred to one of the top five clubs in the world for a reported MLS record transfer fee. This should have been an exciting week for fans. A lot of notable activities were happening. However, that excitement was non-existent.

The Whitecaps play this season, and the past two, has left a sour taste in the mouth of fans. Fans have expressed their anger in a variety of ways. Earlier this season, the Southsiders protested the lack of ambition and ‘fight’ of the Whitecaps executives. Some have refused to renew their season tickets until something changes. Others have loudly voiced their feelings on Twitter, Facebook, 86Forever, and other online media outlets. What changes have we seen from the Whitecaps organization, to reflect this backlash? Nothing.

Losers of five of six, barely being able to register a shot in their last two IMPORTANT matchups, and consistently receiving red cards or player suspensions, the Whitecaps have shown no evidence that anything is going to change. What has this led to among fans? Apathy.

Worse than fan anger is fan apathy. It seems that they just don’t care anymore. It is understandable as it appears that their frustrations have fallen on deaf ears. Unlike other MLS clubs, the owners are non-existent, the key executives only come out to express how great everything is going, and the players being brought into the club are routinely underperforming.

Why is fan apathy worse than anger? Because anger is a sign of passion. Fans do not get upset and frustrated with a team if they don’t care. It may not be the most constructive, but when a fan is getting upset at the performance of the club that they passionately cheer for, it means that they WANT to see better.

Of course, when a team is not performing well, it is not uncommon for the casual fan to become apathetic to the team; especially in Vancouver where sports fans are the most fickle. However, the concern with the recent Whitecaps fan apathy is that it is occurring among the most passionate and die hard fans; those that have been a supporter of the club for decades.

Fans such as Paul S-H (@Subhedgehog) wrote on Twitter their experience with the first Derby match of the season; usually an exciting time for fans.

When we asked fans on Twitter their mindset this past weekend.

The responses were consistent. Fans have become apathetic and emotionally detached, even for what are supposed to be the most exciting matches (e.g, Derby matches).

Some have found ways to make jokes, but at the same time, reading comments like this, you know they are serious too.

Even those who cover the Whitecaps, such as our own Caleb Wilkins, can’t get amped up for a match.

Long-time optimists, such as Chris (@salishsea86), who have been vocal about some of mine, or others, negative viewpoints of the club in the past seem to have lost some hope.

When the Caps have lost perpetually glass-half-full people, such as Chris and Mark Dailey (@markjrdailey), you know there is a major issue.

What is next for this once proud club? They have fans that WANT to be engaged. That WANT to cheer for the club. However, it seems that the club is not making that easy. While many have made suggestions to what is needed to fix the issue, in reality it is probably not that easy.

The owners do not seem keen on selling to more passionate owners, nor on spending more money and the executives seem to simply be figure-heads. There is always the coach, which many have already run out of town in their minds.

Carl Robinson certainly plays his role in the blame. He has seemed to go on runs of transferring in the same type of player. Whether it be from a region of the world -Europe, South America, Central America, Oceanic- or the same position -defensive midfield, winger, striker-, Robinson appears to scout for a type of player, then finds eight that fit it, and instead of being picky, gets all eight.

Robinson has also been stubborn in his tactics on the field, often playing with the same formation, same game plan, and same (i.e., no) strategy changes at halftime. This has led to a very dull, predictable, product at home, and a hope and pray attitude on the road. Yes, it has worked from time to time, but it is just not enough.

If I asked fans to tell me how a Whitecaps match was going to go, they would all say the same thing. Maybe come out strong in the first 30 minutes (at home) and have a flurry of shots, while still giving up 60%+ of the possession. All while failing to score a goal. At halftime, seeing the other team make adjustments, while the Whitecaps come out flat and either give up a quick goal, or come close to doing so. Between the 60th and 65th minute, see Robinson make a substitution (sometimes making sense, other times not), then seeing Caps players appear to pick it up for 10 minutes or so from minutes 75-85, giving possible hopes of a tying or go-ahead goal for fans. Sometimes it works, often the game ends in disappointment from fans, and plenty of questions. How are those questions answered after the match? With clichés and rose-colored glasses.

The pattern we have seen from the Whitecaps over the past three seasons has angered fans, but it seems that the anger has fallen on deaf ears and fans have begun to simply tune out themselves. Even those, such as myself, who cover the Whitecaps have become bored watching the Whitecaps. For a product that is supposed to be first and foremost entertainment, the Caps have routinely failed to provide even the bare minimum.

In the past, fans could at least hang their hats on the stout defense and the great saves from David Ousted. However, even with a coach that has been STRONGLY defense-first, and is touted as a defensive (rather than offensive) specialist, it has somehow gotten worse.

Vancouver Whitecaps Goal Differential

Year Goals For Goals Against Difference
Year Goals For Goals Against Difference
2015 45 36 +9
2016 45 52 -7
2017 50 49 +1
2018 30 42 -12

Once exciting to watch, the defense has become even more ineffective than the anemic offense. In 21 matches this season, the Whitecaps have only scored 30, while giving up an astonishing 42. The have only been able to shut out their opponents twice. First, a 0-0 draw against an LA Galaxy team who was severely under-manned. Second, a 2-0 victory against Real Salt Lake, on April 27th (three months ago!). With 13 matches still remaining, the club could easily break their inaugural season record of 55 goals against. In fact, they are on pace for 68!

The news of Davies imminent departure to powerhouse Bayern Munich has raised plenty of questions among fans. For some, it is seen as the final straw. Not because they are upset at Davies’ transfer. I don’t think anyone is upset. Rather, that Davies was the only player that routinely made Whitecaps matches enjoyable to watch. Luckily, for Caps fans, it appears Davies will play the rest of the season with Vancouver before completing the transfer.

For others, Davies imminent departure is a potential watershed moment. The expected $13 to $19 million transfer may provide an opportunity for the Whitecaps to reinvest that money into some high-quality designated players. However, it is also possible that the money is either a) squandered or b) pocketed as profit. Of course, we hope for the high-quality DPs; however, optimism is not high at this moment. Many, including myself, question whether Robinson has the ability to bring in high-quality players. If there is any reason to be hopefully, we must look to the history of Toronto FC. Ignoring this season, TFC made a few brilliant, albeit fortunate, moves that ended up paying dividends and making them one of the premiere teams in MLS, after having seven years of futility. There were questions about whether TFC would ever be even slightly successful (e.g., make the playoffs). Their fortunes have certainly turned around. There is no reason why the Whitecaps could not see the same turn-around. The problem currently is that there appears to be no light at the end of the tunnel. What is worse, fans don’t seem to care. There is no excitement about a potential turn-around. There is no optimism. There is just apathy, and that is a far worse thing to see among Whitecaps fans than anger.