The Vancouver Whitecaps still have a chance. Their 2-0 victory over Austin F.C coupled with a win for San Jose over Minnesota and a draw between LA Galaxy and RSL has given the ‘Caps a slim chance of making the playoffs. I am not smart enough to keep track of all the permutations but a bunch of nerds over at five-thirty-eight have determined that Vancouver has a 15% chance of making the playoffs. Compared to the 1% chance they had a couple of weeks ago, I will take that.
But I suppose we should talk about the game at hand as well. The Whitecaps once again looked really good. They were a bit lucky to not concede but Thomas Hasal had a very strong game in goal and they also got a bit of luck, which they were due at this point, and it all worked out. Going forward they had maybe their best attacking performance of the season. Pedro Vite and Ryan Gauld were fantastic and Lucas Cavallini created maximum discourse by scoring a goal and getting a yellow card. I think Brian White should get some love for his performance as well, even though it was not rewarded with a goal. He did everything right, it just wouldn’t go in for him.
A lot of credit will go to the Whitecaps’ 4-2-2-2 shape though I would like to take some time to push back against that narrative. This formation is not that different people! When they attack it’s still a 3-4-3 and, while they do technically defend in a 4-4-2, it’s pretty clear the left-back has a lot more leeway to defend high up the field than the right-back. It’s the most three at the back four at the back formation I have ever seen. That being said though, there are some differences that I think have made a positive difference. This formation gives Julian Gressel a little less defensive responsibility and, although he was not a major factor in this game, his being freer to get forward has been important to their run of form. It also ensures that there are two guys in the box all the time and that makes their attacks from wide areas, of which there are a lot, way harder for opponents to deal with. A surging Vite is also a much more effective link-up player than White or Cavallini trying to drop deep and make something happen.
Overall I would say this run of form can be attributed to luck being with them instead of against them (40%), Pedro Vite figuring it out (30%), and the formation tweak (30%, too dramatic to call it a change).
The Whitecaps will need to win against Minnesota on decision day and then hope for a confluence of factors to go in their favour. It has been an up-and-down year with a lot of conflicting feelings. In one sense they have nobody but themselves to blame for being in this situation and in another, it is to their credit that they are still alive. No matter what happens the next offseason is going to be fascinating. Axel Schuster is going to have a lot of tough decisions to make which don’t have a lot of clear answers. But for now, we can all cling to that 15% chance and believe in one last miracle.