What a difference a few weeks make for Vancouver Whitecaps.
A couple of issues ago in East Fife programme The Bayview, we looked at the “Tartan Transformation” that Vancouver has gone through on both the managerial and playing side.
Things were seemingly going swimmingly, as last season’s last placed side comfortably looked on course to make their first Major League Soccer playoffs. It wasn’t a case of ‘if’ they made them, but just what seeding they would get.
The Whitecaps are in the Western Conference and five of the ten teams make the post-season action.
Just a month ago, the Caps had an eleven point lead over sixth placed FC Dallas, with a game in hand.
As you read this today, that game in hand is still in play (until tomorrow), but Dallas have slashed that lead to just one point and it’s squeaky bum time in Vancouver for a side that have now lost five games on the bounce, bookended by two defeats by Dallas.
Even last season when the Whitecaps were very poor and bottom of the heap, they never lost five in a row.
So what has gone wrong? Well the blame seems to be being laid firmly in Scotland.
Many are pointing the fingers at three Scots: players Barry Robson and Kenny Miller, and manager Martin Rennie.
Robson and Miller have come to Vancouver on large ‘Designated Player’ salaries. That DP tag allows some of their wages to not count against the salary cap and is meant to attract marquee players to the League like David Beckham, Robbie Keane and Thierry Henry.
Unfortunately, such a tag also brings with it such expectations to perform and neither player has been. Or should that be, both players are has-beens?
Miller has been a flop for the Caps so far, scoring just once in eight games. When you’ve replaced a huge fan favourite, that’s never going to wash.
Robson has scored twice in 12 games and had initially won the fans over by scoring in consecutive home games, but can’t seem to play in the hot conditions away from home. His dour demeanour and regular shouting at team-mate’s mistakes hasn’t gone down too well either with the mild-mannered Canadians.
Manager Rennie is getting the most blame. He inexplicably tore apart a winning team mid-season selling and trading star players and fan favourites to make way for the Scots and others, in what many have likened to him playing fantasy football with the team and just bringing in people he’s admired from afar in Scotland.
Since he started swinging the axe, the team has only won two games and seems to have lost any sort of chemistry and harmony. Even the players are talking about the need to generate some new chemistry, amidst rumours of internal fall-outs.
The other killer for Vancouver is the crazy MLS scheduling.
They have played 10 of their last 14 matches away from home, and like many of the vast number of Asian drivers in the city, they’re just not very good on the road.
By the time tomorrow’s home fixture with Colorado comes around, they will have played just four home games in the previous 94 days. It’s insane, but the only saving grace is that they now have four of their last five matches at home, where they are strong and should be able to save their season.
Mathematically they need 12 points from 15 to guarantee a playoff spot. Realistically, looking at the remaining fixtures for both Vancouver and Dallas, six should be enough.
If they fail, then it will be one of the biggest collapses in MLS history and there will be calls for heads to roll both on and off the pitch.
It could leave Vancouver looking for their fourth manager in just two years. Thankfully it shouldn’t come to that, but even if they make the playoffs, it’s going to be a hard ask to do anything once they’re there.