A supporter’s lament for what could have been

A supporter’s lament for what could have been

For some years now, I’ve considered writing for a site like AFTN. I retired last summer and so it seemed natural to take the plunge at the beginning of the 2019 season. After all, I’ve been a fan of the Whitecaps since the 1970’s and here was the opportune moment from my perspective.

Not only did my personal stars seem to line up, so did the fresh start of the Whitecaps. An end to the Carl Robinson bunkering era, a new coach with a seemingly clear and decisive vision, players on the way out, Alphonso Davies dollars to spend, a number of new signings to be had, and well, just the excitement of all this “newness” told me this was going to be a bunch of fun.

Wow, what a year to jump in. This has obviously been a tough year to be a fan. But it is doubly difficult to be a fan and to write about this club.

I began the off season with such enthusiasm. I checked daily for signings and news and I wanted to write about the positive changes that would surely come with this new environment.

The first article I wrote highlighted the new signing of Jon Erice. I was elated to point out that not only was he a defensive midfielder, but the ‘Caps were emphasizing on their website that he actually seemed to be able to pass the ball. Not only did I see this as an upgrade on Aly Ghazal, but I saw this as a message about a new direction for our new regime.

It seemed that Marc Dos Santos had a plan and he was filling positions on the field with players with a skillset which matched that plan. This approach was a departure from Carl Robinson’s ad hoc approach and so surely we were a club on the rise. Look out MLS, here we come.

As the season began, the losses also began. That’s okay I thought, we’re just learning a new system and the players just need to figure each other out. We could see hints of a new approach, a new high press starting, the optimism wasn’t shaken yet. Surely we’ll settle into new roles and the results will be just around the corner.

Or not.

The enthusiasm of a fan is a funny thing. We fans should all realize the role that our rose coloured glasses play. Those glasses tend to make us focus on the good stuff we desperately WANT to see and skate over the REALITY that was there all along.

Before every game, another site similar to this one asks that we chime in with a projected line-up and a projected score. Have you noticed how optimistic the predicted scores are? I could analyze them, but I don’t need to. A quick week by week or anecdotal review suffices. Wins are so often the projected outcome, even throughout 2019.

The Whitecaps organization is a business and there are many models of business out there. Our owners did not set out to lose money and their business model was not set up solely to win championships or even to win games.

This highlights the disconnect between being a fan and being an owner. We the fans channel our energy towards winning. Surely our owners should want to focus on winning? Or should they?

Winning is, for some owners, critical. For other owners, it is secondary. Oh sure, they can tell us they want to win. But the track record and past actions (and inactions) speak volumes.

Coaches with minimal experience, limited scouting, low transfer fees, capped attendance, lack of meaningful games for the academy, lower echelon salaries to Designated Players, not carrying a full complement of Designated Players, haphazard recruiting, limited management experience, the failure to retain or replace an experienced director of soccer operations, magically hiring a number of players with the same agent, and on it goes.

Thus, despite the re-start for 2019, not much has really changed.

What IS different now is that the fans are giving up in significant numbers. I think that for the first time we committed fans have been heard by our owners and management. They have actually blinked.

The walkouts before halftime related to historical perceived wrongs, the now commonly empty seats and the hesitancy to renew season tickets are actually having some traction where no traction was previously felt.

The club has finally set about re-hiring a director of soccer operations, shuttled Bob Lenarduzzi closer to the door, offered a form of guarantee to season ticket holders and suggested that scouting may be useful. Are these changes window dressing or are they concrete pillars on which to build? This coming off season will likely give us some clues. I’m not yet convinced, but I’m prepared to sit back and watch.

Remember, first I’m a fan and I wear rose coloured glasses. So, while I think I should be anticipating the playoffs and who we might play in the first round, instead I’m speculating about what key positions we’ll fill next year and what the skillset of each new player might be.

However, while I wait for next year with anticipation, I will not be packing up the family, catching a ferry, and purchasing tickets to any games until I see some real commitment to something better. That is MY business model for the foreseeable future. You see, I too can choose a business model that works for me.

Now, if only AFTN will allow me to continue to write in this space, I’m really hoping that next year will see us trending up. Maybe then I’ll be keen enough to actually write more articles like I thought I would this year and not be beaten down by the negativity we’ve experienced in 2019.

Time will tell.

Authored by: Doug Marshall

There is 1 comment for this article
  1. Ross at 07:54

    A very good article that encapsulates my thoughts exactly. I am actually proud of Whitecaps supporters who are not renewing season tickets or attending single games as this ownership group has demonstrated it could care less about winning and they could care less about its fan base. Sadly I think the now dwindling attendance in the stadium (notwithstanding the optics of how it looks) is not as problematic to this ownership group as we would like to believe. The VWFC franchise value continues to grow and ownership can easily write-off operating losses so I don’t see a real impetus for them to change how they operate. I look at Dallas who have produced very good clubs over the years and yet their attendance year-to-year is relatively poor yet they continue to operate? This underscores a problem with the MLS franchise mode which is that for some MLS owners, attendance, is merely a secondary consideration. It is obvious to most of us that there are two categories of ownership in MLS. The ownership groups that have ambition (LAFC, Atlanta, NYFC, Seattle, TFC) and want to produce a quality product for themselves and their fans. And then their are ownership groups like the Whitecaps, who view their respective football club as legacy investments only, and are quite content to produce a crap product or at best mediocre teams. With all of that said, I will be employing the same business model as you Doug.

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