There are 10 games left in the 2023 Canadian Premier League season and Vancouver FC have it all to do. Still mathematically able to clinch the playoffs, time is slipping away from them to be able to do so. Will Vancouver be able to do the improbable or succumb to a playoff-less end to the season?
First Final: HFX Wanderers
“Every game is a final”.
That is the old saying when in difficult situations where teams are on the brink of greatness, or disappointment. For Vancouver, these last 10 games should definitely be treated as 10 finals if they will have any chance to clinch a playoff place in their maiden season.
First up for them is an away trip to HFX Wanderers. Halifax have been on fantastic form at home until last week. Prior to their match against Pacific FC, they had been on a five-game win streak at Wanderers Grounds, establishing themselves as the team to beat. But last week against Pacific, chinks in the armour were revealed. Refereeing decisions aside, Pacific showed that HFX can be defeated if you try to destabilize their midfield and make it difficult for them to play their game.
Vancouver will need to take a page out of Pacific’s book to be able to start on the right foot. In turn, Vancouver are coming off a strong 0-0 draw against Valour where they kept their first clean sheet at home since their 2-0 win over Forge in June. The new additions to the squad in Ivan Mejia and Vasco Fry added new elements in the midfield that might have been lacking in the first half of the season. They will need all of these players to be as sharp as possible to deal with the way that Halifax love to play in possession.
“It’s gonna be a good game,” Afshin Ghotbi felt in the pre-match presser. “When we played each other, it was close, in both games. Tactically, we will be trying to keep doing what we’ve been doing, defensively putting 11 players behind the ball, and trying in attack to be swift and keep the ball as long as we can.
“The addition of Renan and Vasco to the team has helped us maintain possession longer, have even more control in games, and have more possession in games.”
With Halifax being one of the teams that keeps possession the most, they will need to rely on these players to step up and disrupt the Wanderers if they are to get any chance of coming away with maximum points.
Play-Offs Meaning More Than Just Extra Games
While every team wants to be in the top five spots to play in the playoffs, off the pitch, the possibility of reaching those stages arguably means much more for Vancouver than perhaps other clubs in the league.
The first season for an expansion club is always vital, especially in terms of establishing themselves as a worthwhile team to support both locally and abroad. While winning games and competing for championships are not the only things that matter in that regard, they are still the easiest way to draw more crowds and more attention. Two things they have struggled with this year.
Unfortunately for Vancouver this season, they have grabbed the headlines for the wrong reasons more than the right ones. A few blow-out losses at home have hit the club hard in terms of attendance, but the feel-good side of developing local youth and promoting Canadian talent have made it so those who have stayed feel more connected to the team than with more commercial powerhouse teams in other leagues.
“What we want in these last 10 games is to show spirit”, Ghotbi explained to AFTN. “We want to have a team that is disciplined tactically so that we can control games on both sides of the ball. And we also want to have a team that’s exciting, that can score goals create chances, and is a team that can help promote the game not only in BC but also in Canada.”
“We believe that if we can make the playoffs, it will have an incredible, positive effect on the development of our club and make it easier to build our brand for next season.”
While lifting the title at the end of the season might be a step too far for the team, even reaching the playoffs will go a long way in building this team up for long-term success and demonstrating that they are moving in the right direction. That is why it is so important for the players, staff, and fans to give everything to try to make this miracle happen.
Fail Condition: What Would Be Next?
If Vancouver win this match, they would be eight points behind York United, who have already played a game more. If they lose, however, they would be 14 points behind Halifax, whose victory would put them above York and into the final playoff position.
If that point difference holds, then by Matchweek 24 it will be mathematically impossible for them to make the playoffs, four games before the end of the regular season. While it wouldn’t be the earliest that a team would be eliminated, FC Edmonton has that unwelcome record, it would still be a disappointing end to the season given the high expectations and statements made going into it.
Perhaps it would be a blessing in disguise, allowing the team to focus on building for next season, where they can learn from their mistakes in this first year and take the positives into 2024. It is clear that Vancouver has some talented young players in TJ Tahid and James Cameron, while now boasting some quality and experience in Alejandro Diaz and Renan Garcia.
If they can find a sustainable philosophy that allows them to compete across 90 minutes throughout the entire season, they definitely have the materials to push higher and challenge for playoffs and even beyond. They just need to be wary to not go down the same route as Edmonton did in years prior, perennially struggling and disbanding before they can ever truly shine.