What a difference a year makes.
Vancouver Whitecaps 2 wrapped up their 2016 regular season on Wednesday night with a strong 2-1 win over OKC Energy. The crucial victory moved them up to fifth place in the Western Conference ahead of Saturday’s final round of matches.
The worst they’ll now finish this season will be sixth in the standings, and they’ll travel to the third or fourth placed team in the first round of the playoffs next weekend.
The win ended a strong season on a high, giving the young ‘Caps some confidence and momentum heading in to their first ever USL playoff campaign. It also brought to an end a successful season that saw massive improvements on the pitch from their inaugural year in the league.
Let’s take a look…
WFC2 finished the season on 45 points and a record of 12 wins, 9 draws, and 9 defeats from their 30 matches. That was an increase of 15 in their points total from their 11th placed finish in 2015 that saw them finish the season 12 points adrift of the playoff positions. A nice improvement, and it could have been way more if it hadn’t have been for a late season slump.
At home the team took 25 points from 7 wins and 4 draws (five more points than last season), while on the road they were an even 5-5-5, bringing home 20 points, double last year’s tally.
Interestingly/worryingly, after a strong start defensively, the ‘Caps finished the season with a goal difference of zero. Definitely the area of most concern this year, they both scored and shipped 44 goals, scoring one more than their opponents (18 to 17) in the first half and letting in one more than they scored (26 to 27) in the second.
Although it feels otherwise, and the striking talent is far improved, that is actually only five more goals than they scored last season. Clearly the Whitecaps first team clinical goalscoring malaise has spread.
Kyle Greig led the way in the scoring stakes, banging in 11 goals from his 27 appearances, ten of them coming in his first 12 games with the club. Marco Bustos and Daniel Haber shared second spot in the scoring charts, with seven each, while Haber led the team with four assists.
Eleven players found the scoresheet in total, three less than last year, where Bustos led the way alongside Caleb Clarke, with seven goals each, and Victor Blasco led the team with six assists.
It was in assists that there was the biggest change, and showed just what a team effort it was this season. Last year, only eight players contributed assists. This time around that number is 15.
Somewhat strangely, the ‘Caps used a total of 34 players both this season and last year. Two of them, Alphonso Davies and Brett Levis, earned MLS contracts, while Kyle Greig, Spencer Richey, and Sem de Wit, earned first team call-ups to the ‘Caps Champions League roster.
Defensively, WFC2 gave up nine less goals, a key contributing factor to them making the postseason. Last year’s keepers only managed three clean sheets between them. It wasn’t much better this time around, with four, and the team’s defensive shape and performance is my main area for improvement next season.
But all in all, it’s been a pretty damn good year, and it’s not over yet.
With so much of a turnaround this season, and hopefully with more success to come in the following weeks, there’s a lot to be happy with and proud of, and equally a lot more hard work required. A lot of credit has to go to coach Alan Koch, so what would he say is his proudest achievement from the regular season.
“I don’t think we can pinpoint one to be honest,” Koch told AFTN. “I use the word project, and it was a project, coming in the first year, we saw exactly what the USL was about. What we needed to have success in the league. We made a couple of adjustments.
“We played a lot of young players this year, and give the guys credit, they’ve fought through literally until the bitter end. They thoroughly deserve to be in the playoffs.
“I think what I’m the most proud of is the balance. Having a few older guys that have knocked on Robbo’s door this year. Kyle Greig and guys like that have come in. Sem de Wit, who’s really not that old at 21. And then playing as many young guys as we played this year. We played 15-year-olds, 16-year-olds, 17-year-olds, 18-year-olds, 19-year-olds. We played a lot of young players during the course of this season. We’ll take a lot of pride out of that.”
In fact, of those 34 players used by WFC2 this season, ten of them were teenagers, and it’s been a great season of development for them.
“That’s obviously our mandate, to develop players and to play those young guys,” Koch told us. “[Against OKC] you saw really a snapshot of how those players have developed. We had Kadin Chung out there, Alphonso [Davies] out there. Tommy Gardner set up Marco Bustos for the game winning goal in the end.
“So we’re very, very proud of how well the young players have come but also the older guys and what they’ve done to help us have success as a group.”
Will there be more success for them before the season is out? The ‘Caps will know their first playoff opponents come Saturday night. It’s a wide open USL playoff race. Everyone is capable of beating everyone else and the Whitecaps are very much in the mix.
It would certainly cap off an excellent season.