Welcome to Partially Obstructed View. We are each restrained by the limits of our own perspective, but when we meet to share information a clearer picture of the truth can be revealed. Comments & criticisms are welcome.

Tuesday 2 October 2012

On the Race to Be the First Canadian Team in the MLS Playoffs, Measuring Success, & Long-Term Planning

    The Vancouver Whitecaps, should they make the playoffs this season, will become the first Canadian club to gain entry to the MLS postseason, much to the chagrin of Toronto FC and their fans, who have long used the playoffs as their stated goal, or as a measuring stick of success.

    Vancouver has still not clinched the spot they looked destined to earn easily not so long ago. Steadily over the last two months since their last win against Real Salt Lake on August 11th - a seven-match winless streak including five straight losses - Vancouver has slipped from contention to currently grimly clinging to the final available spot.

    The collapse has been monumental and should they fail to cross the finish line ahead of FC Dallas, who currently trail by a mere two points - having shrunk a gap of eleven points at the middle of August, serious questions must be asked of the brain-trust that chose to complete renovate a successful side at the midway point of the season.

    Each of the moves – selling Davide Chiumiento, trading Sebastien Le Toux and Eric Hassli, adding Barry Robson and Kenny Miller – taken individually made a lot of sense; but deciding to commit to such a radical overhaul midseason betrays a poor sense of the time it takes new players to acclimate to both a new league and a new side.

    For all those looking at Vancouver’s success and lamenting Toronto’s continued failure, it is as much a result of circumstance as it is of merit.

    Under last season’s guidelines, where the top three sides from each conference and the next best four gained qualification - Vancouver would likely not make the playoffs; they currently have no hope of catching either the top four sides in the West and the five in the East. They could mathematically catch Columbus – current holders of that theoretical tenth spot - but with a nine-point gap and three matches remaining, Vancouver would have to win out and hope Columbus did not pick up a single point.

    In previous seasons, prior to the creation of the wildcard spots, only the top eight clubs made the playoffs, meaning Vancouver would have already been eliminated with a ten-point gap between themselves and Seattle.

    Of mild interest, under the current guidelines TFC would have made it in back in 2009 and 2010 – their two best seasons with fifth place finishes in the East. Of course, the league is now composed of more teams, hence the expanded nature of the postseason.

    To take the comparison a step further, back in 2009 TFC accumulated thirty-nine points in thirty matches for a points-per-game (PPG) of 1.3. This season after thirty-one matches Vancouver has the same thirty-nine points with a slightly lower PPG of 1.258.

    Vancouver needs to reach forty-five points to surpass that PPG ratio established by Toronto in 2009 as the benchmark, meaning they must win two of their remaining three matches.

    Of note and very much under the radar, expansion Montreal needs only five points – to Vancouver’s six – in their three remaining matches to top that mark and perhaps have the best season in MLS by a Canadian side despite – likely – not reaching the postseason.

    The point of all this is not to belittle the joy and pride in Vancouver – though that has largely been replaced by trepidation and finger-pointing with the near collapse of late – but to point out that using some constantly changing, imaginary line - the playoffs – as the measuring stick to success is disingenuous and faulty.

    Of course the goal is to win the MLS Cup, but is limping in back-wards only to fall at the first hurdle really any better indicator of success than a solid campaign where the foundations of the next have been firmly rooted? Such as Montreal’s? Toronto, sadly, has never had one of those either and is a different story entirely.

    Such a discussion, of what constitutes success, given Toronto’s stated intent – read: ultimatum – of reaching the postseason next year or else there will be another turnover in the front office with Paul Mariner and Earl Cochrane already on the chopping block, should be considered at length.

    Whatever one thinks of Mariner and Cochrane, this statement from the organization is just plain short-sighted and misguided. 

    Finish lines or progress; the two are not mutually exclusive.

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