There are lots of possible explanations for why the Whitecaps have struggled to turn good play into results this season. There’s the purely mathematical explanation that sometimes unlikely things happen, even several times in a row. There are more material explanations. They’re too short, they aren’t good enough at finishing, etc. There are even spiritual ones: The players don’t have the right mentality to hold on to the lead, or lack concentration, or any number of incorporeal failings. Maybe you don’t like their tactical setup, you wish they played four-at-the-back- or you don’t like the way they defend set pieces. I’m sure the true answer is some combination of all those things. But after Vancouver’s 2-2 draw with D.C. United I am drawn to a metaphysical explanation; They simply don’t have the mandate of heaven.
There was a sense on my Twitter timeline that the Whitecaps played poorly in this match. But I think that was largely born out of frustration with the way the match played out. Vancouver came out flying with an early goal and some fantastic passing play. But this momentum was quickly blunted by Tristan Blackmon slipping at the top of the box and Cristian Benteke equalizing with D.C.’s only shot from in front of the Vancouver penalty spot in the entire game. This goal was not the result of any kind of tactical shortcoming or system failure, it’s just the kind of thing that happens when you don’t have the mandate of heaven. Vancouver seemed to have regained control of the match shortly after halftime when a Ryan Gauld penalty that was proceeded by a number of half chances thrust them back into the lead. But almost immediately afterward a deflection straight out of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez Novella beat Yohei Takaoka and put D.C level again (the initial shot from Matheuz Klich had an xG of 0.02, in case you were wondering).
Now, it is true that D.C. was able to take quite a lot of shots throughout the game. But apart from that first-half meltdown, they were almost all from long range with several Whitecaps defenders behind the ball. I saw some mention of the ‘Caps defensive struggles on the timeline but what are you supposed to do to correct for a deflection and a slip? Other than that D.C had little to offer. Their gambit of matching Benteke up against Javain Brown mostly didn’t work. Sure, Benteke won a lot of duels but more often than not the Whitecaps were the ones picking up the loose balls, and when DC did pick the ball up they were rarely able to penetrate the Vancouver backline. But when you don’t have the mandate of heaven, this is the sort of game that never breaks your way. Incidentally, if they did have the mandate of heaven, Fisher is letting them take that free-kick quickly 10 times out of 10.
I thought in the final 3rd the Whitecaps were a little over-reliant on crossing. Donovan Pines had the beating of Brian White in the air for most of the night. But the Whitecaps had quite a bit more success trying to work quick passing plays around the edge of the box. Ali Ahmed’s late chance was a particularly good example of this. So it was a bit frustrating to see so many high-balls launched.
Next up Vancouver plays St. Louis, a team that clearly does have the mandate of heaven. St. Louis has out-scored their xG by 20, conceded 6 less than expected, and somebody just passes them the ball in front of their own goal every other week. All of the usual indicators of who is “good at soccer” suggest the Whitecaps should brush St. Louis aside. But all of this “math” and “creating more scoring chances than your opponents” stuff is total bullshit compared to the mandate of heaven. So I guess we’ll see.