First To Fall: Vancouver FC Eliminated From Playoff Contention
The Canadian Premier League’s newest club rests dead last in league standings, becoming the first team to be mathematically eliminated from playoff contention following this weekend’s loss to league-leaders Cavalry FC.
It’s been a tough introduction for Langley’s Vancouver FC, who bowed out of contention of whilst sitting on just 20 points from 24 games. They’ve conceded the most goals by some margin, whilst only scoring one goal more than second-last side Valour FC.
Suffice to say, there’s nowhere to go but up from The Eagles, though there are a few positives to take in as the season nears its end.
High Estimates, Low Returns…So Far
Head coach Afshin Ghotbi had predicted that his club could challenge for playoffs right from the get-go, with a North Star Shield on the menu by year two. It’s safe to say things things didn’t go to plan, with more than half of the club’s matches ending in losses.
Still, the expansion still has time to avoid worst full season in Canadian Premier League history: that result currently lies with FC Edmonton last year, who finished on twenty points in what became the club’s final campaign and found themselves eliminated in late August. If VFC can pick up a single point, they’ll be ahead of them in the overall wooden spoon history rankings.
It should also be pointed out that when the league’s first expansion side Atletico Ottawa finished its first full season, it also finished dead last. Vancouver FC fans can take solace in that as the club seeks to finish out the season on a positive note.
The Recipe Is There
There are moments of magic produced by the club that show that, with refinement, Vancouver FC can prove to be a much more competitive Canadian Premier League side than we’ve seen thus far.
It’s clear the midseason transfers had an impact: Mikael Cantave has proved a fruitful addition, while players like Renan Garcia and Vasco Fry, coupled with the return of Kadin Chung, saw the club look much more cohesive on the pitch – but they’ll also need some mentality adjustments to stay in matches when they go behind, which is something they’ve done often thus far.
Still, the club’s mid-season movement and the addition of much-needed experience shows that the VFC decision-makers are willing to roll up their sleeves and make big decisions to get improved results. While this year’s pivoting wasn’t enough to save the season, nothing short of a titanic turnaround would have been.
The biggest issue with the expansion club’s difficult debut has been on the defensive end, with Vancouver recording a league-worst goal differential of -24 at the time of their elimination, or nearly two goals per game on average. In the thirteen matches where they conceded more than one goal, they only managed to fight back and secure a result once.
Also setting the club up for defeat was its away form, with Ghotbi’s side only securing one away win – the club’s first-ever three pointer – at the time of their elimination. They secured their other four wins in twelve home matches, but most of their games came as tough losses.
One thing is clear for 2024: if success is to come to Willoughby Community Park, head coach Afshin Ghotbi will need to ensure things are locked up tight at the back
The Building Blocks For A Stable Roster
The inaugural roster saw no less than seven mid-season departures, and that’s indicative of how things just didn’t click right out of the gate. It also shows that the club wasn’t afraid to make big calls when change looked sorely needed.
Suffice to say, we expect that the pieces that worked will stay, but there’ll be more turnover ahead of the club’s second campaign as Vancouver aims for postseason possibilities next year. Let’s not forget that the Halifax Wanderers cleaned house with sixteen departures after its own inaugural season.
On the upside, Vancouver FC has found a nice collective of first year rookies who acclimated well to the professional level: teenage talent like TJ Tahid, Anthony White, and James Cameron can play bigger roles next season, and those domestic youngsters can become long-term contributors on the lower mainland.
It’s no secret that Afshin Ghotbi entered the league with the biggest international pedigree seen by a CPL coach, but little went to plan in Vancouver FC’s inaugural season. Lackluster results on the pitch and the in-season departures of seven roster members show plenty of year one turmoil for the club, who’s owners also saw less-than-expected attendance figures amidst some personnel departures from its parent company.
While Rob Friend has pulled the trigger to fire head a coach amidst disappointing results before, we expect SixFive Sports and Entertainment to stick with Ghotbi and see how he does after a follow-up season allows him a much longer runway of preparation – after all, this year’s roster was assembled in a matter of months, and it showed.
Their neighbours Pacific FC had a tough inaugural campaign before cementing themselves as consistent title contenders, so the lower mainland will seek out a sense of comparative improvements – and eventually, the same kind of sustained success – as their foes on the Isle.