What a strange season it has been for those of us who follow the Vancouver Whitecaps.
In almost every game it feels as though they are a team desperately battling through a tough relegation struggle, yet we know they sit atop the Western Conference.
They approach almost every contest as though they are a plucky group of underpaid scrubs being pitted against a Barcelona or PSG, yet we know they sit comfortably in the middle of the salary expenditure curve.
Whet we see is what we get and yet what we see doesn’t quite reflect reality.
And the 3-0 defeat to the New York Red Bulls on Saturday evening slotted very nicely into that familiar pattern.
The Whitecaps were terrible and completely outplayed but it kinda sorta didn’t really matter because they were playing an experimental 5-3-2/3-5-2 formation and were missing crucial players due to international call ups.
But it kinda sorta really did matter because in the last three games the Whitecaps have lost 3-0, won 1-0 in a game they should have lost 3-0 and lost 3-0 again.
Hardly stellar form as the playoffs approach.
Once he knew the post-season was assured Carl Robinson opined that he could now begin to establish his best starting eleven and it seems he’s achieving that in a Hunger Games style of eliminating the weakest by throwing them to the arena and watching them fail.
The Tribute this week was Alphonso Davies who had done nothing to earn a starting spot over the last few weeks but was given one anyway and promptly played just a little bit worse.
Maybe Robinson wants to play him to restore his confidence? It isn’t working.
Davies wasn’t the only one to underperform however.
Tony Tchani had one of his “bet you’ll never find me no matter how hard you look” games, Tim Parker once again looked worryingly prone to a mistake at any time and the pairing of Erik Hurtado and Fredy Montero achieved the difficult feat of creating a lone striker out of two players.
Only the introduction of Mezquida, Shea and Ibini injected any life into the Whitecaps attack but by then it was far too late to matter.
And maybe that hints at part of the problem too?
Because a good number of these players only really influence a game when they arrive from the bench.
Give them the start and they stutter and struggle, give them thirty minutes at the end and they thrill and they thrive.
The good news is that Reyna, Waston and Bolaños will be back for the final two games of the season, which should at least increase the defensive security and add a little more creativity.
The bad news is that the coach still hasn’t fully settled on his best starting eleven.
And, like everything else this season, that makes very little sense at all.
Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.
Ousted-5, Nerwinski-5, Harvey-5, Parker-5, de Jong-5.5, Maund-5, Davies-4.5, Ghazal-5, Tchani-5, Montero-5, Hurtado-5 (Mezquida-5.5, Ibini-5.5*, Shea-5.5)