If there’s one thing we’ve learned in recent years about making predictions around how the MLS schedule will impact the Vancouver Whitecaps it’s that we just can’t do it.
That tough stretch of four road games that we suspect will derail the season yields ten points, those three easy home games in July yield two.
This time around though even those scenarios are taken away from us as the team are faced with their most balanced fixture list (in terms of home and road games in a row) in the MLS era.
At first glance it even looks like a “traditional” season with as close to a home game followed by a road game as makes no difference.
This is MLS of course so there’s always the hidden easter egg of one extra game against San Jose to slightly destroy the illusion.
And the fact that Seattle and Portland get to play each other three times while facing the Whitecaps twice not only messes with the Cascadia Cup it also takes away one of the moderately accessible trips for any travelling supporter.
Given how poor Vancouver were against their Cascadian rivals in 2017 that may be no bad thing in the long-term and the Sounders and the Timbers beating each other up (metaphorically and literally) might be a blessing in disguise come season end.
If I were Carl Robinson though (I’m not) my biggest concern would be the opening of the season with five of the eight games on the road and the three home games consisting of Canadian rivals Montreal and the two LA teams.
Nobody really knows what to expect from either of those entities but it’s just possible that Vancouver could have a really bad start to the season which would only exacerbate the negative feelings some of us felt towards Robinson given how the 2017 campaign ended.
Looking back through my posts from last season it seems I wrote this in May
“Anyway, this is a very all around the houses way of saying that whatever anybody may have thought of him before…..Carl Robinson has displayed a somewhat remarkable degree of tactical flexibility this season.
Gone is the rigid belief (and fear) of the power of the first goal and gone too is the stubborn adherence to 4-2-3-1.
It’s only May in 2017 and Robinson has already trotted out a greater varieties of tactics than he did in all the previous years of his tenure.
It’s true that this doesn’t always feel like the perfect fit for his (football) personality and there’s still the sense of a man desperately trying to come to terms with a belief system that he doesn’t quite buy into.
No coach who genuinely believed in pure attacking football would leave Fredy Montero quite so isolated for example, but it’s also true that often the most zealous adherents to any faith are those who have converted late in life.”
It turned out that Robinson wasn’t going to be a radical zealot proselytizing the beauty of attacking football and I was as slow as anybody to fail to hear the thrumming of the rumble strip as the coached veered back to the security of what he knew.
Will Robinson be as tactically adventurous at the start of 2018?
Well, given he’s already said his main regret of 2017 was not taking the opening games of the season seriously enough (and concentrating on the Champion’s League instead) he clearly wants his team to hit the ground running this year.
That doesn’t seem to be a good fit for variety and change.
So what we see at the start of the year will likely be what we can expect to get for the rest of the season.
Let’s hope it turns out to be a road worth travelling.