After a season which saw a lot of chaos, the Vancouver Whitecaps are in the playoffs.

The Whitecaps are in the postseason for the second time in three seasons and will play a playoff game at BC Place for the first time since 2017. It is just the sixth time in thirteen seasons that Vancouver will be in the playoffs after finishing sixth in the Western Conference.

Should they have finished higher? Yes. Were there games that they should’ve won? Also yes. (The opening day loss to Real Salt Lake, both games against the Colorado Rapids and the home loss to the San Jose Earthquakes come to mind.) This was an exciting, chaotic season full of coulda, woulda shoulda. But let’s keep moving forward and focus on the present and future.

The Whitecaps are a good team and play exciting soccer. They play calcio champagne as head coach Vanni Sartini says. (Champagne football) There is a lot of pressing and creating turnovers with quick transitions, counter-attacks and passing.

A fun and likeable team

Speaking of Sartini, he is one of the most beloved sports figures in the city of Vancouver. He is an eccentric, passionate, honest, hardcore Socialist who loves his job. Sartini is a man of the people. He loves the fans, the city, the players and the club staff. The Italian manager always gives out great quotes in press conferences and he isn’t afraid to speak his mind, especially on certain issues such as the NHL banning Pride jerseys or talking about why he hates Batman. He’s clearly a players coach and they are clearly behind his message, a real-life Ted Lasso.

But it is not just Sartini that is likable, the team is. Yes, they play fun soccer but the players have put the team over themselves.

For example, Ryan Gauld is an MVP candidate and at this point, the best player the Whitecaps have ever had in their MLS era. He is the “working class DP” as Sartini called him. Gauld gets his assists and he can score goals but even more impressive is that he is great at tracking back and defending as well. The Flying Scotsman is a hard worker and that shows every match. Gauld doesn’t care about individual accolades and statistics and has stopped caring about a potential call-up for Scotland. The working-class DP wants to lead his team to victories.

Brian White led the team in scoring with 15 goals in the regular season. He surpassed Fredy Montero, Cristian Techera and Pedro Morales to become the Whitecaps’ second all-time leading scorer. In MLS alone, he has 38 goals and that is five behind Camilo. There is no doubt he will pass the Brazilian, whose departure still leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of Whitecaps fans. He doesn’t care about the record books,

Andres Cubas has been a force in the midfield ever since signing from French side Nimes in the spring of 2022. He always wants the ball, like a dog always wanting a bone. The Paraguayan may be a quiet guy but his play on the pitch makes him deafening.

This is a team that shows a lot of togetherness and selflessness.

The Whitecaps are heading in the right direction

For years, the Whitecaps were a poorly run organization. They couldn’t do much right. There was a lack of ambition, signings flopped and the on-pitch results were poor. There was also a lot of really bad off-the-pitch stuff involving former coaches.

Axel Schuster arrived in 2019 and he hoped to steer the club in the right direction.

Under his leadership, it is fair to say they have moved in the right direction. They still have a long way to go but they have come a long way from finishing at the bottom of the Western Conference.

The culture around the club has changed. They have invested heavily in their academies and that includes having the second team play at Swangard Stadium and being a part of League1BC. The recruitment (mainly thanks to Nikos Overhuel who departed the club in May) has improved. Not all of the signings have been hits (see Lucas Cavallini and Sergio Córdova) but there have been more hits than misses since Schuster arrived.

Gauld, White, Cubas, Ranko Veselinovic, Tristan Blackmon, Sebastian Berhalter and Yohei Takaoka have done well since joining the Whitecaps. They aren’t big names and they didn’t cost much, but they are big reasons why the Whitecaps are in the playoffs.

Canadian internationals Sam Adekugbe, Richie Laryea and Junior Hoilett were also added over the past few months to add some more buzz around the team.

Schuster has built a good team and is doing everything to make sure that it is a winning team. Since he arrived from Germany, the Whitecaps have won two Canadian Championships and a Cascadia Cup. Slowly but surely the fans are excited as JJ Adams of The Province reports season ticket renewals hit 94.6% and the club has sold over 1,500 new packages since September 6. An August survey by ResearchCo shows that interest in the Whitecaps has gone up by 12%. There is progress. That is some stonks in the Whitecaps but there could be more.

A massive opportunity

The Whitecaps know they have an opportunity to knock off the defending MLS Cup Champions and make a run at the MLS Cup.

But there is another big opportunity they have. The opportunity is for them to put their stamp on the market.

The Whitecaps had the third-lowest average attendance in MLS this season despite them being a good team. There were many factors: The Apple TV deal, 7:30 pm start times, inflation and the cost of living, not wanting to come back because of the off-field issues, lack of interest etc.

But Decision Day against LAFC, saw BC Place packed with over 25,000 fans in attendance. That goes to show that if you build it, they will come.

The Whitecaps with the squad they have have no reason not to get by LAFC and go on a run. After all, they beat them once this season. It was June 24 and it was a well-deserved 3-2 win at BMO Stadium. Sartini has said that was what launched the Whitecaps season, after all, it was their first road win in over a year.

LAFC has stars such as Carlos Vela, Golden Boot winner Denis Bouanga and legendary Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini. The Whitecaps are the underdogs but they know they can beat anyone in MLS.

It is fair to say Vancouver isn’t really a sports city unlike Seattle, Philadelphia, LA or Toronto. Yes, Vancouver loves the Canucks but it has been years since they were a good team. Vancouver loves hockey but you know what else? Winning and events.

This is a city that hosted Expo 86, the 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics, many games (including the final) for the 2015 Women’s World Cup and will host several games for the 2026 Men’s World Cup. Vancouver is an event city. Heck, the Canucks run to the 2011 Stanley Cup Final felt like a two-month event, until the riots.

The Whitecaps will host LAFC for game two of their best-of-three series on Sunday, November 5. Hopefully, the crowd on Decision Day was a preview of the crowd for the playoff game. This game needs to be marketed as a big event.

If the Whitecaps find a way to win game one in LA, that could increase the excitement and ticket sales. Could the lower bowl be full and could we possibly (gasp!) see the upper bowl open? It’s possible.

Vancouver is known for being a fickle sports town. Canucks interest dropped off after they lost the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and throughout the Jim Benning era. The Whitecaps can attract some bandwagoners if they can go a run.

They have the opportunity to win some fans over and win back old fans who have left due to the reasons listed above.

The Whitecaps have only one playoff win in their 13 MLS seasons and that was the 2017 knockout round 5-0 thumping of the San Jose Earthquakes. Other than that, there has been playoff disappointment. Losing 2-0 at home to the Portland Timbers in front of a packed lower bowl and registering one shot on target through two legs against the Seattle Sounders come to mind.

They need to prove that this year is different and they aren’t the same Whitecaps. A deep playoff run will ignite interest in the city into next season. The Whitecaps have a chance to change the narratives about them in these playoffs: they don’t spend, they aren’t ambitious, they are mediocre.

The Whitecaps can’t change their mediocre or downright awful past. The scars are still there. But they can shape their future.

It will not be easy to beat LAFC but the Whitecaps can’t let this opportunity slip away from them. As Sartini says, Andiamo.