It has been a weird season, with the traditionally weaker Eastern Conference overpowering the Western Conference, and teams such as the LA Galaxy and FC Dallas finding themselves on the outside of the playoffs.
For fans of the Vancouver Whitecaps, it has also been a strange season. Taking a step back to last season, many were predicting that the Whitecaps would challenge for the Western Conference title again, as they had in 2015. That never materialized as the Caps missed the playoffs. Flash forward to the start of the 2017 Major League Soccer season, and many were predicting that Vancouver would be near the bottom of the West.
Over the first two months of the season, it certainly appeared like the Caps would not contend in 2017. However, a summer turnaround -something unfamiliar to Whitecaps fans of years past- vaulted the club up the standings.
September had the team play an extended home stretch against some of the worst road teams in MSL. Acquiring 10 out of a possible 12 points from that four-match home stretch put the Caps in the enviably position of first in the West and controlling their own destiny.
Enter Week 30!
Entering this week’s play, the Caps held a slim lead over the chasing pack of Sporting Kansas City, Portland Timbers, and Seattle Sounders. However, they had the opportunity to solidify their position at the top, as they faced Seattle and Kansas City.
In Fredy Montero’s return to Century Link field, the Whitecaps put in a dismal showing and were trounced by Seattle 3-0. This loss once again closed the gap between Vancouver and the three trailing clubs to one point.
The Vancouver Whitecaps closed out this important week away to Sporting Kansas City. Heading into the match, KC were undefeated in their previous 24 matches at Children’s Mercy Park. Interestingly, the last team to defeat KC at home was Vancouver, during the CONCACAF Champions League last fall.
With first in the Western Conference potentially on the line, Carl Robinson came out with a less than stellar lineup. While not bad, many were expecting Robbo to field his best 11. Well, at least I felt that way.
I guess Caps have decided that winning West not important. Expected best 11 for this, potentially, deciding match. Strange. You angry? https://t.co/c34nHyguZD— Eighty Six Forever (@86forever) October 1, 2017
Despite a so-so lineup, the club’s recent form made me a believer that they still had a chance to pull out a result. While disappointed, I also understood that leaving KC with a draw kept the Caps in the conversation for first, while a loss certainly lowered those odds. Therefore, a more defensive match, and attempting to capitalize on an error was the ‘safer’ game plan. I DIDN’T WANT SAFE THOUGH!!!
I also understood that the physical nature of SKC and the need to snatch a goal against the run-of-play made players like Erik Hurtado a better fit.
As the Whitecaps played their typical bunker/hopeful long-ball style, I never lost (complete) faith in their ability to eek out a result. Sure enough, when all seemed possibly lost, who else, but Erik Hurtado rewarded that confidence with an excellent goal of a long-ball from Jordan Harvey in the 53rd minute.
LMFAO!!!!! Of course. Hurtado slots it home 1-0. Sigh.....— Eighty Six Forever (@86forever) October 1, 2017
It just seemed like it was going to happen didn’t it?
While the Whitecaps were probably committing some form of grand larceny, Portland was losing to San Jose 2-1. This morning, Philadelphia Union aided the Caps by dispatching Seattle 2-0. So, what does this all mean.
Currently, the Whitecaps (51 points) have a four-point lead over Seattle (47), Portland (47), and Kansas City (47).
- Vancouver have three matches remaining: at NYRB, vs SJ, at POR.
- Seattle have two matches remaining: vs FCD, vs COL
- Portland have two matches remaining: vs DC, vs VAN
- Kansas City have four matches remaining: at MIN, at HOU, vs, HOU, at RSL
If both Seattle and Portland win their two remaining home matches, they can finish with 53 points.
While Kansas City have the most matches remaining, and against some poor teams, they have only two wins this season on the road. As a result, building a bit of a cushion on KC Saturday night was huge!.
If Kansas City beats Houston at home, win one of their road matches at Minnesota, Houston, or Salt Lake, and can draw one of the other matches, that will give them 54 points. Certainly a tall order, but I wouldn’t bet against Kansas City.
Because the Whitecaps have 15 wins on the season, they will hold the tie-breaker over each of Portland, Seattle, and Kansas City. As a result, if the Caps can win ONE of their final three matches, they should win their first Western Conference title.
While a match away to New York may seem daunting, keep in mind that the Caps have never lost in New York, and the Red Bulls will be without their top players. If that doesn’t work out, San Jose is 3-12-1 on the road. Put another way, they are the same ‘road caliber’ as the other teams that came into BC Place in September. This doesn’t mean anything, and we know the Caps have played DOWN to their opponents in the past, but hopefully that strong September stretch has put that behind the squad.
Of course, it could all come down to Decision Day, when the Caps travel to Portland to take on the Timbers. However, let’s try to get this done before that.
What are your thoughts? Are you excited? Optimistic? How important was that win last night against Sporting Kansas City?