Some argue that match #1 of the season is equally as important as match #34 as they are all worth the same amount of points. While this is true, as the season progresses, little mistakes in matches become amplified. How different things look if Tony Tchani doesn’t get the late equalizer against Columbus to earn the draw. As a result, games at the end of the season seem more important than those which take place earlier.
The 2017 Major Soccer League season has just under a month to go, however, this week could be critical across the league. It is possible that Toronto FC could clinch the Supporters Shield, while several other teams in the East and West can secure playoff positions. Important to Vancouver Whitecaps fans is the battle for first place in the West. Although a second-place finish does provide the Caps with a first-round bye, should they make the West Finals, they could possibly lose home-field advantage; whatever that advantage may be in a home and away format.
Heading into this weekend, the Vancouver Whitecaps had a one-point lead over Portland Timbers, Sporting Kansas City, and Seattle Sounders. The Whitecaps did their job, defeating Colorado Rapids 2-1 on Saturday evening. At the same time, Seattle lost to surging Real Salt Lake 2-0. On Sunday, Sporting Kansas City did what we all expected, defeating LA Galaxy at home, while Portland defeated Orlando City also at home.
Combining the weekend results, the Whitecaps head into this week’s matches still holding a one-point lead over SKC and Portland, and have opened up a four-point lead on Seattle. However, lose to the Sounders on Wednesday, and suddenly the Caps are back to only one-point ahead of their three rivals; and risk falling all the way to fourth place. Beat Seattle on Wednesday, and they have effectively turned it into a three-team race for the West title.
After Seattle, the Caps head to undefeated-at-home Sporting Kansas City. Somehow give SKC their first home loss and the Whitecaps open a bit of a gap on their opponents. Lose, and the Caps will be overtaken for first (if they also lose or draw at Seattle).
Lost in this is Portland. While they have the fewest matches remaining (three), two of those matches are at home. First against the woeful DC United, then against Vancouver to close out the season. Although unlikely, the easier remaining schedule could mean that 1st in the West, along with the Cascadia Cup, could be on the line on Decision Day.
The Vancouver Whitecaps are currently atop the Western Conference, in control of their own destiny as the adage goes. However, they have away matches to each of their three chasing competitors. Somehow win two of those three, and they Caps WILL secure a first-round bye. Leave those three matches with a total of 3 points or less, and the chances the Caps garner their first Western Conference title becomes slim.
By this time next week, the Caps will have played two of their three remaining critical matches and we will probably have a good idea of where they will conclude the season. As a result, no week may be as important to the Whitecaps 2017 regular season as that coming up.
Vancouver Whitecaps: @Seattle, @Kansas City, @New York, vs San Jose, @Portland
Kansas City: vs Vancouver, @Minnesota, @Houston, vs Houston, @Salt Lake
Portland: @San Jose, vs DC United, vs Vancouver
Seattle: vs Vancouver, @Philadelphia, vs FC Dallas, vs Colorado