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Beyond the Lens - The Final Four

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Playoff positioning on the line

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Seattle Sounders FC Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t know what to say, and yet have lots to say about it. Let’s start off with last Saturday’s match vs Colorado. While I understand Robbo’s thinking, I also find issue with it. This had “trap match” written all over it and with good reason. First against worst. It was a “should win” and Robbo threw out a fielded a team equipped to do so. They did, so Robbo was right, or was he?

I can understand if the players were working under the “one match at a time” mantra, but Robbo manages the squad and that’s where I think he went wrong. The Caps second choice lineup would’ve been enough to beat Colorado, knowing that trips to Seattle and Kansas City awaited them. A win over Seattle would’ve left them (Seattle) 3 points behind Portland and SKC, who in turn, would’ve be 4 points behind the Caps. The breathing room that a win in Seattle would’ve afforded them would’ve been massive as the pressure would’ve shifted to SKC, having games in hand on everyone above and below them. As bad as some of the players were, I still point the finger at Robbo for putting them in that position.

Derby matches are a funny animal. Anything can happen and sometimes does. I’m of the belief that you field your best 11, even if that means rotating your squad in front of your fans and chancing it in the match after.

Enough about that debacle, and onto the remaining month of the season. First up, a trip to Childrens’ Mercy Park. There are not enough superlatives to describe the enormity of this game. Right now, SKC has 1 game in hand (Oct 11 @ Houston) and a lot easier schedule to finish the season. With the upcoming Russia 2018 qualifiers in early October, teams will lose key players. Why does this matter? SKC will likely lose Zusi and Besler to the US, Espinoza to Honduras while having to travel to Minnesota and Houston.

After this weekend, the Caps travel to Red Bull Arena during the Qualifiers, to bring everything into balance heading into the final two weeks of the season, when there’s some coordination in kickoff times. This is the other game that there aren’t enough superlative to describe.

The first thought is, really? Yeah, for all the talk about games in hand on Seattle and Portland, this is it. Wednesday night’s debacle was one of the two against Portland. They blew that one hard, and now this is their only real chance to separate themselves from their Cascadian bretheren.

The #1 seed in the West could be done and dusted by Oct 12. Between now and then, SKC has 3 games, Caps and Dallas have 2, while the other 3 teams only have 1 (Seattle, Portland, RSL). Fortunately, there’s enough time between the remaining 4 matches that squad rotation, save for suspension and injury, shouldn’t be an issue. If that means less Teibert, Williams and Tchani starting, then I will be happy.

The last two weeks of the MLS season see schedule coordination. Matchweek 33 sees all the Eastern starts (Chicago, Red Bulls, New England, Toronto and Orlando) kick off at the same time and the Western starts (Colorado, SKC, LA, Seattle, Vancouver and Portland) kick off a couple hours later.

Decision Day 2017 sees all the matches kick off at the same time. Of the 22 matches, only 2 of them are non-conferene (DC @ Portland and Chicago @ Houston).

The Caps final home match comes on Oct 15 with the San Jose Earthquakes coming into town, before closing out the regular season with a derby in Portland.

Most of the metrics (remaining schedule, PPG etc etc) point towards SKC overtaking the Caps for top spot. Given that most of the pundits out there, myself included, had them struggling to make the playoffs, home field and a Knock Out Round bye should be considered a success. If nothing else, the Caps should be fully battle tested come their first match of the playoffs..

It’s time to put up or shut up for the Caps.