Heading into the International Break, the Vancouver Whitecaps are in 8th place in the Western Conference. While technically out of the 6th and final playoff spot by a mere three points, the Caps would have to leapfrog two teams -Real Salt Lake and LA Galaxy- to make the playoffs. Luckily, Vancouver has three matches remaining (vs SKC, at LAFC, vs POR) compared to two for RSL (vs NER, at POR) and LAG (at MIN, vs HOU). Despite the one additional match, looking at the strength of schedule, it would appear that Vancouver is all but mathematically eliminated from the 2018 playoffs. However, let’s play the what-if game.
Vancouver will host Sporting Kansas City next Wednesday (Oct 17th). Because of the International Break, the Whitecaps will be fielding a greatly reduced squad. Away with Canada are Doneil Henry, Russell Teibert, and Alphonso Davies, while Kendall Waston is with Costa Rica, Roberto Dominguez (remember him!) is with El Salvador, Aly Ghazal is with Egypt, Yordy Reyna is with Peru, and Kei Kamara is with Sierra Leone. Put another way, SEVEN of the Whitecaps starting XI from last match will be away with their respective national teams. The only consolation prize for Vancouver is that Kansas City will be missing Johnny Russell, Krisztian Nemeth, and Felipe Gutierrez from their lineup. That is 17 (30%) of the clubs 56 goals this season.
The Whitecaps have been merely average at home, with six wins, four losses, and five draws. On the road, Sporting have a similar record of 6-6-3. With a victory against SKC next Wednesday, the Whitecaps keep their slim hopes alive. Without a win we can confidently eliminate the Caps from playoff contention, even if they are not mathematically eliminated.
Real Salt Lake will finish out their season at home to New England Revolution and away to Portland Timbers. New England is a paltry 2-8-6 on the road, while Portland is an impressive 10-2-4 at home. It is likely that RSL win at home and lose on the road, ending the season with 14 wins and 49 points. However, if New England can somehow draw RSL, things are wide-open. That 2-1 loss the Whitecaps suffered on April 7th in Salt Lake could prove to be big.
LA Galaxy will begin their final two matches away to Minnesota. While this might seem like a good opportunity for a victory, given Minnesota’s poor record, Minnesota have been good at home, going 10-4-1, while LA is only 4-7-5 on the road. LA will conclude their season at home against Houston, who has been dreadful on the road at 1-9-5. It is most likely that LA will finish with 13 wins and 48 points. Being able to only muster a 0-0 draw when the Caps hosted a very depleted Galaxy squad on March 24th could prove the key result for Vancouver.
With RSL finishing at 14 wins and 49 points, and LAG finishing at 13 wins and 48 points, VWC need at least two wins and a loss to even have a chance at the playoffs. If that were to happen, they would be tied on wins and points with RSL. The second tie-breaker is goal differential, which Salt Lake are currently ahead in with -3 compared to Vancouver’s -11.
Vancouver could get the two victories, if they are able to defeat Sporting and Timbers at home. With SKC playing away to FC Dallas the Sunday after the Whitecaps Wednesday match, we might see Sporting focus their attention on the more important Dallas match for tops in the conference. Meanwhile, Portland Timbers 4-7-5 road record leaves room for the Whitecaps to make a push on Decision Day once again for the final playoff spot. An RSL draw at home to NER and/or the Whitecaps pulling off a draw against Los Angeles Football Club, who are 8-1-6 at home this season, would be extremely helpful to the Caps playoff chances.
What are your thoughts as we head into the final three matches? What are you going to be most focused on?