The Vancouver Whitecaps took a big step towards the Major League Soccer playoffs over the weekend without even kicking a ball. A tie for FC Dallas at Chivas USA on Sunday night leaves the 'Caps four points clear of the Texas club with two matches left to play.
It has been a nail-biting few weeks for everyone connected to the Whitecaps after a disappointing run of results through the final weeks of the summer, but the 'Caps are now looking good to take the fifth and final Western Conference place in the post-season.
After watching the performance from Chivas USA in Vancouver on Wednesday, it seemed unlikely that the LA-based club would be able to do the 'Caps any favours against Dallas, and when Panama international striker Blaz Perez gave Dallas an 8th minute lead, a win for the visitors looked even more of a foregone conclusion. However, Chivas managed to dig deep. They scored their first goal in six matches, and looked the team more likely to win the game. It finished tied 1-1 at the Home Depot Center, a result which had just as much impact for soccer fans in the Lower Mainland as it did for those directly involved in the match.
The Whitecaps could now clinch a place in the post-season with a win in their next match against Portland Timbers at BC Place on October 21st. That's the same day FC Dallas plays against Seattle Sounders (TSN2) just down the I5 at Century Link Field. So by the end of the night, there's now a very realistic chance that Canada will have its first representative in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
Here's the scenario with two matches remaining for both the Whitecaps and FC Dallas:
The Whitecaps will qualify for the playoffs if they win against Portland Timbers on October 21st OR FC Dallas loses at Seattle later the same day. A draw for the 'Caps would also be enough to book a place in the post-season if Dallas fails to beat Seattle.
The 'Caps really need to avoid going into the final weekend of the season without having sealed their place in the top five. Vancouver's final match at Real Salt Lake is a very tricky one while FC Dallas finish their campaign at home to Chivas.
So what are the chances? Well the 'Caps match against Portland isn't only about Vancouver's playoff aspirations. The Timbers need a win at BC Place to win the Cascadia Cup and salvage something from a season that has failed to get anywhere close to expectations. The Whitecaps are yet to beat a Cascadia rival (Portland or Seattle) in Major League Soccer.
Martin Rennie's 'Caps have looked pretty good in their last three home matches, and seem to have put their five-match losing run well behind them. They threw away two points against Colorado due to poor defensive play late in the game, but have rectified that with two clean sheets against Seattle and Chivas. Albeit against weak opposition, their attacking play in the 4-0 win against Chivas was a joy to watch.
A draw at home to Portland should be the minimum expectation for Vancouver, but if they're to have any success in the post-season, they have to build on their recent form and prove they are capable of winning games when it really matters. If the 'Caps can't get the job done at home to the Timbers, they'll be looking anxiously to the south for help from their Pacific Northwest neighbours.
Seattle hasn't lost to Dallas in the two previous meetings this season, winning 2-0 in Texas in May and then getting a draw there last month. The Sounders looked extremely impressive going forward in their 3-0 win over Portland on TSN2 Sunday. The form of Eddie Johnson and Fredy Montero may well lift Seattle to a second-place finish in the Western Conference this season and if they can produce a similar display against Dallas, it would be difficult for the Texans to cope.
For Vancouver, it's now a waiting game. The international break next weekend will slow momentum, but at least there is plenty of time for Rennie's men to prepare for what is now the biggest match in the club's short MLS history.