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Whitecaps happy couch potatoes following another wild West weekend
Michael Mccoll posted a article in AFTNHeading into this bye weekend on the back of the disappointing, but not too unexpected, 2-0 loss at the now newly crowned 2015 Western Conference champions FC Dallas, Vancouver's hold on their third spot in the table looked precarious to say the least. Both Sporting KC and Seattle Sounders had the chance to jump over Vancouver, sending them plummeting to 5th in the West and in danger of missing out on a home playoff game. Both faced tough, but very winnable, road games against teams below them in the table but fighting for their playoff lives. San Jose kicked the weekend off the way the 'Caps wanted it on Friday night with a tense 1-0 win over KC. Houston blew a one goal lead in a 1-1 draw with Seattle on Sunday, ending the Dynamo's playoff hopes for this year but keeping the Whitecaps in third. Remarkable, but even more so, Portland went to LA and did what only the 'Caps have done in the Galaxy's last 37 games there - win. Actually, just saying win doesn't do it justice. They came out for the second half a goal down then somehow scored five on the way to a massive 5-2 victory that moved them up to joint third with Vancouver, but below them on the first three tiebreakers. So what can we take from all that? Are LA and KC on the slide and out of form? Have Portland hit their stride at the right time? Are Dallas the team to beat? Can Seattle hilariously miss out altogether? Will Vancouver get not only that sought after home playoff date but a first round bye? Can we throw any more questions in there? Probably, but we won't. There's still one game to be played before the final round of matches next Sunday, as Sporting KC host Colorado on Wednesday. Kansas City have slumped to sixth place in the West after the weekend's results, edging San Jose by a point. By the end of Wednesday night they'll either be third, fifth or sixth and Vancouver will either be third or fourth. Colorado are currently sitting bottom of the West and second bottom of MLS. You have to feel they'll be happy to lose their last two matches (they travel to Portland on Sunday) and secure the second pick in the 2016 SuperDraft. That would leave KC and LA tied on 51 points and meeting each other in Kansas City on Sunday. It's quite the perfect scenario for MLS in their first ever "Decision Day". After farcical circumstances of recent seasons that have seen teams kicking off the day after their rivals and knowing exactly what they needed to do, Decision Day made total sense and we welcomed it fully. All of the five remaining Eastern Conference games kick off at 2pm PT. The Western ones at 4pm. Get your trannys at the ready! That's transistor radios to avoid any confusion and the need to hit up Davie Street prior to the match. It was a risk for MLS. It could have backfired big time if there wasn't much left to play for. A damp squib. I'm sure they would have preferred the Conference champions to still be up for grabs, but instead they have (probably) the wonderful scenario of 2nd v 3rd match ups in both the East and West, with a first round bye on the line (based on KC beating Colorado). It couldn't have been scripted much better and it may help two Canadian sides big time in the process. In the East, DC (51 points) travel to Columbus (50 points). A win for either side sees them clinch a first round bye. A draw though opens the door up for Toronto! If there is no winner between DC and Columbus, and Toronto can beat Montreal, then remarkably, TFC grab second place. A draw between the two Canadian sides at Stade Saputo give Toronto a home playoff game but if the Impact win, they claim one instead. Exciting, but who really cares about the Eastern Conference?! The West is where it's at. So we finally come to the Whitecaps. All we know 100% right now is that a win for Vancouver over Houston next Sunday gives the Whitecaps their highest ever points total in MLS, their most ever wins in MLS, their highest ever finish in the Western Conference, the number one seeding in next year's Voyageurs Cup, and best of all, their first ever home playoff match. It's like last season's final game of the season against Colorado with less pressure in terms of them already having their playoff place, but more pressure in what it could mean for the club in terms of postseason difficulty. What's the odds on another Kendall Waston winner? So there's the certainty. Now the flights of fancy. Vancouver could still finish anywhere from second in the West to sixth! For the latter to happen the 'Caps need to lose to the Dynamo and see every other result go against them. With the opposition those teams below them face, those other games could certainly go that way. And if the 'Caps were to fall to fifth or sixth, we don't have to look back very far as to the games that have cost them. Hopefully it won't come to that. A draw would give the 'Caps 51 points and could also see them finish anywhere from second to sixth, or third to sixth if KC get anything from their game against Colorado. But with a win, Vancouver will finish at least fourth. They could finish second. Here's the ifs and buts. The best case scenario is that no matter what KC do against Colorado, if they draw with LA, the 'Caps finish second, by at least a point. First round bye baby! The next best case is if KC lose or draw against Colorado and then beat LA. Same second place finish for Vancouver. If KC beat Colorado and beat LA, they will finish second over Vancouver by one point and the 'Caps will finish third, possibly with a home game against Seattle. If LA beat KC, they will finish second and the 'Caps will finish third. So many permutations. No wonder Carl Robinson has to count them all out on his fingers above! All of the above is based on the Whitecaps winning of course. Then it's all down to Kansas as to what happens next. Time to dig out my ruby slippers and get clicking.
Casting our eye over all the fixtures remaining for all the teams, we're going with Dallas to win the West on 57 points, with Sporting KC coming second on 55, LA third on 54 and then that's where it gets really interesting. By our reckoning, Vancouver and Seattle will be battling it out for 4th on 53 points and will face each other in the first round of the playoffs. Where that will be played is very well going to come down to goal difference and I think Seattle will shade that. We also think RSL will come good at just the right time and edge out Portland for 6th on goal difference. Accurate or total bollocks? You can let us know below, but we'll soon find out, and part of it will be played out tonight in Dallas. Banged up, beat up, out of form and looking for someone to step up and be the goalscoring hero, it's all about points and positioning now for the Whitecaps, a fact not missing from everyone at the club. "We're in at the moment, and that's the pleasing thing about it," 'Caps coach Carl Robinson told reporters at Vancouver airport on Monday. "With two games to go, we're in. Now we just need to regroup, refocus, get our minds right and see where we go from here. "The focus is to finish as high as we can. That's never changed from the first game of the season. There's different factors that affect that. Us and Dallas are two teams up the top that are competing. They want it as well as we do. They're healthy, we're not healthy. It is what it is. "We'll regroup. We know what we need to do. We'll go there and we'll try and be tough to beat, with the right mentality, because it is playoff mentality now. We've got two league games left but really the playoffs start now." Momentum, being in-form, confidence. Call it what you like, but the 'Caps are desperately needing to find some of it heading in to the playoffs. Last year, Vancouver headed into the postseason on the back of four wins and 13 points from their last five matches. We all know how horribly that ended up once the playoffs began, but it certainly makes for a better mindset than the current form of no wins in their last four and only two points and blown opportunities to show for their efforts. "Having made the playoffs already, our goal now is to get a couple of wins," is left back Jordan Harvey's take. "We don't want to just coast into the playoffs. We want to build some momentum. Going in [to Dallas], without a doubt, we're going for three points. Are we disappointed if we get a draw? Probably not, but the goal is to get three points and build momentum." Ravaged by injuries and players away on international duty, along with no wins in Dallas, or any other part of Texas for that matter, Vancouver coming away with anything tonight would be an amazing achievement. It would also likely secure them a best ever top four finish and the much sought after home playoff game. Not that simply going into Frisco and playing for a point is likely to be the 'Caps gameplan. That's not through Robinson's tactics but the mindset of his players. "I don't think we've got the type of players that can play there and try and get a point," Robinson admitted. "We've got players that will want to try and win games." As much as I'd bite your hand off for a point right now, it is better to go in looking for the win, as that makes it easier to try and fight back if you fall behind. Too often under Martin Rennie's teams did the 'Caps go in defensively, fall behind, then have no clue how to change things around. The other huge obstacle for the 'Caps right now is absences. Not so much the fringe players away internationally, but the series of injuries that has decimated the creativity of the team. Pedro Morales and Nicolas Mezquida haven't made the trip to Texas. Mauro Rosales and Cristian Techera have, but both are still nursing injuries and haven't trained since limping off during last week's 0-0 home draw with Dallas. The Whitecaps now face the dilemma of do you rush these players back to try and secure points and positioning or do you rest them and save them for the playoffs, possibly giving up a home playoff game as a result? "We have a couple of guys banged up and nicked up," rookie Tim Parker told AFTN. "We do want to get as many points as we can. I think we have the depth on the road to get points regardless, but I also think that it's important that we save some of the guys that we so that they don't injure themselves further." But even if things don't play out in Vancouver's favour and they have to start the playoffs away from BC Place, Parker has no fear or concerns. "We've been really good on the road this year," he added. "Of course we want to get a home playoff game for the fans but I don't think we're afraid if we get a road playoff game at all." Neither they should be, but with that last away win coming on August 1st, that previously amazing road form doesn't quite look as formidable as it did a few months ago. Let's just hope it doesn't even come to discussing that.