Breaking Down The Western Conference Playoff Race

Breaking Down The Western Conference Playoff Race

  • Posted by Drew Epperley
  • On September 18, 2012
  • 2012 MLS Cup Playoffs, 2012 MLS Season, Features

Vancouver is in the driver’s seat for the final playoff spot out West. (Getty Images)

A month ago the MLS Playoff races were a bit different than they are today. The Eastern Conference was jumbled but not nearly as much as it is right now. Out West was a different story as five teams seemingly had done enough to get in the playoff mix – or so we thought.

The true playoff race in the West is what we will examine today. Obviously the race between Seattle, Salt Lake and LA for positions 2, 3, and 4 will be a fun race to view in the final weeks as well but that one isn’t nearly as good as the one for the fifth and final spot between FC Dallas and the Vancouver Whitecaps.

One teams has a game in hand over the other at the moment but that won’t be the biggest decider of the two teams. Nor will the fact that Vancouver has four home games left to Dallas’ one.

So let’s break it down here. 

[box style=”rounded”]Vancouver: Sunday 9/23 vs Colorado | Saturday 9/29 vs Seattle | Wednesday 10/3 vs Chivas USA | Sunday 10/21 vs Portland | Saturday 10/27 at Real Salt Lake[/box]

Let’s go ahead and throw this one out there – if Vancouver beats the Rapids on Sunday this race may be as good as over. It will put the Whitecaps in the poll position with four games to play.

Given the way the Whitecaps have played over the last month and a half though, winning and scoring goals will be key. Yes, captain obvious, that is true for anyone but definitely more so for a club that has been ice cold since the start of August. Vancouver has to end their current losing skid if they want to reach the playoffs – it is as simple as that – considering how they are in the driver seat in all of this.

But the big deal is their current state of mind. Vancouver just got an emotional hammer hit on them over the weekend in Dallas as Julian de Guzman’s late game winner made this race what it is today. Finding a way to overcome that loss and figure out where the offense has gone (one goal scored since the start of August).

The Whitecaps have a doable schedule largely in part of the four straight home games left with two of them coming up against two of the worst clubs in the Western Conference.

Technically they have three of five against the worst of the West but I exclude Portland for that discussion due to the rivalry factor. Portland will be in a mode that the only good thing they can do this season is win the Cascadia Cup. If they enter that game with only that Cup to play for, expect the Timbers to give the Whitecaps a run for their money in October.

If Vancouver doesn’t take advantage of the games in hand over Dallas it could come down to the final week of the season. Vancouver goes to RSL while Dallas hosts Chivas. You can’t tell me Vancouver would have the advantage in that scenario.

[box style=”rounded”]FC Dallas: Saturday 9/29 at San Jose | Sunday 10/7 at Chivas USA | Sunday 10/21 at Seattle | Sunday 10/28 vs Chivas USA[/box]

The mission is simple for Dallas, just win baby.

The games against San Jose and Seattle won’t be easy but they are manageable to do here. They get Seattle in a tough stretch for the Sounders that sees them coming off a midweek game and then having to prepare for a CCL game the following week.

Dallas has played San Jose well this season so that one can’t be thrown out all together – especially now that Dallas is healthy.

It should go without saying that Dallas has to win both games with Chivas. That is six points they cannot waste in the final four weeks of the season. If they can’t beat Chivas twice in a couple weeks then they don’t deserve the playoffs in my book.

All Dallas needs to do is continue to win and continue to put the pressure on Vancouver here. The Whitecaps control their own destiny and all Dallas can hope for is more of what we’ve seen out of Vancouver these last few weeks.