The Vancouver Whitecaps board the bus down to Seattle for their big occasion, their closest away match on the calendar.
For many of their most loyal fans, it is normally the most eagerly anticipated fixture on the schedule, notwithstanding the fact that 2013 calendar provided two of them.
However, there will be a less than party atmosphere as they most loyal of the Vancouver Southsiders and others pack their passports into their inside pockets.
Tonight is not about the match, the occasion, the derby or the party. Tonight is about the result. Their season is hanging, albeit by a very loose thread, on the final three games.
Whitecaps skipper Jay DeMerit told press after Sunday’s 2-2 draw with Portland:
“Overall it was a very exciting game for everyone involved, but we only got one point which means the next three games are critical, they’re all must-wins.”
The Caps have brought this upon themselves. In the match before the home draw with Portland, they lost at home abysmally to a second string Real Salt Lake who had rested their entire first choice squad for the US Open Cup Final. They were outplayed by the Utah side’s reserve team. 0-1 flattered the Whitecaps. It could have been more but for Danish keeper David Ousted. Together with Sunday’s draw, they took just one point out of six in two consecutive home games.
Brazilian striker Camilo scored both Vancouver goals on Sunday and seemed remarkably upbeat about his side’s performance even though two vital points had been dropped:
“We are happy that we played very well. I think the next three games if we play the same as that, we have a good chance.”
Vancouver (42 points) now lie seventh in the Western Conference where the top five qualify for the post season. They trail Los Angeles Galaxy (4th) and Colorado Rapids (5th) by six points and desperately need to close that gap in the three games all the sides have left.
That lies still in their hands – almost. After tonight, their remaining two games are both with the Colorado Rapids, home and away. Vancouver need to stay within six points of the Rapids after tonight which means matching the Coloradan’s result in San Jose.
To add intrigue, the San Jose Earthquakes (44 points) are the ‘piggy in the middle’ sixth placed side after having made a late run from seeming obscurity. The Whitecaps can technically still catch the LA Galaxy if they lose tonight but that would require two victories from them over Colorado, and the Galaxy to lose their last three.
However they cannot survive if both they and Colorado lose as that would require both LA and San Jose to lose all their remaining games, and the two Californian clubs play each other on October 20.
So despite the mathematical analysis for the anoraks, the main story is that Vancouver need to win tonight and hope Colorado do not. That would leave qualification still in the Whitecaps’ own hands, although beating the on form Rapids twice seems to be a very tall order.
The Rapids thumped tonight’s opponents Sounders FC 5-1 at the weekend but overconfidence can be your biggest enemy when playing the San Jose Earthquakes who revel in bringing the pompous down. The Caps need to look after their own business first but secondarily hope that San Jose steal a point.
Whitecaps skipper DeMerit saw little joy in seeing Sounders FC’s 5-1 thrashing.
“I saw the result yesterday and I thought “why couldn’t they wait for us to do that?” What they have shown is that, that can happen.
What we need to make sure we do is match them early because going into games like that especially Seattle is that they are going to be ready to come at us. They are going to be ready to make a statement because those types of thing shouldn’t happen.”
There is more though than just qualification for the MLS post-season at stake.
The Cascadia Cup is an important piece of silverware for fans of all three Northwest sides. Decided by the outcomes of league matches between the three local sides, it is currently held by the Portland Timbers.
However that 2-2draw in Vancouver eliminated their chances of retention, and the Seattle Sounders stand poised to regain the trophy they won in 2011. They just require a draw from tonight to prevent the Whitecaps leaping above them in the table and ensure the trophy returns to Seattle.
The Caps have six Cascadia Cup points to Sounders’ seven and a victory would take them to nine. Even with a loss tonight, Seattle could still win the Cup though should they triumph in the Cup’s last match in Portland at the weekend.
DeMerit did not belittle the importance of winning the local trophy after the draw with Portland when asked about tonight’s game:
“We go win that game, we have a chance to win the Cascadia Cup. It’s all still their for us. Any time you can win silverware, it’s a big step for us.
As a club, you’ve got to make sure we group. Not much time here. We got to make sure we stick together and build on that performance. You try and grab confidence in any way you can.Our young kids came on and made a difference tonight. All those things are major positives moving into Wednesday.”
Sounders FC have more than Cascadian Cup business in mind.
Despite the loss in Colorado, they remain favourites to win the Supporters Shield, the trophy awarded to the side with the most regular season points prior to the beginning of the play-offs.
For many of the harder core soccer fans, it is as prestigious as the MLS Cup itself. Sounders lost perhaps their hardest remaining fixture on Saturday, but looked on with relief as their two closes challengers New York and Real Salt Lake both failed to won home games.
Neither of them play tonight and Seattle (54 points) can make themselves a Puget Sound sized gap over their nearest challengers with three points tonight. They would be just one point ahead of New York (53), but still have three games to play to the New Yorkers’ two.
Sporting Kansas (51) stand poised to capitalise on any slips but they have an enormously difficult game in Houston tonight. Should they win there however and Sounders fail, then the Shield is a bona fide 4 horse race; five if you give Portland’s (48 points) very long shot credibility.
They host Seattle on Sunday but for tonight must hope that Vancouver can derail the Sounders just a little.
Should that not happen though, Thursday’s headlines will not be about either club but their northern neighbour and the future of head coach Martin Rennie and some of the players who have so dismally let him down this season.