Breaking down all the happenings in Cascadia and the playoff races and taking a look around MLS after a storyline-packed Week 31:
The big winners in the Cascadia region this week were not situated at CenturyLink Field, though. They were not even in action over the weekend, nor were they in the United States. Instead, the Vancouver Whitecaps sat back and watched their chief rivals duke it out as an encore after FC Dallas threw away a result to Chivas USA, settling for a draw against the team Vancouver blew out in a one-sided, mid-week clash just days before. The stunning result created a four-point buffer for fifth place in the Western Conference with two matches remaining, and one that puts the Whitecaps on the brink of reaching the postseason in their second year in the league.
Had the Whitecaps fallen out of that spot and let Dallas overtake them, it would have been one of the great collapses in league history, considering where Vancouver has stood for the duration of the season and how far back Dallas was before transforming into a winner three months ago. Instead, Vancouver can cement things by taking care of business against the lowly Timbers at home when MLS resumes following the international break, as Dallas must take care of its own business and pray for a minor miracle.
So while the actual Cascadia Cup is likely to remain in Seattle for another year after Sunday's performance -- Portland could still claim it by going to BC Place and winning Oct. 21, but is anyone really expecting the Timbers, they of the 0-12-4 road record, to pull that one off? -- it looks as if a second Cascadia entrant will be joining the Sounders in the fight for an even more important cup, MLS Cup, after all.
In fact, the club's home record against non-playoff Canadian teams in general has been rather disappointing altogether, and the two home ties the club settled for against Toronto FC and Saturday's draw against Montreal could ultimately be its undoing during a season in which the inconsistent Dynamo have had the look of both a title contender and an also-ran. Instead of tallying up those points, the Dynamo let them slip away, and they find themselves on the precipice of missing out of the playoffs as some under-appreciated challenges await.
The schedule for both clubs -- who are so close to the point that they've played two 2-2 draws this season in head-to-head matchups, but Houston maintains the overall goals-scored tiebreaker -- going forward does not make for smooth sailing. Houston plays a Philadelphia side that is gaining form and would love nothing more than to exact some revenge on the team that eliminated the Union from the postseason last year. The Dynamo follow that up by playing at altitude in Colorado all while balancing a crucial CONCACAF Champions League match in between. Columbus, meanwhile, has to travel to play D.C. United at RFK Stadium, where the hosts are undefeated since March 10, before finishing up with a Trillium Cup battle against last-place Toronto FC. At this juncture, it is very much a toss-up as to who makes the playoffs.
Houston and Vancouver will play their final games Saturday, Oct. 27, while Columbus and FC Dallas play the following day, by which point they will know exactly what is necessary to -- if it is still possible -- reach the playoffs. Imagine if that was not the case, that all of the final-week games were scheduled for the same start time, as is the practice in many leagues around the world. Not only does that make for a competitive balance for the teams in action, it creates that kind of buzz off the field that is unique to soccer and generates unbridled excitement as fans go through the permutations and possibilities with each passing goal and minute. The league moved to create a live-updated standings page on its official website, but that is something that is really best-served being used on a last-day bonanza, when fortunes across the league actually do change in real time.
The only way to try and replicate the magic that encompasses the last day of the season (i.e. the final day of last season's Premier League campaign and Manchester City's magical, dramatic win to claim the title) is to follow suit and have all teams in action play simultaneously. With an odd number of teams in the league it is impossible to make it logistically perfect until expansion to a 20th team, because one team will not be playing (this season, it's Sporting Kansas City), but having a go at it even with that caveat is certainly better than losing the potential to capitalize on that drama altogether.
In his first remarks to reporters, de Bontin mentioned that manager Hans Backe, a Soler hire who is in the final year of his contract, would have his future evaluated at the end of the season. Meanwhile, Backe is in the thick of a chase for the club's first trophy, one that is realistically within reach. Even talking passingly about Backe's future as manager of the team at this point is purely asinine.
The front-office distraction appeared to take its toll on the club's performance Saturday afternoon, one that was on display for all who have NB, and whether there is a correlation between the two only those in the Red Bulls locker room truly know. But with the overall flatness and lack of focus, it appeared on the surface as if the club's curious front-office personnel moves had a trickle-down effect to the field, where the defending was simply not good enough and the seeds of doubt were replanted. For a franchise that historically seems to enjoy the act of self sabotage, even this development is an unfounded head-scratcher.
Goalkeeper: Kevin Hartman (FC Dallas)
Defenders: Arne Friedrich (Chicago Fire), Hernan Pertuz (FC Dallas), Nat Borchers (Real Salt Lake)
Midfielders: Gabriel Gomez (Philadelphia Union), Javier Morales (Real Salt Lake), Juninho (Los Angeles Galaxy), Camilo (Vancouver Whitecaps)
Forwards: Sherjill MacDonald (Chicago Fire), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Fabian Espindola (Real Salt Lake)