The Western Conference Playoff Race

Yesterday, I addressed the chaos that is Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference. The Western Conference is significantly better than the East at the moment, but as a result, it is more stratified and less interesting. Where the East’s playoff race features a variety of possible outcomes, the intrigue in the West is down to two teams: Portland and Vancouver. The Timbers took a big step last weekend with a 3-0 win over the Whitecaps, but a two-point lead with five games left is hardly secure.

Portland Timbers: 5th, 39 points

Games remaining: At Toronto, at San Jose, San Jose, Salt Lake, at Dallas.

In theory, those back-to-back games against the Earthquakes should be the easiest part of the schedule. But just a couple weeks ago, the Timbers could only manage a 3-3 draw at home against San Jose. The other three games are significant tests for the Timbers, a crash course in facing playoff opposition. Complicating matters is an important CONCACAF Champions League trip to Honduras in late October, in between the final two regular season games. There is a very good chance that if they reach the playoffs, they will stay in Dallas for the play-in game.

Expected finish: 5th, 47 points

Vancouver Whitecaps: 6th, 37 points

Games remaining: Salt Lake, Dallas, at Seattle, at San Jose, Colorado.

The Whitecaps have the tougher schedule of the two teams, mitigated slightly by having an extra home game.  Vancouver has done little in recent weeks to suggest that they are capable of facing that challenge, with just five points and three goals in their last seven matches. They will need at Seattle in order to retain the Cascadia Cup, but that won’t be easy in front of 50,000+ at CenturyLink Field. A not-insignificant subplot: because the Canadian Championship is changing its schedule, this year’s MLS points total will determine which Canadian side plays in the 2015-16 CONCACAF Champions League. The Whitecaps are currently level with Toronto, but the Reds have a game in hand.

Expected finish: 6th, 44 points. I don’t think the Whitecaps have it in them right now to win against either Salt Lake or Dallas. The schedule ends easily, but by then it should be too late.

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