10 games to go: A closer look at the race to the MLS Cup Playoffs

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By FARHAN DEVJI

10 games.

It seems crazy, but that’s all that is left in the 2015 MLS regular season for Whitecaps FC.

The Western Conference-leading ‘Caps have put themselves in a good position heading into the stretch run, but everything is still very much to play for – including a playoff berth, a home playoff date, and even the MLS Supporters’ Shield as the top team in the regular season.

“I think at the moment what we’re doing is very special,” Whitecaps FC head coach Carl Robinson told reporters on Friday. “We’re trying to build something and we’re doing it in different ways than other teams. We’re integrating youth and giving them an opportunity while picking up results along the way.”

“We are where we are probably because we deserve to be, but we’re not getting carried away,” Robinson continued. “We’re sitting at the top at the moment, but we could be second next week, we could be third in two weeks, or we could still be at the top in two weeks. It’s going to be that close … but I will say that it’s very exciting.”

Before we go on any further, here’s a quick refresher on the new playoff format.

This season, the top six teams in each conference will qualify for the playoffs. The top two teams advance directly to the two-leg conference semifinal, while the remaining four teams will play a single-elimination Knockout Round match (No. 3 vs. No. 6 and No. 4 vs. No. 5).  

So what does all this mean?

Ideally, you’d want to finish in the top two in your conference to avoid the midweek Knockout Round match and guarantee a spot in the conference semifinals – as well as a home playoff date. Finishing in the top four, however, would also get you a home playoff match.

With that in mind, here’s a breakdown of Vancouver’s remaining MLS schedule:

HOME MATCHES AWAY MATCHES

MATCHES VS.

PLAYOFF TEAMS

MATCHES VS. NON-PLAYOFF TEAMS
6 4 5 5

REMAINING OPPONENTS

TEAM CURRENT POSITION
Sporting Kansas City 4th in the West
FC Dallas (x3) 3rd in the West
Houston Dynamo (x2) 7th in the West
Colorado Rapids 10th in the West
Seattle Sounders FC 6th in the West
New York City FC 8th in the East
San Jose Earthquakes 9th in the West

Based on the current standings (taking into account points-per-game and games played), Vancouver’s toughest competitors in the Western Conference are shaping up to be Sporting Kansas City and FC Dallas (though the defending MLS Cup champions LA Galaxy might have something to say about that).

And that’s an exciting prospect considering the ‘Caps visit SKC this weekend and still have all three matches remaining against FC Dallas, who also happened to be their opponent in last year’s controversial and heartbreaking playoff defeat. 

Pass the popcorn.

Should Whitecaps FC maintain their position atop the Western Conference standings, it’s looking like D.C. United will be their chief competitor for the MLS Supporters’ Shield.

And why is that important?

Well, aside from it being another piece of silverware for the trophy case, the winner of the Supporters’ Shield would guarantee to host the MLS Cup Final (which is only one leg) should they make it that far. A Canadian team has never won the Supporters’ Shield. 

So there you have it.

How do you see the playoff race panning out? The table below, which shows which teams have the easiest road to the post-season based on their remaining schedules (taking into account their opponents’ points per game at home and on the road), might help you determine that.

The lower the number, the easier the remaining schedule. So DC United have the easiest schedule among the teams in question, while LA Galaxy have the toughest path.


TEAM STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
DC United 1.20
Sporting Kansas City 1.39
Vancouver Whitecaps FC 1.41
FC Dallas 1.48
LA Galaxy 1.52

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