VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Whitecaps didn’t even play this weekend, and yet the club’s playoff hopes look a whole lot more secure.
And it was the team they thrashed midweek that gave them a helping hand, as the Chivas USA side that looked so hapless in a 4-0 loss to Whitecaps played to a 1-1 draw against visiting FC Dallas at the Sunday evening.
Remarkably, the Los Angeles-based club looked the more likely winner, and had it not been for some late heroics from goalkeeper Kevin Hartman, who made no less than three fine saves in the match’s dying stages, Dallas might have left California without a point at all.
Such was the importance of that draw that Canadian international and Chivas defender Ante Jazic jokingly asked Whitecaps captain Jay DeMerit via Twitter after the result, “beers for life?” To which DeMerit replied, in reference to the one remaining encounter between FC Dallas and Chivas – “hahah one more point (and) it’s ON!”
The result means the Whitecaps now only need to claim a win from one of their next two matches to guarantee a post-season berth, as they sit on 42 points, four ahead of Dallas, who also has two games left to play.
First up, Vancouver plays the Portland Timbers on Oct. 21. The Timbers have struggled this year, and sit one point off last place in the Western Conference.
It’s worth keeping in mind, however, that Vancouver have struggled immensely against Cascadia opposition during the Major League Soccer era, with a record of 0-5-4, so the three points are far from guaranteed.
Even more daunting is the prospect of going away to Real Salt Lake to play one of the league’s best teams to wrap up the season.
Dallas, for their part, must play the Seattle Sounders away and Chivas USA at home. Four points is achievable over those two matches, but it’s difficult to imagine a full six-point haul.
If one takes a sort of farmer’s almanac approach to predicting these matches, Vancouver will draw Portland and lose to Salt Lake. If past results are ignored, the Whitecaps should be able to beat the Timbers but will probably lose to Salt Lake.
But until that Cascadia voodoo curse is shaken off, you’d be hard pressed to find many eager to back the Whitecaps with a hefty bet in that match. But if the club can break out of that regional slump, and in turn qualify for the playoffs, what an occasion it would be.
With Sunday’s result, Dallas has made it very difficult for itself. Would anyone bet on them going to Seattle and taking more than a point off the Sounders? Despite the Chivas letdown this weekend, Dallas will surely get the job done against the Goats in their final match of the campaign.
Sport is never determined based on precedent, but if it were, Dallas will take three to four points from its final two matches, while Vancouver will take one point from its two.
If that comes to pass, the Whitecaps will qualify for the playoffs in perhaps the most unnerving way possible.
But before all of that, the Whitecaps will get a bit of a breather, as there will be no games this weekend due to the international break.
That will mean, crucially, a chance for the hamstrung pair of Darren Mattocks and John Thorrington to recover. It will also mean a chance for Omar Salgado to get himself fully caught up with his teammates and get some extra fitness work in before making a full return following his foot fracture injury suffered while away with the United States under-20 team in May.
Over the break, four Whitecaps look set for international involvement, with Kenny Miller and Dane Richards called up for World Cup qualifying matches for Scotland and Jamaica, respectively, and Atiba Harris and Carlyle Mitchell getting a chance to play in in first-round 2012 Caribbean Cup action for St. Kitts & Nevis and Trinidad & Tobago.
Given the extended break, Vancouver coach Martin Rennie didn’t seem too bothered about Miller or Richards dealing with overexertion when asked about the call-ups last week, and will surely welcome two of his fringe players in Harris and Mitchell getting a chance to get match sharp should their services be required down the stretch.
Martin MacMahon is a Vancouver-based writer who covers the Vancouver Whitecaps FC for Goal.com. Follow Martin on Twitter