MLS playoffs set to begin

It’s been a while since a mainstream sports team in B.C. has had anything to celebrate, but this Saturday night the Vancouver Whitecaps gave the province a reason to cheer.

A 1-0 win over the Colorado Rapids ensured the Whitecaps a playoff spot and dashed the hopes of one of their biggest rivals—the Portland Timbers. Portland had beaten FC Dallas earlier in the evening, meaning that Vancouver had to win to keep their season alive.

The game began with some scrappy play from both sides. In the first half, the Whitecaps couldn’t capitalize on chance after chance. Then in the 70th minute, a towering header from centre-back Kendall Waston finally broke the deadlock and sent BC Place into a frenzy.

The ‘Caps then hunkered down for the remaining 20 minutes, and goalkeeper David Ousted made a couple of important saves to maintain his 13th shutout of the season. Head coach Carl Robinson called the match “a fantastic achievement” on the broadcast of the game.

This is the second time in the Whitecaps’ four-year Major League Soccer (MLS) history that they have made the post-season. In 2012 they were knocked out in the first round by the eventual champions, the Los Angeles Galaxy. This year, the team have a do-or-die match against FC Dallas in Texas, slated for Wednesday.

While the Whitecaps got their fairy-tale ending to the regular season, the rest of the Canadian MLS contingent was not so lucky.

Toronto FC, despite spending record amounts on star players Jermaine Defoe and Michael Bradley, had a late season collapse and fell short of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Montreal Impact are also done for the season, finishing at the bottom of the Eastern Conference after losing 18 of their 34 games.

With the playoff picture now set, the only thing left to ponder is who will progress. In the Eastern Conference, New York, Columbus, Kansas City, New England and Washington, D.C. all made the cut. The New York Red Bulls have the likes of Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill at their disposal but their star players haven’t quite made for a star team.

The Columbus Crew are not expected to get far but could manage to surprise a few teams if they can get their offence up and running.

The New England Revolution, coasting off of a late season surge in form, are no doubt going to be boosted by their latest signing, Jermaine Jones, who represented the United States in the 2014 World Cup.

Sporting Kansas City are the current MLS cup holders, but have waned in strength slightly since their dazzling cup run last year.

D.C. United are perhaps the most likely to progress, and will be looking to continue in the same winning form that put them atop the Eastern Conference.

In the Western Conference, the third-place Los Angeles Galaxy will play fourth-place Real Salt Lake. These two teams have a reputation for being the league’s most consistent powerhouses, so their quarterfinal matchup should showcase some great soccer.

In a weeks time the first-place Seattle Sounders will play the winner of FC Dallas vs Vancouver Whitecaps. The Sounders finished their season with the most points of any team in MLS, giving them the Supporters Shield and establishing them as a MLS cup favourite.

What makes MLS so different from other soccer leagues is its competitiveness—results are almost impossible to predict. The 2014 playoffs will be an exciting time for this burgeoning league.

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