The MLS Cup trophy has made the Cascadia region home for the past two years, with Portland and Seattle winning consecutive league titles. A third straight Cascadia crown is looking very possible, and it might even be worn by a new contender to the throne.
The Vancouver Whitecaps are in first place in the Western Conference, a sentence you don't normally read in September of any season. The Whitecaps have an unfortunate tradition of falling apart in the closing months of seasons, but Carl Robinson's men have hit their stride, with a 4-0-1 run that has helped the Whitecaps edge in front of the Timbers for first place in the West.
That's why Vancouver's match against the Columbus Crew is one of the big highlights of this weekend's MLS action. In fact, all three matches featuring Cascadia clubs will carry big implications in the tightly-packed Western Conference.
The Sounders head down to Texas to face struggling FC Dallas in a match-up loaded with U.S. national team players. FC Dallas is struggling at the moment, having gone eight straight without a win, and the mounting desperation in Frisco should make for another memorable battle in one of the league's more underrated rivalries.
It is a big week for teams on the furthest edges of the playoff races, the teams that have run out of wiggle room and need incredible runs to reach the postseason. Teams like Orlando City, New England,
Here is a look ahead to some of the key talking points in MLS Week 28:
IT'S A BIG WEEK FOR ... THE VANCOUVER WHITECAPS
Led by a defense that has rounded into form, and an attack spearheaded by the streaking Yordy Reyna, the Whitecaps have suddenly emerged as a serious contender to represent the Western Conference in the MLS Cup final, and that's not a label we've ever put on the club before.
Wednesday's 4-0 thrashing of Minnesota United pushed the Whitecaps into first place in the West, and this weekend presents a great opportunity to open up a lead on Portland and Seattle, with both hitting the road for tricky matchups. Beating the surging Crew is far from a sure bet, but winning at home on Saturday will be vital for a team with some very tough matches remaining, including dates with the Timbers and Sounders.
How have the Whitecaps emerged as such a strong contender? You can point to a summer making some very smart roster moves, starting with the addition of Reyna, who has helped give the attack a sorely-needed boost. The additions of veteran MLS defender Aaron Maund along with newcomers Bernie Ebini-Isei and Aly Ghazal have also helped give the team some depth without having to spend big.
The Whitecaps have also seen two early-season moves pay off. The decision to deal Kekuta Manneh to make way for teen sensation Alphonso Davies was a smart one that paved the way for one of the league's most exciting young talents to thrive. The acquisition of Brek Shea for Giles Barnes has also worked out well, with Shea settling in quickly with his new team.
Those moves have helped Vancouver build a team capable of competing with the best in the West, but with a tough stretch of games to close out the regular season, the Whitecaps will need a win at home this Saturday to boost their chances of holding on to that top spot in the Western Conference for an extended period of time.
DON'T MISS ... FC DALLAS vs. SEATTLE SOUNDERS
It isn't that long ago that this would have been billed as a clash of MLS Cup contenders, but FC Dallas has seen its once-promising season unravel, making this clash less about a battle for Western Conference dominance and more about survival.
The Sounders are still very much in contention for the top spot in the West, but with the standings so tightly bunched up, a slide could see them fall further into the wild card danger zone, or worse. That seems crazy to mention considering the Sounders are unbeaten in 12, and haven't lost a league match since June, but three straight draws and the recent injury to Jordan Morris will have Seattle looking at this trip to Dallas as an opportunity to grab three precious points.
The match has plenty of subplots as well, including the battle of young U.S. national team midfielders Kellyn Acosta and Cristian Roldan. Acosta has become a regular starter for the USMNT, but Roldan is actually having a better season and should be motivated to outplay his friend and national team competition.
Then, of course, there's Clint Dempsey returning to Texas, where he always seems to find a way to score goals.
WEEK 28 PREDICTIONS
ATLANTA UNITED 3, Orlando City 0. The Atlanta steamroller follows up its 7-0 thrashing of New England with another big win and another step up the Eastern Conference standings.
VANCOUVER WHITECAPS 2, Crew 1. Columbus won't make things easy, but Yordy Reyna continues his outstanding form and the Whitecaps hold on to first place in the West another week.
IMPACT 3, Minnesota United 1. Montreal has been in a big slump lately, but the Loons are a good team to snap a slump against. Then again, the Chicago Fire thought that a few weeks ago and it didn't quite work out.
FC Dallas 1. SOUNDERS 3. Clint Dempsey loves playing in Texas, and he adds to his goal total in his home state as FC Dallas continues to slide.
FIRE 2, D.C. United. The Fire have looked better in recent weeks, and they'll love seeing a D.C. side that has been bad on the road.
SPORTING KC 1, Revolution 0. With the U.S. Open Cup final on Wednesday, Peter Vermes is likely to rest starters, but SKC should still have enough against a shell-shocked Revs side.
Rapids 0, NYCFC 2. The Rapids are decent at home, but the league's worst team will have a hard time dealing with NYCFC's dynamic attack, with or without David Villa.
RSL 1, TIMBERS 2. Last week's road win at NYCFC should offer a confidence boost for the Timbers heading into Utah, but RSL's playoff desperation will make things tough on Caleb Porter's squad.
LA Galaxy 1, TFC 1. Greg Vanney's decision to rest Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco makes sense given TFC's lead in the standings, but LA's draw in Seattle could give the Galaxy the confidence to slow down a short-handed TFC side.
EARTHQUAKES 2, Dynamo. Houston has just one win in five, and has just one road win all year. That's sweet music to an Earthquakes side that has been tough at home.
RED BULLS 2, Union 1. With the U.S. Open Cup final looming, Jesse Marsch is sure to rest several key starters, but the Red Bulls have the depth to hold off the struggling Union.