For most of the season, the regular-season objectives of Major League Soccer's three Pacific Northwest clubs have been pretty clear. Portland and Vancouver have been trying to make the playoffs, while Seattle has been aiming to lift the Supporters' Shield
With just 10 games left for the Timers and 11 each for the Sounders and Whitecaps, this is still true. Seattle leads the table, even on points with Shield rivals Kansas City and Salt Lake, while Vancouver holds the fifth and final playoff spot in the West, one place and two points ahead of Portland.
But this final stretch could be brutal. Of the 32 matches remaining for PNW teams, just two are against teams from the five with the worst points per game in the league — and both of those fixtures belong to Seattle, which has aa pair of matches remaining against Chivas USA. No more easy games against Eastern Conference dead weight for the playoff hopefuls, it's largely a run-in against the Western Conference teams that they're fighting for spots.
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By averaging the points per game of their remaining opponents, we can generate a rough idea of remaining schedule difficulty. The Sounders, partly by virtue of being unable to play themselves, as Portland and Vancouver still have to this season, are looking at a 1.37 figure, better than Portland's points per game. It would be good enough to get a team safely into the Eastern Conference playoffs. And they have the easiest schedule.
Portland's number is 1.41, which wouldn't quite get a team into the playoffs in the West, but is close enough to Vancouver's 1.43 pace as to be almost identical. If the remaining schedule, which is entirely against Western Conference teams not named Chivas USA, wasn't difficult enough already, the Timbers have three more CONCACAF Champions League fixtures to negotiate, including a trip to Honduras four days after a match against Real Salt Lake and four days before their regular-season finale at FC Dallas.
Vancouver's average opposition number of 1.48 — good enough to make the playoffs in either conference — illuminates the difficult schedule remaining for the Whitecaps, who have to play each of the four teams above them and face Portland twice. The Whitecaps' "easier" matches will come against Colorado, Eastern Conference challenger D.C. United, and two games against the always-tenacious San Jose Earthquakes.
It's very possible, and maybe even likely, that one of Portland and Vancouver will make the playoffs at the other's expense. It's something that can only add to the depth and grit of this great rivalry, and will make the two remaining games between them all the more exciting.
Portland — That was a nice goal from Liam Ridgewell, who's proven to be exactly what the Timbers needed in defense, but drawing against a struggling Eastern Conference team is exactly the type of slip that could cost Portland the postseason. The 4-1 CCL win in Guyana was much more impressive, and Caleb Porter will hope his side can use that as a catalyst.
Coming up: Sounders. Home. Those two words will have had this matchday circled in red on Portland calendars for months. You know, if anyone still used physical calendars and not organizers in their smartphones. But maybe there are some Portland hipsters who ironically use wall calendars with kitschy landscapes and circle important dates in permanent marker. Sunday, Aug. 24, 2 p.m. PT, ESPN2.
Seattle — Not that their playoff place is in any danger, but the recent 1-3-1 form that has brought the Sounders back to Earth in recent weeks might worry fans. Maybe a loss to RSL is expected, but the Galaxy game was even more one-sided than the 3-0 scoreline suggests and taking a single point from two games with San Jose is just unacceptable for a Shield wannabe. Suddenly, SKC and RSL are looming, putting Seattle's silverware and top-seed aspirations at risk.
Coming up: Providence Park was the site of what may end up being this season's most thrilling encounter. For the viewer, hopefully Sunday's game lives up to the excitement of its predecessor, although it's unclear whether Sigi Schmid and Caleb Porter would make it through without heart attacks. Sunday, Aug. 24, 2 p.m. PT, ESPN2.
Vancouver — What was previously said about not beating struggling Eastern Conference teams? That pretty much goes double when facing Chivas USA. Undefeated runs are nice, but if you're not winning enough of those games ... well, look at the Chicago Fire. Don't be the Chicago Fire, Vancouver.
Coming up: The LA Galaxy. The same LA Galaxy that came back from 3-1 down to beat Colorado 4-3. The same LA Galaxy for whom Landon Donovan is crushing it on a farewell tour. So not an easy game. Saturday, Aug. 23, 7:30 p.m. PT, MLS Live, TSN2.
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