October means many things to many different people.
Worldwide, there is Halloween on Oct. 31, while in Canada, Thanksgiving is celebrated with the first of two end-of-year turkey dinners Oct. 13. For Major League Soccer, however, the 10th month of the calendar year is the final stretch of a long regular season campaign.
It is a time of year that raises the urgency and sharpens the focus of MLS clubs, with the playoffs right around the corner. This stage of the season is not lost on the Vancouver Whitecaps, who face another battle to secure their spot in the MLS postseason for a third straight year.
The good news for Carl Robinson's side is that its playoff destiny is back in its own hands after last weekend's results saw the 'Caps take advantage of a stunning Portland Timbers defeat at Toronto FC by overcoming Real Salt Lake at BC Place.
Vancouver sits one point ahead of Portland in the fifth and final playoff spot in the MLS Western Conference, with both clubs facing a race to the finish line with their final four regular season matches.
It is a scenario that is familiar to the Blue and White, and their supporters in particular. Back in 2012, the Whitecaps had many opportunities to put enough distance between themselves and sixth-place FC Dallas, yet struggled over the line to finish fifth. In fact, a late-season Seattle Sounders win over Dallas ensured that history was created, as the Whitecaps became the first Canadian club to reach the MLS Cup playoffs.
Though successful in reaching the postseason for the first time, the enormous struggle that the Whitecaps had in reaching that 'promised land' in 2012 serves as a haunting reminder to the club and its faithful.
Move forward to 2013 and Vancouver's failed bid to make a return to the postseason. Despite having the services of a certain Brazilian goal scorer in Camilo Sanvezzo, the Whitecaps finished three points adrift of the West's top five by season's end, with head coach Martin Rennie paying the price with his job.
Observers pointed to several matches where valuable points were dropped by the 'Caps last season. There were winnable home games to Philadelphia Union and Chivas USA. Some suggested a costly 1-0 home defeat to a second-string Salt Lake in late September was a decisive blow or the thrilling 2-2 home draw with Portland that followed that RSL defeat.
As we await the last act of this 2014 regular season, Robinson knows full well that similar observations will be raised when one assesses this current Whitecaps season, if Vancouver comes up short again.
There remains enough time for the 'Caps to paint the picture they want on this current campaign, but it starts with building on last weekend's victory and earning another home win versus FC Dallas on Saturday. After that, there remains one more regular season game at BC Place.
Three points must be taken this weekend, as the 'Caps will find it hard to claim something in Seattle and likely in San Jose versus the Earthquakes. It likely means that the Oct. 25 season closer versus Colorado Rapids will be a dramatic cliffhanger of a day.
Robinson and his Whitecaps charges need not be concerned with last-day drama at this stage, but with the idea that they control their own destiny, especially if valuable victories are forthcoming. The current challenge in front of the 'Caps is changing some of that recent history and proving they can indeed take advantage of being in the driver's seat.
Knowing they have the reins back should be motivation enough to not relinquish them again, as Vancouver did after the latest defeat to the Timbers in Portland. And much like last weekend versus RSL, Saturday's clash with Dallas is the Whitecaps' latest examination of their current credentials — if not their future potential.
Knowing one has a destiny is one thing. Making that destiny a reality is the real skill. This is what lies in front of the Whitecaps, as the club enters yet another decisive month of October.