First half of season was good...second half of season looks even better

Exciting challenges ahead for improved Whitecaps FC

It has been a fun and enjoyable 2012 season in Major League Soccer, and with the midway point more or less reached by most clubs, focus turns to the second half of the season and the race to the MLS Cup Playoffs.

For Vancouver Whitecaps FC, it is a time of reflection on what has been achieved over the first half of the campaign and what challenges lie ahead in the next half of the regular season schedule. It can be argued that the most interesting part of the campaign is about to start for the Blue and White. The 17 matches to come will be a true measure of how far the ‘Caps have progressed as a young MLS club.

All but two of Vancouver’s remaining games will be crucial six-pointers against Western Conference rivals. This includes some very testing clashes with some of the league’s top sides.

Whitecaps FC have all three regular season matches to play versus Real Salt Lake, plus two Cascadia Cup derby clashes each versus Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders FC.

If that does not peak one’s interest, a further two games against David Beckham and LA Galaxy has already whetted the appetite of ‘Caps supporters - with Wednesday, July 18, already a hotly anticipated contest!

That is followed by another highly anticipated home clash with Western Conference leaders San Jose Earthquakes. Will there be a repeat of the drama that was May 5 at BC Place?

This weekend’s third trip of the season to The Home Depot Center in Carson, California, is one of two remaining games between Vancouver and Chivas USA, while the ‘Caps will clash twice more with FC Dallas before hosting Colorado Rapids for a second time this year.

Next week, Whitecaps FC will wrap up their schedule against Eastern Conference clubs. Avenging Amway Canadian Championship disappointment will be a motivating factor when Martin Rennie’s side visit Toronto FC next Wednesday, while a trip to a resurgent Chicago Fire will offer the ‘Caps a stern challenge on Saturday, July 14.

These matches will have many on the edge of their seats in the weeks and months to come, as league results should create plenty of movement in the standings of both MLS conferences.

The aim for Whitecaps FC will be to solidify their current position in the top five of the Western Conference. A continued push towards high-flyers Salt Lake and San Jose would be an ideal scenario. If the playoffs were to start today, the third-place ‘Caps would face Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference Semifinals, with both clubs clashing in a two-match, aggregate-goal series.

The other Western Conference Semifinal series would see the top side in the conference meeting the winner of the single knockout playoff match (wild card game) between the fourth and fifth-placed clubs in the Western Conference.

The semifinal winners will then meet in the Western Conference Championship, which will also be played as a two-match, aggregate-goal series. The same playoff format will be used by the top five clubs in the Eastern Conference.

The two conference championship winners will then advance to this year’s MLS Cup on Saturday, December 1. The match will be hosted by the club that had the best regular season record amongst the two finalists.

2012 has already been a long and exciting journey for Whitecaps FC. The journey ahead could very well add more chapters to the club’s long and rich history as a professional soccer club.