The stretch run: A closer look at each remaining match for Whitecaps FC

Ali Seattle

Welcome to the stretch run.

Whitecaps FC are in the midst of a playoff push. They currently sit in sixth place in the Western Conference, but they have games in hand on every team above them and are only three points out of second place.

The ‘Caps will play all five teams ahead of them in the standings, plus the two teams at the bottom of each conference.

It’s going to be a wild ride, and each game will be full of intrigue.

Let’s dive in.

This one should be a ton of fun.

Much attention on this game will be given to Richie Laryea’s highly anticipated return to BMO Field.

That will certainly be a storyline worth watching. But this will also be the first meeting between the two sides since last year’s epic Canadian Championship final at BC Place – a match where TFC came in looking like world-beaters, only for the ‘Caps to burst their bubble and take our first of back-to-back Canadian crowns.

Now in 2023, the two sides meet under different circumstances. The 'Caps are looking to make a push towards the top of the Western Conference standings, while TFC sit at the bottom of the Eastern Conference after a recent 10-game MLS losing streak. However, Toronto have finally seemed to regain some momentum with a win over Philadelphia, all before John Herdman comes in as head coach in October.

This rare all-Canadian matchup is always spicy.

As of writing, Houston are just one point ahead of Whitecaps FC in the Western Conference, but the ‘Caps have a game in hand.

Under new head coach Ben Olsen this season, Houston have been one of the best teams in MLS as of late, going unbeaten in their past five matches with three wins and two draws that were both away from home.

The ‘Caps beat Houston 6-2 at BC Place in May, but the Dynamo have been dominant in the Texas heat at Shell Energy Stadium with a 9W-2L-2D home record. The ‘Caps, however, have recently proven to be road warriors, going unbeaten in their first three matches of this seven-match road stretch, and winning four of their past six road games in all competitions.

This will be a crucial match in the West standings.

This will be a rematch of the season opener at BC Place – a match the ‘Caps thoroughly dominated, showing the potential that they had this season, only for RSL to somehow, some way pull out a 2-1 win.

Real Salt Lake are just two points ahead of Whitecaps FC, but the ‘Caps also have a game in hand on the Utah side.

Since that season opening match, RSL are much improved. They have been sitting near the top of the Western Conference since acquiring striker Chicho Arango and midfielder Nelson Palacio in June. Unlike Houston, however, their home form has been hit or miss with a 5W-5L-4D record.

It's always tough to get results on the road, but another big opportunity awaits as the Blue & White return to their home away from home for the first half of the 2021 season.

Finally, we arrive at one of the ‘Caps crucial games in hand. This match was originally scheduled for June 20, only for inclement weather to get in the way.

The Rapids are dead last in MLS, have scored the fewest goals, and have only one win in 12 home games. Last week they parted ways with head coach Robin Fraser.

But in the altitude, against a team with nothing to lose, do not expect an easy match. The Rapids have already come to BC Place and gotten a 0-0 draw in April, so the ‘Caps will need to be up for this one.

This one will not only be huge in the playoff push, but also big for the nostalgic crowd.

Not one, not two, but three familiar faces could be on the other side at BC Place.

First off is Carl Robinson, now assistant coach to Wayne Rooney at D.C. United. The Welshman joined the ‘Caps as an assistant coach in 2012, became head coach going into the 2014 season, and was with the club until 2018. He led the ‘Caps to their first Canadian Championship in 2015, and three appearances in the MLS Cup Playoffs.

Though he has been back already, and in fact scored for Sporting Kansas City in 2020, Erik Hurtado could also be making a visit. E-Money began his professional career with Whitecaps FC after being selected fifth overall in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft. He was on that 2015 Canadian Championship winning team and scored 13 MLS goals in 106 MLS appearances with the ‘Caps, including in the 2014 MLS Cup Playoffs against FC Dallas.

Last, but certainly not least, is Cristian Dájome. The man affectionately known as Dájo was much beloved during his time in Vancouver from 2020 to 2023. He was a part of the 2022 Canadian Championship winning team, had 16 MLS goals and 13 assists in 92 MLS appearances, and played and scored in the 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs.

As far as this match goes, it won’t be easy. D.C. is in a playoff battle of their own out East and are led by the physically imposing long-time English Premier League striker Christian Benteke.

This will be a historic encounter, the first ever visit to BC Place for the expansion team from St. Louis.

But they certainly have not played like an expansion team this year. Under head coach Bradley Carnell, St. Louis is in first place in the Western Conference heading to the stretch run. Although Whitecaps FC are 10 points back, with two games in hand and this head-to-head match we could still conceivably catch them in the standings. The ‘Caps will be looking to avenge a 3-1 defeat at CITYPARK back in May.

It will also be another night of nostalgia for ‘Caps fans, with Jake Nerwinski and Tim Parker coming to town.

Nerwinski was selected seventh overall by Whitecaps FC in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft. He made 145 MLS appearances with the club, won the 2022 Canadian Championship, and played in both the 2017 and 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs before moving on to St. Louis this past offseason.

Parker, who also visited last year with Houston, was selected 13th overall by Whitecaps FC in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft. He was a part of the 2015 Canadian Championship team, made 81 MLS appearances with the club, and played for the ‘Caps in both the 2015 and 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs.

Whitecaps FC are Kings of Cascadia once again, clinching the supporters driven title of the Pacific Northwest with a game to spare.

But that does not make this match any less important. The ‘Caps are currently only three points back of Seattle with two games in hand. The Blue & White don’t have an easy schedule, but it is there for the taking.

This will also be the third matchup of the season. The ‘Caps took the first one 2-0 on May 20 at BC Place, and Seattle came from behind late to take a 3-2 result on July 8.

What a way to end the season.

The ‘Caps, looking to push themselves into contender status, facing the reigning MLS Cup champions on Decision Day at BC Place.

Whitecaps FC are currently only two points back with a game in hand on LAFC, who sit in third place.

It won’t be the first time, but BC Place will again see the return of former head coach Marc Dos Santos, and who knows, maybe even former ‘Caps goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau who has yet to return to MLS play since his MLS Cup heroics and significant injury at the end of last year.

This will be the fourth meeting of the season between the two sides. LAFC took the first two in the quarterfinals of the Concacaf Champions League (now Concacaf Champions Cup). But the ‘Caps clapped back in MLS play, taking a thrilling 3-2 win at BMO Stadium on June 24 – a rare home loss for the Black & Gold.

Can’t wait.