What a difference a year makes!
This time last year, Whitecaps FC were wrapping up what was a turbulent inaugural season in MLS, and head coach Martin Rennie was preparing for a postseason training camp to familiarize himself with his new squad.
Our MLS Cup Playoff experience was a distant one last year, with our television screens showing the unfolding drama in the cities of our league rivals. Fast forward to this week, and our engagement for the MLS postseason is at its highest level. On Thursday night, Whitecaps FC make history as the first Canadian club to take part in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
The midweek trip to Southern California was an effort earned over 34 regular matches by the Blue and White and sign of significant improvement for a burgeoning MLS club.
Five victories and 15 points more were achieved than at this point last year, with only MLS Supporters’ Shield winners San Jose Earthquakes and playoff-bound D.C. United making larger turnarounds statistically.
Vancouver’s 43 points was also the highest total achieved in a single MLS season by a Canadian club, with expansion club Montreal Impact also joining the ‘Caps in passing the 40-point barrier in 2012.
The club’s first three wins away from home, plus 12 clean sheets also contributed to the improvement, but even Rennie knows there is plenty of room for further progress.
Much of that can be set aside for 2013. Right now, Whitecaps FC are six results away from an MLS Cup title. If anyone knows the recent postseason history of MLS, it is not as improbable for Vancouver, as it initially looks.
This past weekend offered a very good ‘dress rehearsal’ for the clash with the Galaxy at The Home Depot Center. Like LA, Real Salt Lake can be a formidable foe when they are at home.
The type of tests that Whitecaps FC endured in Saturday’s 0-0 draw were not only good for them tactically, but also mentally. Shutting down a potent RSL attack required organization, commitment, and spirit.
The ‘Caps not only showed those characteristics in hostile territory, they left the Rio Tinto Stadium pitch feeling confident and full of anticipation for Thursday night.
Relishing the opportunity that is the 2012 MLS Cup Playoffs will be a big part of the game plan in Carson, California. Few, if any, expect a Whitecaps FC postseason run, but Rennie’s squad know their chance to become MLS champions is no more or less than any of the other nine contenders that will be involved.
Long-time ‘Caps supporters will be the first to reveal their excitement at this time of year, as the club’s playoff folklore has done much to shape the identity of the Blue and White.
One only needs to look back to the championship years of 1979 and 2006 when Whitecaps FC triumphed against the odds. Now its 2012 and we’re in that familiar position again.
The key is to enjoy the journey, starting Thursday. Any achievement from this point on will be greeted with delight and excitement, as few outside Whitecaps FC nation believe Vancouver is capable of achieving anything in this year’s playoffs.
I say, “Let the skeptics think that way…we’ll worry about getting a job done on Thursday...and beyond.”
The playoff train is at the station!
All aboard for LA!