VANCOUVER, B.C. – When the 2016 MLS schedule came out, it served up a mouthwatering prospect for Vancouver Whitecaps supporters: the Whitecaps' final two regular-season home games coming against their Cascadian rivals from Seattle and Portland.
It seemed the ideal season run-in – All three teams fighting for playoff positioning, with two Cascadia Cup derbies rounding off what was expected to be another strong season for Vancouver.
But things worked out very differently for the Whitecaps. A stretch-run slump has left them on the outside looking in at a fierce battle between the Sounders and the Timbers for a playoff spot.
At least the 'Caps can have a big impact on both teams' chances, starting on Sunday when they host the Sounders (8 pm PT; FS1 in US, TSN in Canada).
A couple of wins would also see Vancouver ending the season in style, lifting the Cascadia Cup for a record sixth time. It's not exactly the playoffs, but it would guarantee that Carl Robinson's squad won't be seeing out the season in pedestrian fashion.
"We’re still fighting for the Cascadia Cup," Robinson said this week. "So make no doubt about it, we’re not just going to let these games pass us by, we’re going to try to salvage something – because we’ve had a rough season. Sometimes you’ve got to go through that, we’ve gone through it, but we’re still fighting, and we will fight until the very end."
Lifting the Cascadia Cup will be scant consolation to some. But ending the season with some lick of silverware, coupled with the Whitecaps' qualification for the knockout stages of the CONCACAF Champions League, is at least a couple of positives from a disappointing year.
But can it be viewed in any shape or form as a season of success?
"I think people will have differences of opinions on what is a good season," Robinson told reporters after this week's Champions League victory. "I went into this season trying to reach the MLS playoffs, trying to win the Canadian Championship, trying to reach the Champions League quarterfinals, trying to win the Cascadia Cup.
"We narrowly missed out on the Canadian Championship in a heartbreaking fashion, we had to accept that. We’re on the outside looking in in the playoffs. It was important we got through to the [CCL] quarterfinals and we achieved a little bit of history for the club."
While the Whitecaps' own playoff hopes are all but mathematically eliminated, Robinson realizes that his side could still play spoilers to their Cascadian rivals race to the postseason, noting "we can certainly stop other teams from getting there."
That's a fact that both Seattle and Portland will be acutely aware of, and Robinson promises that neither team will have an easy time of it at BC Place in the coming weeks, with Cascadian pride on the line.
"It's very important," said Robinson. "Any time you play a derby game you want to win. Throughout MLS you have different rivalries and our rivalry is with the two teams up the road. We view them probably different to what they view us, but it is what is, it's a derby game.
"It's very important to me and my players and the club that we try and get the better of them. Obviously those organizations will be saying the same. I'm sure there'll be blood, sweat, and thunder come Sunday. Which is what we all want to see – plus some goals."