Boehm: MLS's West is Cascadia’s world; the rest of us are just stuck in it

Let’s be honest: MLS aficionados in other parts of North America can sometimes get tired of hearing about the league’s Cascadian trio.

Portland, Seattle and Vancouver draw big, boisterous crowds that roll out smugly ambitious tifo. They draw impressive amounts of water in their local sporting landscapes. They have their own trophy, the Cascadia Cup, awarded annually to the winner of the mini-league between them – and occasionally you can even dig up a particularly proud Pac Northwest partisan who insists that’s #actually the hardware that really matters most in their neck of the woods. Spend a charged matchday in one of their cities, and you might even start to believe it, too. 

Cascadians love their footy a lot, and they’ll let you know it.

The final 2017 regular-season standings in the Western Conference told that story, too, with the three teams hogging the top three slots. And with the Whitecaps’ thumping 5-0 Knockout Round win over hapless San Jose, the region has claimed three of the West playoff bracket’s four semifinal spots.

So get ready to hear a lot more about Timber Joey and the Southsiders and Nos Audietis and all the rest of it over the next few weeks. It’s no disrespect to the winner of Thursday’s Houston-Sporting KC clash (who will meet the waiting Timbers next week) to acknowledge that the odds are good that next month will bring a Cascadian contender in the MLS Cup final for the third consecutive year.

The hype starts with the defending MLS Cup champion Sounders’ visit to BC Place on Sunday (8:30 pm ET; ESPN in US | TSN1/4, TVAS2 in Canada) the first leg of a fascinating series between two chalk-and-cheese opposites on either side of the Peace Arch border crossing.

Personified by cerebral head coach Brian Schmetzer and his steel-trap on-field avatar Nico Lodeiro, these Sounders are one of the league’s best passing and possession sides, throwing numbers into the attack as Lodeiro and the ageless Clint Dempsey (though he'll be suspended for the first leg of the Conference Semifinals) weave pretty patterns in the final third. In support, Cristian Roldan has turned in a breakthrough season as Seattle’s No. 8 and Joevin Jones headlines a fleet-footed cadre of rangy wide players.

Vancouver are something else altogether. Generally enjoying less of the ball than almost every other team in MLS, Carl Robinson’s side are a band of scrappy counter-punchers who don’t mind defending for long stretches and only need a set piece or two to beat you. Hulking center back Kendall Waston is an aerial phenomenon in both penalty boxes and the scurrying cadre of skillful Latin American attackers led by Yordy Reyna provide an unconventional, if effective, large-and-little contrast to the charismatic Costa Rican giant.

It tends to be chaotic, but often exhilarating. And they’re hungry, too. Wednesday marked the first MLS postseason victory in the Caps’ history and Seattle offer a tempting target for their particular brand of soccer vandalism. If it’s possible for an underdog to strut, that’s an apt description for VWFC’s outlook at present.

“It feels good. It's took four attempts, innit? But I think we thoroughly deserved it,” Robinson told TSN after the win. “I'm delighted for the players, because they give me everything every single day. As I said, listen, we're the underdog. Write us off at your peril, boys.

“We'll be prepared,” he added in reference to the Sounders series. “We know they're a top team. They're the champs. I like knocking champs off perches.”

Further south, the top-seeded Timbers – who claimed this year’s Cascadia Cup with a Decision Day defeat of the Whitecaps – will venture into their semifinal matchup with confidence no matter the opponent. Caleb Porter seems to have found a more or less sustainable balance in both tactics and personnel after last season’s crippling inconsistency prevented them from defending their 2015 MLS title, a task made immensely easier by Diego Valeri’s league MVP-caliber campaign.

The Cascadian trio have gotten to this point with three distinct identities, none of them quite overpowering enough to build the sort of dominance that Toronto FC have carved out in the East. That could work against the eventual West winners’ hopes of knocking off TFC or whoever else might emerge from the East bracket at MLS Cup.

But it makes for enthralling postseason viewing, even for those of us not dreaming under Douglas firs.

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