The Montreal Impact and Toronto FC both missed the post-season. (The Canadian Press)With the Major League Soccer regular season coming to an end Sunday night teams have to now begin either prepping for playoff action or looking ahead to the upcoming off-season.
In Canada the Toronto FC and Montreal Impact -- a 2012 expansion franchise -- both missed the postseason, while the Vancouver Whitecaps clinched the fifth and final playoff seed in the Western Conference in just their second MLS season.
For Toronto a spot outside of the playoff picture is something that's become all too familiar. In the club's six years in the MLS they've failed to secure a playoff position even once and the 2012 campaign brought more disappointment for the team's fans. The Reds opened the season with a MLS record nine-straight losses, which led to the firing of club manager Aron Winter. Paul Mariner then took over at the helm of the franchise, and though the team saw spurts of success including a three-game win streak in July, it was far from enough to overcome such a dismal start and they finished the season in last place in the Eastern Conference.
Injuries didn't help TFC down the stretch either. Captain Torsten Frings missed four games to start the season due to a hamstring injury and in September the 35-year-old was forced to undergo arthrtoscopic surgery on his hip that kept him out for the remainder of the season. And in July the club's leading scorer Danny Koevermans suffered a torn ACL in his left knee that kept him out for the remainder of the season as well.
The teams lack of success was also showed in their attendance numbers that were fairly lower in 2012 than 2011. Earlier in October the MLSE announced that it would be slashing ticket prices in an attempt to win back their fan base and though cheaper seats may help bring some fans back to BMO, building a winning product on the field should be the club's main focus this off-season. Win and the fans will come.
The Montreal Impact were the MLS rookies this season and despite missing the playoffs there are reasons for fans to be positive about the teams future. The Impact finished in seventh place in the Eastern Conference and 11 points behind the fifth seeded Houston Dynamo, but for much of the season they were in the mix for a playoff spot. If it wasn't for struggles late in the season the Impact could have been another Canadian team headed for the post-season.
Midfielder Patrice Bernier led the club with nine goals in 27 games this season and was awarded with the Guiseppe Saputo Trophy as the Impact's player of the year as voted by the fans.
He told RedNationOnline.ca that he feels the season has been a success in terms of setting the foundation:
"The season as a whole has been good. Of course, our ambition was very high, so we are disappointed that we won't be going to the playoffs. But if you look at us being ten months in as a team from scratch, we have 42 points and we battled for a playoff spot until the 32nd game of the season. I think the assessment has to be that we have done well and that we have a good foundation to build upon for next season."
Unlike in Toronto where the TFC has failed to build a winning tradition, Bernier says he understands the importance of manufacturing victories so the Impact can maintain its fan base.
We'll see if Montreal can build on what's been a bitter sweet inaugural season.
The Vancouver Whitecaps made MLS history in 2012 becoming the first Canadian team to qualify for the post-season as they were able to lock up the fifth seed in the Western Conference.
Thursday they'll look to build on their successful regular season in a post-season match with the L.A. Galaxy who are also the defending MLS champions. However, a road date with the Galaxy doesn't exactly bode well for the Whitecaps who are 3-10-3 away from their home field at B.C. Place Stadium.
But as Marc Weber mentioned in his story in The Province on Saturday a season-ending draw in Salt Lake may have at least created some belief that Vancouver can find success on the road.
Whitecaps coach Martin Rennie said after the draw:
"When you come on the road, that's how you need to perform — be hard to play against, be hard to beat," Rennie said. "I think we saw the hunger and the belief we're going to require [against L.A.].It's a good end to the regular season."
But on the other hand a 0-0 draw also brought to light once again one of the glaring issues for Vancouver all season. They've been shut out 12 times and have scored just 10 goals away from home. Vancouver will need to find a way to change that if they're going to take down L.A. on the road.
A win Thursday would mean the Whitecaps would advance to face the first place San Jose Earthquakes in a two game home-and-home series.