Despite a 1-0 home loss to Portland Sunday on Jack Jewsbury's stunning strike, the Vancouver Whitecaps still clinched a berth in the Major League Soccer playoffs thanks to the Seattle Sounders' 3-1 win over FC Dallas. It wasn't the way they would have liked to get in, especially as the loss also gave Portland the Cascadia Cup (an annual fan-created trophy given to whichever of Vancouver, Portland and Seattle does the best against the other sides in the regular season), but merely having a playoff berth locked up with one regular-season game still to play is great news for Whitecaps fans. However, given that this is the first time a Canadian team has ever made the MLS playoffs, that the Whitecaps did it in their second season while Toronto FC has failed to do so in all six seasons of their existence (also, Montreal joined the league this year and missed the playoffs) and that there's a fierce rivalry between those teams at the best of times, it's already being used for some cross-country taunts. Here's a particularly notable one from Ben Massey of Whitecaps' blog Eighty-Six Forever, which even comes in a post where he isn't overly impressed with his own team:
The Vancouver Whitecaps making the playoffs for the first time since 2010 will be a big deal to MLS-era-only fans, of course, and Toronto FC supporters are entitled to gawk enviously. It doesn't seem that Montreal Impact fans are impressed at all, quite rightly. Being the first Canadian MLS team to make the playoffs is a tribute to Toronto's historic incompetence, not anything to do with the Whitecaps (or the Impact).
While that's obviously through blue-and-white lenses, there's a point there. In their second year of MLS competition, the Whitecaps have made the playoffs, and that certainly makes Toronto FC look bad. What's even worse for TFC fans is that there's been no tangible improvement in the standings; in fact, this season has been perhaps the worst of all from that standpoint. They started the season with a ridiculous losing streak that eventually extended to a MLS-record nine games, they dumped head coach Aron Winter midseason and made Paul Mariner the seventh head coach in six years, their 5-20-8 (wins-losses-draws) record this year (with one game remaining) is the worst in their history by winning percentage, and they sure didn't look overly impressive in their final home game Saturday, a 0-0 draw with Montreal.
If the Reds lose or draw in their final regular-season game (on the road in Columbus), it will also be the worst TFC season by points, as the 23 they've collected thus far are worse than the 25 they put up with a 6-17-7 record in their inaugural 2007 season. That's particularly embarrassing when you consider that the modern MLS schedule features four more regular-season games. Given that six years in, the team's playing at an arguably worse level than they did in their first expansion season, it's not all that surprising that MLSE (under new president and chief operating officer Tom Anselmi, whose main recent "accomplishment" is overseeing TFC) has decided to roll back 2013 prices to Year One levels in a hope of keeping some fans.
Despite all that, though, that doesn't necessarily mean the Whitecaps are in an indisputably better situation going forward. Yes, making the playoffs is an accomplishment in its own right, and one the other Canadian clubs haven't managed yet, but there are some things that don't bode well for Vancouver's chances there, and Canadian Soccer News managing editor/Toronto FC fan Duane Rollins' points on that front are certainly worth noting. For one, the Whitecaps are mostly in the playoffs thanks to a hot start, while TFC's mostly out of them thanks to an atrocious one; the Whitecaps and TFC each have just three wins and 13 points since July 7. For another, this Vancouver team is full of veterans, while TFC's struggles are partly due to going with a youth movement. That doesn't necessarily mean those young players will work out, as only a few have looked like MLS-level players thus far, but youth does carry upside. It's also worth noting that this team had a conflicted vision for most of the last few years, with Winter and Mariner disagreeing on philosophies and players. The team's results under Mariner aren't all that impressive to date, but perhaps the club will get better with a clear vision throughout the organization.
Meanwhile, on the Whitecaps' side, Massey writes that "I think most Whitecaps supporters are peaceably accepting that the Whitecaps stand no chance against the Los Angeles Galaxy" (and the stats would back that up: L.A. has been a much better team this season and has a plus-10 goal differential at home, while Vancouver's -14 on the road), so a long playoff run may not be in the cards, and the team may have to re-evaluate the roster this winter based on how things fell off after their blazing-hot start. Still, the future's unpredictable; maybe the Whitecaps will come away with an unexpected playoff win or build on this performance next year, maybe some of their academy players will prove to be studs, or maybe Toronto FC's vaunted youth movement won't amount to anything in the near future. No one can say for sure. What is clear is that at the moment, the Whitecaps are the first Canadian team to make the MLS playoffs, and that should provoke some joy in Vancouver and some consternation in Toronto.
Correction: This post originally had Montreal joining MLS in 2011. They joined in 2012.