A look at the Western Conference playoff picture

A look at the Western Conference playoff picture

Major League Soccer

A look at the Western Conference playoff picture

Over the past few years, we’ve looked at the Western Conference midway through September and have been able to pinpoint a favorite to not only earn the top seed in the West, but win the Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup.

That is far from the case in 2017, as the Shield is basically on its way to Toronto and the top eight teams in the West are separated by seven points.

Last week the most dramatic shift in a few weeks took place as the San Jose Earthquakes and Real Salt Lake vaulted over the Houston Dynamo and FC Dallas into the top six.

With just over a month left in the MLS regular season, here’s a look at where the contenders in the West stand.

Vancouver Whitecaps

If you haven’t been paying close attention to the West in recent weeks, the Vancouver Whitecaps have crept up on you and taken control of the No. 1 spot in the standings. The Whitecaps have benefited from a long run of home games that ends on Saturday in Colorado. The lone road game in the seven-game span was a key away win at Orlando City.

However, after Saturday the Whitecaps have one game left at BC Place. The other four are road trips to Seattle, Sporting KC, the Red Bulls and Portland. Even if they boast the best road record in the West at 5-6-2, it’ll be tough for Carl Robinson’s men to keep the No. 1 seed.

When the dust settles on Oct. 22, the Whitecaps will probably be looked at as an underdog to advance in the West, probably as the No. 3 or No. 4 seed.

Portland Timbers

The second of the Cascadian trio at the top of the West resides in Oregon: the Portland Timbers. Despite conceding on 47 occasions this season, Caleb Porter’s men have a positive goal differential of three.

Diego Valeri is playing like a man possessed, with goals in eight straight games, and the Timbers have done most of their work without the injured Fanendo Adi.

And while the defense remains a concern, especially with the lockdown defenses around them in the table, the Timbers have three of their last four games at Providence Park, including visits from Orlando City and D.C. United, which seem like easy victories.  As long as they take care of business in the three games prior to the season-ending game against Vancouver, the Timbers will be in contention for a bye into semifinals. But the No. 1 seed may be out of reach since other teams have games in hand.

Sporting Kansas City

If you counted Sporting Kansas City out the second they traded Dom Dwyer to Orlando City, consider yourself wrong. Trust me I almost did the same thing.

Peter Vermes knew exactly what he had in waiting behind Dwyer and we’ve seen flashes from Gerso Fernandes, Latif Blessing, Diego Rubio and Daniel Salloi. With a defense that has conceded 22 goals and Tim Melia in line to win Goalkeeper of the Year, it’s tough to pick against Sporting KC as the favorite for the No. 1 seed right now.

Sporting KC should have plenty of momentum from the Open Cup win on Wednesday night, and they could put themselves in great position for the top spot with a win on Sept. 30 at Children’s Mercy Park over the Whitecaps. Closing the regular season at rival Real Salt Lake will be tough, but as long as injuries don’t bog down Sporting KC, they should top the West.

Seattle Sounders

The Sounders were dealt a massive blow when Jordan Morris went down with a season-ending hamstring injury. Losing Morris isn’t a fatal blow to the club’s chances in the postseason since it has veterans in Clint Dempsey and Will Bruin up top.

The biggest game left on the calendar for the Sounders is Wednesday’s clash with the Whitecaps. A cross-country trip to Philadelphia for an early Sunday start may throw a wrench in the club’s plans of snatching away points to get a one-up on the other contenders.

The Sounders do have the luxury of closing the campaign out at home with FC Dallas and the Rapids coming to town in consecutive weeks. Last season those two games would’ve decided seeding in the West for all three teams. This year it might just determine how many home games the Sounders get and if it has to endure a one-game midweek playoff.

San Jose Earthquakes

The Earthquakes are still a year away from making serious noise in the West playoff picture, but they have built up a good amount of chemistry under the direction of Chris Leitch.

They made some shrewd signings in the offseason by bringing in Florian Jungwirth, Marco Urena and Jahmir Hyka. The addition of Vako brought a new dynamic to the attack, and rookies Nick Lima and Jackson Yueill have been able to contribute throughout the season. And of course the Quakes will always have Chris Wondolowski to rely on up top.

The Quakes’ remaining schedule of five games is a tricky one, starting with D.C. on the road on Saturday. The Fire and Timbers come to town before a trip to Vancouver and a season-ender at home against Minnesota.

In all reality, the Quakes need to win all three remaining home games to feel safe and a point on the road in either D.C. or Vancouver wouldn’t hurt.

Real Salt Lake

The resurgence of Real Salt Lake and Mike Petke has turned into one of the best stories of the season. The Claret and Cobalt have worked their way up to sixth place and have lost only twice since July 4.

However, getting into the postseason won’t be easy since the Quakes have one game in hand on RSL and both Texas clubs have two games in hand. That means RSL must secure three points at home against the Sounders and Sporting KC and be able to take a point away from trips to LA and Colorado.

If RSL can collect eight points or more from their final four games, they should be able to stay in sixth. But one stumble along the way will make it more difficult, which means they’ll be rooting against both Texas clubs the rest of the way.

Houston Dynamo

The beginning of the season seems like a long time ago for the Houston Dynamo. After getting out to a fast start, the Dynamo have cooled off and they haven’t won since August 12. Dating back to the start of July, the Dynamo only have three victories.

The next seven days will go a long way in determining the club’s playoff chances. After a road trip to Connecticut on Saturday to play New York City FC, the Galaxy and Rapids come to BBVA Compass Stadium on Wednesday and Saturday.

Back-to-back games with Sporting KC and a home contest with the Fire to end the schedule won’t be easy so the Dynamo must go into the international break with confidence and momentum. If they don’t win both home games left in September, you can count them out for the postseason.

FC Dallas

The curious case of FC Dallas has befuddled even the league’s best experts. No one expected a complete freefall on a nine-game winless streak down to eighth place.

Luckily for FC Dallas, they still have a shot to qualify for the postseason with the games in hand they possess. Oscar Pareja’s men also have the easiest remaining schedule with Minnesota, Orlando, the Rapids twice, the Galaxy and the Sounders.

If the resurgence we’re all waiting for occurs, FC Dallas will make the postseason as the No. 5 or No. 6 seed. But until they win their first game since July 22, we have our doubts.

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