Major League Soccer wrapped up its regular season with one final weekend that saw teams eliminated from playoff contention and other teams cement their spot in the postseason.
Before the league’s best get to play their first game in the postseason, the MLS Knockout Round must be held to finalize the field. Four teams will battle it out for the final two spots.
In the Western Conference, FC Dallas and Vancouver Whitecaps will meet in Frisco, TX on Wednesday night. Both teams are trying to return to the playoffs as neither qualified last season. FC Dallas qualified in 2011 and Vancouver played their way in in 2012.
FC Dallas finished fourth in the Western Conference in 2014 with 54 points. They won 16 games this year, scoring 55 goals and conceding 45. They currently sit on a +11 home goal differential. Vancouver was good for fifth in the West, winning 12 games in 2014. Their offense struggled for long stretches, scoring only 42 goals in the process. Their success this season rests on the shoulders of the teams stingy defense, which conceded only 40 goals this year, fourth best in the league.
FC Dallas has a fairly simple game plan, stop Pedro Morales. He is the Whitecaps leader in goals scored (10), assists (12), shots and shots on goal. When the teams slim offense does get moving, he is usually the main driving force. Dallas coach Oscar Pareja will rely on MLS veteran Adam Moffat and young gun Victor Ulloa to combat Morales in the midfield and stop the Whitecaps attack.
Carl Robinson and Vancouver have a similar task in trying to stop Blas Perez. He leads Dallas in goals scored (11) and assists (six). Fabian Castillo and Michel are both dangerous in attack and drive the team forward from their midfield positions, but make no mistake, Perez is the man Vancouver needs to stop to have the best chance of winning.
Both teams improved greatly over their 2013 efforts. Dallas finished last season with 10 fewer points, scoring 11 fewer goals and conceding seven more than its 2014 totals. Vancouver improved just slightly over last year, finishing with just two more points.
The winner of Dallas and Vancouver will be given a date with the Supporters’ Shield winning Seattle Sounders in the Western Conference Semi-Finals, and will subsequently host the opening game of the series.
The showdown most fans will be paying attention to in the knockout round is the massive Eastern Conference match between the top two teams from 2013. New York Red Bulls and Sporting Kansas City went from first to worst in terms of playoff seeding in just one season. They meet this Thursday night.