Every Friday, Southsider and blogger Michael McColl takes ALL CAPS “Away From The Numbers” for a fan’s perspective on the Vancouver Whitecaps.

As much as I wanted Major League Soccer to adopt a balanced schedule again this season, I’ve actually found the new set up of the League to be a lot more interesting and exciting than seasons gone by.

It may just be down to the fact that the Whitecaps have a chance to do something this year, but I’ve found myself taking a lot more interest in other games around the League.

I’m watching a lot of other matches this season, looking for scores whilst trying to work out what the best case scenario would be for the Caps in every game.

MLS’ decision to focus more on the East/West divide has certainly made nearly every match key for a multitude of reasons.

I still hate the fact that five teams from both Conferences will advance into the playoffs. When you look at the strength of the West and the poor overall quality in the East, you can’t help but feel that sides are not competing on a level playing field.

There are going to be some good sides in the Western Conference that will miss out on a playoff spot, whilst some crappy Eastern sides, that don’t really deserve a place, will be in the final battle royale, with a shot at the title.

Without a balanced schedule and a single table, there’s also a chance that some sides in the West will miss out, whilst having a better record than their Eastern counterparts.

All of this could affect the Caps in a horrible way. Good job we’re going to be in the top four of the West so it won’t really matter!

The reshaping of the schedule, and the playoff qualification criteria, has made for some interesting new dynamics in what we need to see from matches from a Whitecaps perspective.

The Whitecaps dropping points against a team from the East now isn’t the end of the world. Sure it’s still points lost, but much rather you give them up to a team that isn’t your Conference rival than one that could be going down to the wire with you in the playoff race.

The Caps need to pick up as many points as they can from any game obviously, but particularly so from Western Conference match ups.

And that’s where the ‘Best Case Scenario’ factor comes in for non Caps games in every round.

We’re going to be finding ourselves cheering for some unlikely foes this year. We could even be rooting for Toronto and, gasp, Montreal to win. That’s going to be hard but necessary. I’m not sure that I’m quite ready for that dirty feeling yet mind you.

In the ideal Caps world, we need western teams to lose, or at best draw, when squaring off in inter-conference rivalries. Eastern sides will have our support all season long in these games and every point an eastern team secures against a team from the west benefits the Caps greatly.

In all-western match ups, draws are our friend right now. Although we probably know who the strongest sides are going to be come the season end, the starts made by LA, San Jose and the Caps perhaps show that nothing should be taken for granted quite yet.

Once the season progresses and we start to separate the wheat from the chaff, that whole scenario takes two distinct paths depending on where the Caps are in the table.

If we’re still at the top of the standings, we will want to see the top teams around us dropping points to those at the bottom to ensure a better seeding. We’ll be cheering on those bottom feeders like there’s no tomorrow.

If we’re right in the pack, fighting for our playoff lives, then we have to hope that one or two of the teams at the top are running away with it and beating all comers, except us, whilst those around us are drawing in all their inter-conference match ups against everyone else in playoff contention.

We’ll be glued to our televisions, checking score updates, changes in the table and everything else we can to see how every goal and every game affects the Caps’ chances.

It all makes for some interesting dynamics and fans should have a lot more interest now in games that they previously wouldn’t have been too fussed watching.

Just what MLS wanted and although I still prefer a single table and a balanced schedule for complete fairness, the current season should shape up nicely in the interest and excitement stakes.

We’ve started a weekly “Best Case Scenario” feature over on AFTN so swing by, check it out, see what results are going to benefit the Caps most every week and find out who you should be cheering on for the win.

It just makes it that little bit more exciting if you can know that the Caps are the big winners at the end of it all.

About the author:
Michael McColl began writing about football in 1989 and has freelanced for various newspapers, magazines and websites in the UK. He moved to Vancouver in 2007 where he currently pens the “Away From the Numbers” blogs on Canadian Soccer News and contributes to Prost Amerika. Michael is also a member o the North American Soccer Reporters association.

He’s a proud member of the Vancouver Southsiders supporters club, though his views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Southsiders organization.

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