The Vancouver Whitecaps Football Club has once again qualified for the Anschutz Cup, not that you will hear it referred to by that name from the Major League, or many of its media partners. They prefer to use its sponsored, and no doubt focus group approved name, the Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs.
Vancouver's "qualification" comes after their scoreless draw with FC Dallas. The problem is that they have not actually qualified yet. The Whitecaps have assured themselves of at least a spot in the play-in round, where they lost to Dallas in 2014, and Los Angeles in 2012, but they aren't in the Anschutz Cup proper just yet. In a sense, they have qualified for the qualifying round.
This year, only the top two clubs from each conference automatically qualify for the first round of the Anschutz Cup. Clubs finishing third through sixth have to compete in the play-in round first. Previously, only the fourth and fifth placed clubs were subject to this.
Vancouver still has two matches to play, one in Dallas on Wednesday, and the other back at home against Houston. They could still qualify outright, but not if they continue with disappointing performances in the final third.
There is also the Champions League to consider. Vancouver have a match in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, sandwiched between the Texas Twosome, but with both the Whitecaps and CD Olimpia already eliminated from the knockout round, that game will b0e little more than a reserve match. We can only hope that somebody gets the points from that 10,176 km, 13.5 hour round trip.
Because the Major League does not observe the FIFA Calendar, tonight's match kicked off without the services of Costa Rica's Kendall Waston, or Columbia's Fabián Castillo, who famously gave the Rain City Brigade the finger back in 2013.
In most Major League rivalries, this kind of behaviour is unheard of. However, when it comes to the Hoops derby, this is the norm. Supporters antagonise players with chants like the Southside's rendition of "FU Dallas", or with tifos like the "No Diving" sign. The players respond with obscene hand gestures. This is part of the charm.
Unfortunately, tonight's edition was an uncharacteristically tame affair. Perhaps there was just too much riding on it. With a win, Vancouver could have reached 52 points, their best Major League total yet, and moved up to second in the table. A Dallas win would have seen them go one point back of the league leaders.
The game needed a goal to settle one team down, and kick the other into high gear. But the home side managed just two shots on target, one from from the right of the penalty spot by Octavio Rivero, and a deeper effort by Kekuta Manneh from the top of the circle.
Dallas managed one shot on target from each of Ryan Hollingshead, Mauro Diaz, Tesho Akindele, and David Texeira. But all six shots, the two from Vancouver, and four from Dallas, went straight up the middle.
If your only shots on target end up going straight to the keeper, you are not going to score many goals, in this league, or any other. Hoping for a clanger is not a viable strategy for success.
Hopefully by next Wednesday, one or both of these sides will have come up with some new ideas. Until then, we can all reflect on the changing attitudes.
In the previous four seasons, Vancouver has finished 18th, 11th, 13th, and 9th. Their stated goal for this season is to host a knockout round match. And while far from certain, they will probably achieve that goal.
But they could have done so much more. They won the CSA Cup. They had the opportunity to qualify for the knockout round of the Champions League with a game to go. They had the opportunity to retain the Cascadia Cup on home turf. And for most of the year, they've either lead the race to, or been in contention for, the Supporters' Shield.
So who are the Vancouver Whitecaps? Are they the class of the Major League, as they have for most of the season, or are they the also-rans of last year? The truth is, a bit of both.
Vancouver has overachieved to be sure. They have won some games they had no business winning. They've also lost some games where they were the best team on the pitch. Carl Robinson has assembled a young and talented side. But they're not a complete side. They are strong between the pipes, in defence, and through the middle, but they still have to deal with the final third.
Which makes losing out on Kei Kamara all the more painful. Since singing with Columbus, the Sierra Leonean has scored a goal every 122 minutes, almost twice the rate of any Vancouver player.
Pedro Morales, thanks in large part to his penalty taking duties, is at 218, Cristian Techera's at 238, Octavio Rivero 239, Robert Earnshaw 261, Darren Mattocks 283, Kianz Froese 382, and Kekuta Manneh 395.
They say that defence wins championships, and Vancouver's has already won the CSA Cup, but if they want to make it a double, they're going to have to start scoring, and they may only have three more chances to do it.