- Associated Press - Thursday, September 28, 2017

A loss to the Seattle Sounders aside, the Vancouver Whitecaps have quietly climbed to the top of the standings.

Vancouver finished outside of the Major League Soccer postseason last year, but thanks to three wins in four recent home matches they lead the Western Conference, a point ahead of the Sounders, Portland Timbers and Sporting Kansas City.

As far as they’re concerned, it’s good to be sneaking up on the unsuspecting opposition.

“For me that’s fine, it’s very good. We don’t need attention,” midfielder Aly Ghazal said. “We come from nowhere, don’t give us attention, just the other teams. But at the end, let’s see who’s going to laugh.”

Going into Wednesday night’s match against the MLS Cup defending champion Sounders, the Whitecaps had gone undefeated in their last seven matches. But Seattle won the game at home 3-0 - meaning that Vancouver will have to wait to clinch a playoff spot.

After the game coach Carl Robinson reminded the team they were still atop the standings with four games to go.

“They deserve a lot of credit,” Robinson said about his team. “But we’ve got to keep fighting, we’ve got to keep growing, working hard and doing the details. Because when you play the top teams, the details are the most important things.”

The Whitecaps hadn’t gotten much hype this season, but they are loaded with depth. Picking up former Sounder Fredy Montero at the start of the season boosted the team, and he leads all scorers with 13 goals. Midfielder Christian Bolanos has seven assists.

Vancouver has fared well on the road, going 5-7-2. That bodes well for a team who was headed to Kansas City following the Seattle match.

Since joining the league in 2011, Vancouver has made the playoffs three times. The team’s best finish was an appearance in the conference semifinals in 2015.

Vancouver may represent Canada in the postseason alongside Toronto, which tops the standings in the East by a considerable margin and already claimed a playoff spot.

The Reds may see the return of Jozy Altidore, who has sat out the past three games with a lower body injury, when they host the New York Red Bulls this weekend. Altidore’s return also bodes well for his availability for the U.S. national team for World Cup qualifiers next month.

But it’s unlikely that TFC will have Sebastian Giovinco, who has also missed three games with quad tightness. Giovinco leads the team with 15 goals this season.

Back-to-back losses delayed the Reds from clinching the MLS Supporters’ Shield, but a victory over the Red Bulls would seal it.

BOUND FOR THE PLAYOFFS: It was win and in for the Atlanta United, who beat the Philadelphia Union 3-0 on Wednesday night. Atlanta becomes just the second expansion team to make the playoffs, joining the Sounders who lost in the first round in 2009.

But Atlanta is looking at a postseason without midfielder Miguel Almiron, who injured his left hamstring in Sunday’s 2-0 win over the Montreal Impact and will miss a minimum of three weeks. Almiron, a two-time MLS Player of the Week, has a team-high 13 assists and nine goals this season.

ANOTHER CLINCHER: The Chicago Fire secured a spot in the playoffs for the first time since 2012 with a 4-1 victory on the road against San Jose. Nemanja Nikolic scored twice in the victory to give him 20 goals this season, tying with Portland’s Diego Valeri for the league lead.

ELIMINATED: The Colorado Rapids were officially eliminated from the playoffs with a 2-0 loss Wednesday to FC Dallas in Frisco, Texas. D.C United and the LA Galaxy also were eliminated on a busy night for the league.

KEEP AN EYE ON: The Valeri watch continues this weekend when the Timbers visit the Earthquakes on Saturday at Avaya Stadium. Valeri has scored in nine straight matches, an ongoing MLS record. He’s also the first midfielder with 20 goals in league history.

He scored twice last Sunday in Portland’s 3-0 victory over Orlando City, drawing accolades from Jason Kreis.

“Fantastic, fantastic player. Really intelligent player. Technically gifted player. We’ve seen it for a long time what he’s capable of,” the Orlando coach said. “And the other thing is, to be so focused in on a player like that and explain to your team that that’s the most important player, and still have him do what he did tonight, speaks volumes for Diego Valeri.”

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: D.C. United’s Patrick Mullins scored all four goals in a 4-0 victory over San Jose last Saturday to earn Player of the Week honors. He is the 11th player in MLS history to score four goals in a game. He also did it in a record span of 31 minutes in the second half.

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