Next Man Up: With playoff berth secure, short-handed Whitecaps visit FC Dallas
With a playoff spot already secure, the Vancouver Whitecaps want to create some positive energy over the final two games of the regular season.
That could be difficult when head coach Carl Robinson can barely fill out a team sheet.
The Whitecaps (15-12-5) visit FC Dallas (15-10-6) on Wednesday night in the back end of a home-and-home series that saw the clubs play to a scoreless tie at B.C. Place Stadium on Oct. 6.
The result was enough to clinch Vancouver’s second straight playoff berth, but a rash of injuries coupled with international call ups means that the Whitecaps travelled to Frisco, Texas, without a full compliment of players.
“Sometimes things are taken out of your hands. There’s only one thing you can do — role your sleeves up and work,” said Robinson. “We’re like that as a group, as a club. We don’t make excuses. We’ve got other players coming in. We’ve got a strong squad, I’ve said that from Day 1. The squad’s really being tested at the moment.”
Among the walking wounded for Vancouver is captain Pedro Morales and fellow midfielders Nicolas Mezquida, Mauro Rosales and Cristian Techera, while a host of others are also nursing various bumps and bruises.
“We’ve got guys hurting, but it’s no excuse at this point in the season,” said Whitecaps goalkeeper David Ousted. “The guys coming in for the injured players need to step up and show why they’re here.”
To make matters worse, Kendall Waston was away with Costa Rica for a friendly against the United States on Tuesday, while fellow defender Sam Adekugbe and midfielders Kianz Froese and Marco Bustos were with Canada for a game against Ghana.
Robinson said he didn’t know if any of those four will be available to play for him on Wednesday, while striker Darren Mattocks was with Jamaica for that country’s friendly in South Korea.
“Without giving too much away, we’ve probably got 16, 17 healthy bodies,” said Robinson.
The Whitecaps are a pedestrian 2-4-2 in Major League Soccer since the middle of August, but still managed to get into the post-season with two games to spare thanks to some stumbles from the teams around them.
“I don’t think we want to coast into the playoffs,” said Vancouver defender Jordan Harvey. “We want to build some momentum. We’re without a doubt going for three points (on Wednesday). Are we disappointed if we get a draw? Probably not, but the goal is to get three points and build momentum.”
The Whitecaps have lost all five visits to Dallas in franchise history, including last season’s playoff defeat at Toyota Stadium.
“We’ve had some trouble there. My history there with other teams is we’ve won,” added Harvey. “With this team and the talent we have, it’s definitely possible.”
The Whitecaps currently sit third in the Western Conference, a point back of first-place Dallas, which has a game in hand, and the Los Angeles Galaxy, who also have two games remaining. Sporting Kansas City is two points back of Vancouver with a game in hand, while the Seattle Sounders are three points back with two matches to go.
The top two teams in each conference get byes in the first round, while No. 3 hosts No. 6 and No. 4 hosts No. 5 in one-game playoffs, meaning that Vancouver’s main focus is getting into at least one of the first four spots.
“Games at this stage of the season are very tight no matter who they’re between,” said Robinson. “With two games to go we’re in. Now we’ve just got to regroup, refocus, get our minds right and see where we go from here.”
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press