VANCOUVER — Facing an uphill battle for the playoffs, Vancouver Whitecaps coach Marc Dos Santos vows his squad won't go down without a fight.
It's been a season full of adversity for the 'Caps (8-13-0) and the club was dealt another blow this week when Major League Soccer announced that post-season berths will be determined by points per game instead of straight points.
The move looks to address the unbalanced schedule caused by COVID-19 outbreaks that forced the cancellation of several games.
It also leaves the Whitecaps below the playoff bar with two games left on the regular-season schedule.
“Nothing’s fair this year. We just have to deal with it," coach Marc Dos Santos said of the decision.
“Everything is so unrealistic and unclear. What am I going to say about points per game? We’re going to give our best.”
Vancouver heads into the weekend with the eighth-most points in the Western Conference. The top eight teams will make the playoffs.
But when post-season berths are determined by points per game, the Colorado Rapids (1.27) leap ahead of the 'Caps (1.14) with two games to go. The Rapids missed five games after several players and staff tested positive for COVID-19.
Other teams are also still fighting for their playoff lives in the congested West, including FC Dallas (1.47), the San Jose Earthquakes (1.29) and Real Salt Lake (1.1).
The Whitecaps have two decisions, Dos Santos said cry about a "very unbalanced" year or go and fight for every game.
And his team isn't about to give up, no matter the circumstances.
"The mentality of the guys, it’s still one of belief. At the end of the day, the teams that still have games have to win their games. And we have to try to push and try to be in," Dos Santos said.
“Look, if we don’t make it on the last day, at least we’re still going to be standing as a team that fought all the way despite everything. And that’s what we want to do.”
Vancouver's next chance to collect crucial points will come Sunday when they meet the Portland Timbers (10-5-5).
The Timbers are unbeaten in their last three outings after a tidy 5-2 win over the L.A. Galaxy on Wednesday.
When Portland and Vancouver last met on Sept. 27, the Timbers took a 1-0 victory thanks to an early goal by Felipe Mora.
The Whitecaps played well defensively but didn't finish their chances in the game, Dos Santos said.
“Now what we have to do is keep the same mentality, same mindset, same organization but try to convert our opportunities into goals," he said.
The players know exactly what's at stake heading into Sunday's matchup, said 'Caps striker Tosaint Ricketts.
“Everything’s on the line. Two games left. We know the situation with the standings … and we know what we need to achieve in these last two games to make the playoffs," Ricketts said.
There have been plenty of bumps in the road for the Whitecaps this season, from border restrictions that forced the group to relocate to Portland, to a unwieldy, condensed schedule, and from injuries that sidelined two starting goalies for the season to front-office business that saw the departure of key offensive pieces.
“There’s been plenty of obstacles we’ve had to deal with throughout this year. But it’s really shaped our character, it’s really shaped our mentality," Ricketts said.
"We’re going into Sunday with no excuses. … We feel it’s still in our hands and we’re going to make sure we do our part.”
VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (8-13-0) AT PORTLAND TIMBERS (10-5-5)
Sunday, Providence Park
GOAL SETTING: The Timbers sit at the top of the Western Conference standings in goals for (44). Meanwhile, the Whitecaps have struggled with offence at times this season and have the fewest goals for (24) in the West.
HELPING OUT: Portland's Yimmi Chara tallied four assists Wednesday, becoming the sixth player in MLS history to achieve the feat.
HISTORY BOOKS: The rivalry between the 'Caps and Timbers goes all the way back to 1975 when the clubs played in the North American Soccer League. Since then, Portland and Vancouver have played 95 times across all competitions. The Whitecaps hold the edge with a 40-37-18 record.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 30, 2020.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press