VANCOUVER — Despite a lacklustre start to the season, the Vancouver Whitecaps didn't give up. Now the club's resiliency is starting to pay off.
A 3-1-1 record in May dug the 'Caps (4-7-2) out of Major League Soccer's basement and a pair of wins in Canadian Championship play boosted the group's confidence.
Last week, Vancouver marked another milestone, collecting its first road points of the campaign with a 1-0 victory over Sporting Kansas City.
The Whitecaps' recent run comes down to the team having a group of guys that truly wants to win, said striker Brian White.
"None of us put our head down and gave up on the season when it didn't start out so well," he said Friday. "And it's important for us to continue that momentum, to continue to improve and believe that we can get results. It's a long, long season left and we're just looking to get as many points as we can."
The successful stretch is good to see, said head coach Vanni Sartini, but the team knows there's still ample work left ahead.
“It’s that awareness that we're doing well, but we haven't done nothing yet. Or at least we haven't done enough yet," he said. "So we need to keep, I would say, being focused on what we do without thinking too much on opposition, where we play, when we play because that's the only way for us to really build on our performance.”
The 'Caps have a chance to move within one point of a playoff position Saturday when they host Real Salt Lake (7-3-4) in the lone MLS game of the week.
Earning all three points could be a challenge against an RSL side that's looking to extend its win streak to four games.
“They put a lot of pressure to the other defence to play quite a direct style of football. So we need to be very, very, very careful or organized defensively," Sartini said.
Vancouver will be without a key offensive piece as striker Lucas Cavallini is away with the Canadian men's soccer team. Cavallini has four goals and two assists in 11 appearances for the 'Caps this season.
Some other potent players will return to the lineup, though, including White, who missed the last three games across all competitions due to health and safety protocols.
Defender Tristan Blackmon is also expected to be available. The 25-year-old American has been out with a knee sprain since April 23.
"It seems like forever but it's been like a month and a half now," he said. "I think being away from the guys makes you miss being back on the field a lot. I've had injuries in the past, I know how it goes. And I think this time around, at least I've had a better headspace about it.”
Now in his fifth MLS season, Blackmon knows Salt Lake can be a dangerous team.
"But I think there's opportunities for us too," he said. "I think we can catch them in transition. … When they go with a lot of numbers forward, I think we can maybe capitalize on that and get some good chances in transitioning going the other way.”
The 'Caps and RSL met three times last season, with Salt Lake taking the first two games. Vancouver then collected a 4-1 victory at home on Aug. 29.
“We know that it seems like they don't give up. So we can't take our foot off the pedal no matter what the score is and what the time is. They're a good team," White said. "We just have to be prepared for a battle.”
REAL SALT LAKE (4-7-2) AT VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (7-3-4)
Saturday, B.C. Place
INJURY REPORT: Vancouver will be without forward Cristian Dajome (hamstring strain), goalkeeper Thomas Hasal (finger injury) and midfielder Russell Teibert (eye injury), while attacking midfielder Ryan Gauld (hamstring tightness) is listed as questionable. Salt Lake defenders Zack Farnsworth (ankle) and Bret Halsey (ankle) and forward Damir Kreilach (back) have all been ruled out, and forwards Jonathan Menendez (adductor) and Anderson Julio (hamstring) are questionable.
DRAWN OUT: Expect one side or the other to take all three points this weekend. The 'Caps and Real Salt Lake haven't ended a match in a draw since September 2014, with Vancouver taking 10 wins across the stretch and RSL claiming seven.
CELEBRATING INDIGENOUS PEOPLES: The Whitecaps will host their second annual Indigenous Peoples match, featuring special performances and guests before and throughout the game. The club also teamed up with Musqueam artist Debra Sparrow to create a special logo that the 'Caps will use throughout June for National Indigenous History Month.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 3, 2022.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press