VANCOUVER — Marc Dos Santos says his Vancouver Whitecaps know the season isn't about to get any easier.
Stationed in Portland, away from family, friends and their regular routines, the 'Caps (5-9-0) are about to embark on another gruelling stretch that will see them play five games in 12 days.
The first in the series has Vancouver kicking off against the Sounders (7-3-3) in Seattle on Saturday.
The Sounders currently sit atop a competitive Western Conference where every team is still fighting for playoff position. The 'Caps are just three points out of a post-season berth.
Mental strength will be key for the rest of the season, Dos Santos said.
“The mindset has to be second to none," he said in a video call Thursday. "It has to be a gladiator type of mindset, fighting through so much pain and uncomfortable moments. It’s going to be ugly at times. We’re going to have to find solutions the best that we can.”
The wear of the season has been evident on the Whitecaps.
Returning to regular-season play against Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact in August, Vancouver suffered a three-game losing skid.
The team recovered, winning three of its next four outings, but has since dropped two more decisions in a row, including an embarrassing 6-0 thrashing at the hands of LAFC.
Several 'Caps players got a brief reprieve from the difficult season this week, returning home to Vancouver for a few days.
“It was good to get a little bit of a reset, to kind of get away from soccer for just a little bit," said defender Jake Nerwinski.
Everyone returned to training at the team's temporary home base in Portland full of energy and intensity Wednesday night, he added.
“It was definitely something we needed and hopefully this is something that will help us.”
The Sounders have won three of their last four outings, and already beat the Whitecaps once this year, taking a 3-0 victory at the MLS is Back tournament in July.
Right at the top of Vancouver's to-do list Saturday will be controlling Jordan Morris. The 25-year-old Seattle-born forward has seven goals and six assists this season. He tallied one of each against Vancouver.
The Whitecaps have been discussing in training how to deal with Morris, Dos Santos said.
“He’s just one of the best players in the league, one of the best threats in the league, a powerful player, a dangerous player in transition. And we’re very aware of that," the coach said.
Vancouver also needs to find a way to score after being held off the board in its last two games. The club's last goal came in the 84th minute of the Whitecaps' 2-1 victory over Real Salt Lake on Sept. 19.
Striker Lucas Cavallini has expressed frustration about not finding the back of the net more this season. Vancouver brought the 27-year-old Canadian in as a designated player in the off-season, hoping he could provide some much-needed offence, but he's been held to two goals so far this year.
Cavallini simply needs to stay focused and know that the club trusts him, Dos Santos said.
“Players, especially forwards, go through moments that are very grey and difficult," he said. "But it doesn’t rain all the time. Sometimes the sun comes out and sometimes the player sees positive things coming towards him.”
VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (5-9-0) AT SEATTLE SOUNDERS (7-3-3)
NEXT MAN UP?: Evan Bush could become the fourth goalkeeper to man the 'Caps net this season. Vancouver acquired the 34-year-old American from the Montreal Impact on Monday and Dos Santos said he will be an option this weekend.
WELCOME BACK: The Sounders brought Roman Torres back into the fold Monday, thanks to a trade with Inter Miami CF. The veteran centreback previously spent five years in Seattle, winning two MLS Cups and three Western Conference titles.
SEATTLE STREAKING: Seattle has dominated the Sounders-Whitecaps rivalry in recent years, and is on a seven-game undefeated streak against Vancouver. The 'Caps last beat the Sounders at BC Place on April 13, 2017, taking a 2-1 victory.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 2, 2020.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press