VANCOUVER — Staying calm and focused late in matches has allowed the Vancouver Whitecaps to snatch results from the jaws of defeat.
It’s a trend head coach Vanni Sartini hopes to continue Friday night when the Whitecaps (7-8-3) host Minnesota United (7-8-3) in a Major League Soccer game at BC Place Stadium that has playoff implications for both sides.
Since May 8, the Whitecaps have scored five goals in the 89th minute or later in games played at home. Four of those goals resulted in wins while the fifth salvaged a tie.
Lightning struck again last Saturday when midfielder Andres Cubas scored in the 89th minute to give Vancouver a 1-0 win over Los Angeles FC, the team sporting the best record in MLS.
The late heroics has restored confidence of a team that started the season 1-6-1.
“You can feel during the game when you become owner of the game,” said Sartini. “The players can feel it on the field. We are pushing and we are in control.”
Team fitness is one major reason why the Whitecaps remain dangerous to the final whistle.
“Every game we outrun the other team, most of the time,” said Sartini.
Staying structured and not panicking is another factor.
“We are a team that thrives on organization,” said Sartini. “At the end of the game, most of the teams that we face, they become a little bit unstructured. We keep our structure.
“Now the players are 100 per cent locking into what we’re doing. Even in tough situations … the belief is real.”
In their first eight games Vancouver was outshot 20-6. Over the last 10 matches the Whitecaps are 6-2-2 and have outscored their opponents 13-10. Four of the goals against came in a loss to Seattle.
Captain Russell Teibert said it took time for the Whitecaps to find their legs this season.
“We just kept plugging away,” said the veteran midfielder, the longest serving Whitecap. “I don’t think we’ve turned a corner, I think we have been gradually building.
“We’ve been working hard, now we are getting a little bit of luck and the results are going our way. That’s a good feeling. There’s a lot of confidence in this locker room. As long as we keep building, trying to get better, we are going to put ourselves in contention to make the playoffs.”
Minnesota comes into the match riding back-to-back 3-2 victories over Real Salt Lake and L.A. Galaxy.
Both teams have 24 points, two behind Seattle in the race for the final playoff berth in the MLS Western Conference.
Striker Lucas Cavallini, who leads the Whitecaps with five goals this year, said Friday’s match is the biggest of the season for Vancouver.
“To prove we are capable of being in the playoffs this year we have to play against playoff competition,” said the Canadian international. “This game is do or die for us, just to put us in a more comfortable position.”
Sartini said a key for the Whitecaps is controlling Minnesota midfielder Emanuel Reynoso who leads the team with seven goals and four assists.
“It’s a good team, it can become a stellar team if Reynoso finds space to play,” he said. “In terms of a guy who can invent something I think Reynoso is the best player in the league”
MINNESOTA UNITED FC (7-8-3)
at VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (7-8-3)
BC Place, Friday, 7:30 PDT
INJURY REPORT: Whitecaps midfielders Sebastian Berhalter (right foot stress fracture), Deiber Caicedo (right knee meniscus tear), defenders Cristian Gutierrez (left calf strain), Luis Martins (left calf strain) and goalkeeper Thomas Hasal (left hand sprained fingers) all won’t play. Midfielders Caio Alexandre (right adductor tightness) and Michael Baldisimo (left ankle pain) are questionable.
HOT CAPS: The 20 points the Whitecaps have collected with a 6-2-2 record in their last 10 matches is the most of any MLS team. Vancouver has collected wins over Los Angeles FC, Canadian rival Toronto FC, and road victories against Sporting KC and FC Dallas.
TIGHT DEFENCE: The Whitecaps have recorded three consecutive clean sheets in MLS play and have not conceded a goal in the last 271 minutes. The Whitecaps seven clean sheets are tied for second in the league, one behind NYC FC. Centre back Ranko Veselinovic leads the league in clearances with 105 through 17 starts.
DOME SWEET DOME: Over their last 19 matches at BC Place dating back to last season, Vancouver has posted a 14-2-3 record in both MLS and Canadian Championship play.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 7, 2022
Jim Morris, The Canadian Press