Vancouver Whitecaps are fighting for their playoff lives and with seven games of the MLS regular season remaining, they have very little room for error.
Sitting below the playoff line, staring at their two Cascadian rivals in the two places above them, every point is crucial between now and the end of October. And when you have the chance to take points off one of those said rivals, it makes Saturday’s match against Seattle Sounders at BC Place probably the ‘Caps biggest game of the season so far. Although that may be something we class every match from here on in.
“Yeah I think it possibly could be,” Robinson told reporters at Whitecaps training on Friday. “It’s the next game and you will say the same to me next week as well irrelevant of the result, whether we win, lose, or draw. When you get down to the business end of the season, and we certainly are in the business end the last seven games, then you know as a team, organisation, whether you’re in the mix and where you’re fighting for.
“If you’re at the bottom of the table, you’re fighting for your careers, you’re fighting for options, and you’re fighting for your livelihood. We’re at the stage at the moment that we’re fighting to get into the playoffs. At the start of the season I think everyone would have taken that, and yes, people want more. I’m realistic, the team are realistic. It’s in our own hands where we finish up.”
A win against Seattle would certainly help, moving the ‘Caps into the playoff places at the same time. A defeat would see them fall four points behind the Sounders, having also played a game more.
With games against Dallas, Sporting KC, LAFC, and Portland still to come, all of them above them in the playoff pecking order, along with trips to the LA Galaxy and Toronto FC, if Vancouver are to get into the postseason for the fourth time in the last five years, they’re going to have earned it.
It’s a tall order, but Robinson has faith in his players.
“We’ve got seven very difficult games, but we’re very difficult to play against,” Robinson added. “We’ll go into the game full of confidence. We’ve got plenty of energy. We’re youthful in certain areas and we’ll see if we can try and cause problems for a numbers of teams.”
Both teams head into Saturday’s match in strong form and on unbeaten runs. Vancouver are on a six-game unbeaten streak, with four of those wins. Seattle head north on the back of a MLS record-setting eight victories and an unbeaten run stretching to 11 matches.
The Sounders current winning streak was kickstarted by the Whitecaps back in July in a disappointing 2-0 defeat. Having already ended Portland’s record-setting 15 game unbeaten run in August, it would be only fitting to put an end to Seattle’s run as well to become Cascadian streak busters extraordinaire.
“That’s the aim,” Robinson said. “That’s the target. Obviously it’s not going to be as simple as that, but it wasn’t simple going into Portland, it wasn’t simple in Houston. Every game that we seem to play that is of major significance is a streak buster.
“We know they’re a good team. We’ve got a lot of respect for them as an organisation and them as a team. They’re on a terrific run, but we’re in good form as well and we will try and play spoiler. It’ll be down to the players. The coaches will get their teams set up correctly, but which players perform on the day, after a break, will probably be the team that wins.”
Vancouver haven’t beaten Seattle in their last six MLS meetings, and while July’s poor showing at Century Link led to some home truths being told in the locker room, Robinson feels his side has a different make up now to that defeat and is confident that they’ve learnt their lessons and will provide a much sterner opponent this time around.
“I think you’ll see a little bit of everything,” Robinson said. “It’s a great game for us, it’s a great game for them. It’s a game that the fans always look forward to. The boys are ready. They’re nice and sharp today. We’ve shown them how we think they will do, how they’ll play, but we’ll focus on us and what we’re good at.”
As sharp as they may be looking at training, with seven players returning from international duty, including Kei Kamara and Aly Ghazal who had lengthy trips back from Africa, Robinson is playing his cards close to his chest when it comes to exactly what line-up we’ll see taking to the pitch on Saturday night.
“Some of them have come back a little bit tired because they’ve had long journeys,” Robinson admitted. “Others are raring to go. So I’ll leave it to the last minute tomorrow to make the decision, but I’ve got in my mind how I’d like to play, how I want to go, and hopefully, barring anything major tonight, I’ll touch base with them tomorrow and then we’ll pick the team to try and win the game.”
One player who will definitely be missing is Yordy Reyna, who is suspended for the match due to yellow card accumulation. The Peruvian has been influential in Vancouver’s recent good run of form with two goals and six assists in his last five MLS matches.
He’s the guy that’s made this Whitecaps side tick and his absence will certainly be felt.
“It’s massive, it really is,” Robinson said of losing Reyna. “He’s a key player for us and arguably our best player over the last month or so, and he keeps continuing to get better and better. You see him on the training field and he wants to do more and more. So it’s a big loss for us because he’s been terrific.
“But I’ve got confidence in Nico [Mezquida] stepping in, if we decide to go that way, or [Jordon] Mutchy, whoever plays in that 10 area. Whenever they’ve played they’ve made impacts in the game, so we’ll just go next man up. It’s not ideal, but we’ll deal with it.”