Saturday night gave Vancouver Whitecaps fans that rare feeling of accomplishment this season. A battling performance saw them come away from unbeaten, Supporters Shield leading Seattle with a point and they could have left with all three after fighting back from trailing at half time to lead by the hour mark.
It was a result that few would have expected and there was a feeling of hope that maybe this could be the start of a turnaround, stopping a five game losing streak and with two winnable matches coming up before the next international break.
But then 24 hours later, the only team below them in the Western Conference standings, FC Dallas, pulled out a shock result of their own, beating Eastern Conference leaders New England Revolution 2-1 with a confident and comfortable performance in the Texas heat.
That result sent the Whitecaps crashing to the bottom of the table, where they currently sit two points behind Dallas and San Jose. With Austin beating Portland on Thursday evening to move five points ahead of Vancouver, forget simply having a winnable game, the Whitecaps now head into Dallas on Sunday really needing to get all three points to stop themselves being cut adrift at the foot of the conference.
“The problems that Dallas give are very different to the ones of Seattle,” Whitecaps head coach Marc Dos Santos told AFTN in a media conference call on Thursday. “What I heard after the game was a lot of comments that Dallas or Salt Lake are winnable games.
“What I believe is that in MLS the first against the last is a winnable game and a losable game. Every game in MLS is winnable and every game is losable. You have to go into every game with the right mindset, the right focus and organization to succeed.”
It certainly won’t be an easy proposition heading into Frisco. Dallas are unbeaten at home all season, with two wins and four draws at Toyota Stadium, with all ten of their points this year coming at home.
It’s also not been a particularly happy hunting ground for Vancouver over the years. Their solitary win there was the stunning 4-0 victory in July 2017, and aside from two other draws, Dallas have won all of the other seven encounters in Texas.
Not that that will play on Vancouver minds. Not one of the 14 players that took to the pitch for the Whitecaps that day are still with the club, showing the remarkable turnaround in four years. Instead they will be buoyed by showing that, on their day, they can compete with the best teams in MLS. The problem is, it’s not always their day and Dallas showed the exact same thing this past weekend.
“The same little dose of confidence that they got in their last game, we also got in our last game,” Dos Santos noted. “The difference is they’ve been able to play home games with fans, being in their stadium, and we haven’t, but I think we’ve been learning a lot about what it takes and what are the little details that give you the chance to win and get points away from home. That’s the reality right now. All our games are basically being played on the road.”
But despite falling into last place, and being winless in six, confidence in the Whitecaps camp remains high. Dos Santos now has to ensure this translates into more positive performances on the pitch, especially in the first half of games where they are still to score a goal.
“It’s been positive,” Dos Santos said of the mood this week. “It’s always easier to work on a result, but I’ve always felt the group, even with the difficult run before Seattle, is in a good place. There’s good frustration in sports and there’s a bad one. The good one is the one that you’re able to channel and keep working for the next game and we were always like that. That’s why we arrived in Seattle with a good mindset.
And they left with one too, but it certainly wasn’t a perfect performance, with a lot still to work on if they are to make a concerted climb up the conference, and Dos Santos feels watching the Sounders game back again this week has taught his team a lot.
“We’ve rewatched the game, we went through a lot of details of the game, and I think there’s a lot to take in the first 60 minutes,” Dos Santos added. “Then in the last 30 minutes we were a little bit afraid, maybe of losing or not getting a result after everything we did. We could have done a better job with our possession in the second half.
“Sometimes we were able to push the lines a little bit higher, but we back off a lot. These are things that we rewatch as a team. But those first 60 minutes gives us a lot of tools and clips to move forward and keep growing as a team”