PORTLAND, Ore. — The Vancouver Whitecaps could be in a very odd situation this week — they may be cheering for a divisional rival.
The 'Caps (8-14-0) dropped a 1-0 decision to the Portland Timbers (11-5-5) Sunday night, dimming the team's dream of a playoff spot.
In order to secure a post-season berth now, the Whitecaps will not only need to win their final game on Nov. 8, they also need the San Jose Earthquakes to lose twice.
But whether San Jose even plays two more regular-season bouts remains unclear after a matchup between the Quakes and Los Angeles FC was put off Sunday due to a COVID-19 outbreak among the L.A. club.
Knowing that the Whitecaps' fate is up to another club "sucks," coach Marc Dos Santos said after Sunday's result.
“With this loss, we depend on others. With this loss, we have to wear the jersey of LAFC on Wednesday and cheer for them if the game is played. If the game is not played, it’s totally out of our control," he said.
“Until that game is played or not, we’re just going to have to be in a grey area.”
A positive result on Sunday would have given Vancouver greater control over its destiny.
Though the 'Caps battled the Timbers through a scoreless first half, Portland finally broke the stalemate in the 61st minute.
Jorge Villafana got the ball to Yimmi Chara just outside of the six-yard box, and the Colombian midfielder sent a shot sailing past Vancouver netminder Evan Bush.
The Whitecaps outshot the Timbers 12-11 but ultimately couldn't capitalize on their opportunities.
“I don’t think anybody can fault our effort tonight," said 'Caps defender Jake Nerwinski. “Some of our passes just didn’t connect and that was the key.”
Vancouver amped up the offensive power to close out the game, swapping more defensive-minded players like Nerwinski for forward Theo Bair after the Timbers' goal.
Striker Lucas Cavallini got a big opportunity directly in front of the Portland net in the 80th minute but Portland goalie Steve Clark scooped up the shot, despite traffic in front of the net.
Clark made two saves to register his fifth clean sheet of the year. Bush stopped two-of-three on-target shots for the 'Caps.
Matchups between Vancouver and Portland have been "very equal" this season, Dos Santos said, and Sunday was no exception.
The effort was there but the 'Caps couldn't finish their chances, the coach said.
“What I felt was in key moments the lack of somebody who could make the difference, somebody who could with only one play unlock something. And that didn’t happen tonight," he said.
Despite Sunday's result, Dos Santos said his team isn't about to fold heading into their final game of the regular season, a battle against the L.A. Galaxy at the Whitecaps' temporary home in Portland on Nov. 8.
"We still have a chance but we depend on others. As long as we still have a chance, we’re going to believe, we’re going to be pushing," he said.
Nerwinski says facing adversity is nothing new for the Whitecaps. He noted the team has been on the road for much of the season, and is currently living at a hotel in Portland, hundreds of kilometres away from their loved ones.
Though the season has been "a roller coaster," the group continues to fight, he said.
“I think it shows what this team has and could have had if we were in a bit of a different situation," Nerwinski said. "We’ve fought hard to stay in this season and even give ourselves a chance to make the playoffs. I know a lot of people probably didn’t even think we’d have this chance.”
NOTES: Jaroslaw Neizgoda was taken off on a stretcher in end-of-game injury time following a midfield collision. … Vancouver midfielder Michael Baldisimo will miss the final game of the season after taking a yellow card in the 88th minute Sunday. … Villafana played his 100th regular-season MLS game for the Timbers.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 1, 2020.
The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said the Whitecaps had been eliminated from the playoffs.