PORTLAND, Ore. — Frustration lingered for coach Marc Dos Santos Sunday as his Vancouver Whitecaps finished their season with a decisive win over the L.A. Galaxy.
His team had captured a 3-0 victory but missed the post-season yet again.
“We deserved the win," Dos Santos said on a video call Sunday night. “It’s a good way to finish the season. But at the same time, I’m disappointed - we were three points away, also, of being in the playoffs.”
It's been a tough year for the 'Caps (9-14-0).
The team played just four games at their home stadium in Vancouver (including three without fans) before border restrictions forced them to relocate to Portland.
Finishing on a positive note was key for the club's future, said defender Jake Nerwinski.
“Everything that we’ve been through, it’s been a hell of a year," he said. "We could have easily come out today with no passion, no pride and gotten blown out. But we didn’t. This was our best win of the year and I think it’s something that really showed what this group had inside of us.”
Vancouver came into the game with energy and opened the scoring in the 24th minute.
Russell Teibert stormed through the midfield and got a pass off to Cristian Gutierrez, who delivered the ball to Lucas Cavallini just outside the six-yard box. The Canadian striker put away a header for his sixth goal of the season.
Fredy Montero added a pair of goals for the 'Caps, his fourth and fifth of the season.
“Obviously, I was always looking to help the team. But today was a payoff for me, to finish with two goals, and finish with three points, that’s all that I can ask for," said the 33-year-old Colombian forward.
"Whatever happens in the future, it’s going to be good for me, for the team and the other guys that fight so hard to be here.”
The match was Montero's 200th regular-season Major League Soccer game, but the veteran said he isn't sure whether it was his last in a Whitecaps' jersey.
His contract ends on Dec. 31, and Montero said both he and the club need to take this month to think about what comes next.
“We will see. We will see. I’m just happy to finish with two goals," he said. "I finally got on the level I wanted to be. It’s a positive note on my personal side.”
Sunday saw the Galaxy go down a man in the 39th minute. L.A.'s Julian Araujo's was shown the red card for a "serious foul" after his studs met the knee of Vancouver's Cristian Gutierrez.
Evan Bush had six saves for the Whitecaps and collected his first clean sheet for Vancouver.
Galaxy (6-12-4) 'keeper David Bingham stopped three of the six on-target shots he faced.
Dos Santos was proud of the mindset his players showed, saying they treated the match like a playoff game despite both sides being out of contention.
“We are not good enough to just show up on the field and play at 70 per cent, at 75 per cent. We’re not," he said.
"And what we need to understand is that our team, the heart, the core of the team, and how we go about things has to be first we do everything at 100 per cent. Everything. And when we do everything at 100 per cent, the technical qualities of everyone show...When we do that and we do that well, we always put ourselves in a position to win.”
The coach said he and his team take some solace in knowing that they finished the year with more points than two teams who made the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.
The 'Caps end the season with 27 points, while the Montreal Impact have 26 and Inter Miami CF have 24.
Vancouver also finished with more wins (nine) than the Colorado Rapids and San Jose Earthquakes (eight each), who both made the playoffs in the West.
“That's going to be our prize for this year," Dos Santos said. "I just feel that if we would have had everyone in the right moments…I feel that we would have been in the playoffs."
The Whitecaps weathered a particularly rough stretch when league play resumed in August, dropping three games in a row.
Towards the end of the year, the squad found the cohesion and rhythm that they showed on Sunday.
The result proves the group has more to give, Nerwinski said.
“We thought we had more in us and if we had just gotten that going earlier, we would have been in a playoff spot," he said.
"But now that it’s over, we ended on a high note, it’s going to be really nice to go home, to relax, to spend some time with my wife who I haven’t really seen in two, three months.”
The season has been mentally and physically exhausting, he added.
“We’re happy with how we finished," Nerwinski said. "And it’s time to rest now.”
NOTES: Teibert, Gutierrez, Nerwinski and Ali Adnan all registered assists for Vancouver on Sunday…The Whitecaps are the only team in MLS history to finish a season without a single draw... Gutierrez replaced Leonard Owusu in the 'Caps starting 11. Owusu has returned to Ghana to complete immigration paperwork.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 8, 2020.
The Canadian Press