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VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Whitecaps must punch above their weight Sunday in Denver against the Colorado Rapids in a bid to climb into the Major League Soccer playoff picture.
Vancouver (7-8-8) ended a four-game win streak with a 1-0 loss to Portland last week. The Whitecaps rank ninth in the Western Division four points back of LAFC in the final playoff spot.
Colorado (12-4-7) sits comfortably third in the West with 43 points. The Rapids have just a single home loss this season, while Vancouver is 1-4-6 on the road.
“They’ve had a great season so far,” Whitecaps attacking midfielder Ryan Gauld acknowledged. "It’s going to be a tough test but we’re going to be ready for it.
"We know we’ve also got a very good side. If we do what we are capable of, we know the quality we have. There is no reason why we can’t come away with a good result.”
A 2-2 draw against the Portland Timbers on Wednesday extended Colorado's unbeaten streak to nine games (5-0-4).
Whitecaps interim coach Vanni Santini knows Colorado's capabilities. He'll coach in his first away game since Marc Dos Santos was fired Aug. 27.
“I have to be honest," Santini said. "We need to focus a lot on ourselves rather than them, on our progress, on the things we are already doing well, the things we can do better both attacking and defending.
“If we build on the performances we’ve had so far it’s going to be a game where we can make some points.”
Colorado's strengths are a solid defence and a direct, counterattacking offence.
Rapids forward Michael Barrio leads the club with seven goals, which is his most since scoring nine in 2016. Midfielder Jonathan Lewis has three goals and an assist in his last six games.
Fellow midfielder Jack Price has a team-leading eight assists.
Vancouver's loss to Portland also snapped an MLS franchise record 10-game undefeated streak. Forward Brian White said the loss was a reality check.
“It’s a moment where we have to settle back down and realize we have work to do to get to the place where we want to go,” White said.
The Whitecaps have scored just six goals in the first half of 23 games this year. Lack of production in the first 45 minutes of a match is a trend they'd like to reverse Sunday.
But playing in Denver's high altitude is challenging, Santini said, and requires the team to be smart defensively.
“It’s really hard to play with a certain intensity for 90 minutes,” he said. “The key is going to be compactness in defence. We need to be intelligent.
“If we’re not compact, we need to cover too much ground and, at altitude, that is going to be a problem.”
The ball also moves faster in thinner air.
“We need to be particularity focused on set plays and also not to concede shots from distance,” Santini said.
VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (7-8-8) AT COLORADO RAPIDS (12-4-7)
Dick's Sporting Goods Park, Sunday 6 p.m. PDT
INJURY REPORT: Whitecap defender Jake Nerwinski (right knee sprain) trained with the team this week and could dress. Defender Cristian Gutierrez (left quad strain) and midfielder Caio Alexandre (left foot fracture) will not play.
AVOIDING SLUMPS: The Whitecaps haven’t lost consecutive games since a five-game losing streak from May into June.
ROAD WOES: Vancouver's one road win this season was a 2-1 victory over Austin FC on Aug. 18. Colorado’s lone loss at home was a 1-0 defeat by Austin in its home-opener April 24.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 18, 2021.
Jim Morris, The Canadian Press