VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Whitecaps have been eliminated from the playoff race, but coach Marc Dos Santos says there's still a lot on the line as his squad heads into their final game.
While Sunday's tilt between the 'Caps (8-14-0) and the L.A. Galaxy (6-11-4) won't have implications for Major League Soccer's post-season, three points will be up for grabs and Dos Santos said his group takes those points "extremely seriously."
“We want to finish the season as close as we can from the playoff spot so we can evaluate what the year was about. We want to finish with nine wins," he said on a video call Friday. "Nobody’s going to see us slacking.”
Vancouver still had a faint hope of making the post-season until the San Jose Earthquakes beat Los Angeles FC on Wednesday.
The result was "very disappointing," Dos Santos said, but it holds an important lesson for the Whitecaps.
“We have to learn one thing and (that is) if we wait until the last day or if we wait for other results to go through, well, you always put yourself in a position that is difficult," he said.
Getting over the news of being eliminated on Wednesday took some time, admitted midfielder Russell Teibert.
“You’ve always got to deal with the disappointment of not making the playoffs. You don’t want to be familiar with that feeling and accept that feeling," he said.
This season marks the third year in a row where the Whitecaps have missed the playoffs.
It's been a difficult year for the club, which played just three games at its home stadium in Vancouver. Several key players were missing from the lineup when the team travelled to Florida for the MLS is Back tournament, and others have since been lost to injury (goalkeepers Maxime Crepeau and Thomas Hasal) and to trades or transfers (midfielder Inbeom Hwang and forward Yordy Reyna).
Vancouver heads into Sunday's matchup on a two-game losing skid, but the players remain confident, Teibert said.
"We know we’ve got a job to do. We’ve got one game left and it means a lot to our club, it means a lot to our team and it means a lot heading into the off-season," he said. "We want to go into the off-season on a positive note and put our best foot forward.”
The 2020 season hasn't been kind to the Galaxy, either, and the club recently sacked head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto.
L.A. finally snapped a six-game losing skid when they last faced Vancouver on Oct. 18, thanks to a last-minute goal by Kai Koreniuk.
Whitecaps forward Tosaint Ricketts said the key to getting a different result on Sunday is not getting too stretched out.
“(The Galaxy) try to take the rhythm out of the game, pull us out of position, just take away from our team shape," Ricketts said. "I think it’s important this game to just stay compact, stay tight as a team and stay organized.”
Though it's been a tough year, the 'Caps have fought hard, he added.
“We’ve worked hard through the obstacles and the adversity and everything we went through this season. And we wanted to make our goal of making the playoffs and we’ve fallen short," Ricketts said. "But we want to finish strong. It doesn’t take away from our character, it doesn’t take away from our hard work this year.”
L.A. GALAXY (6-11-4) AT VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (8-14-0)
Sunday, Providence Park
UP FOR GRABS: The Whitecaps did not hand out the Golden Boot at the club's annual awards ceremony on Thursday, saying the race is still too close to call. Striker Lucas Cavallini leads with five goals, but Fredy Montero and Cristian Dajome are close behind with three apiece.
DIFFERENCE MAKER: Cristian Pavon has 10 goals and seven assists for the Galaxy. The Argentine winger has factored in 65.4 per cent of his team's tallies in 2020.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 6, 2020.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press