The Vancouver Whitecaps look to accomplish two things at the MLS is Back Tournament on Sunday night — stay alive with a win and eliminate Cascadia rival Seattle in the process.
The depleted Whitecaps, who have two games remaining in the group stage, are pointless in the Group B basement after losing a 4-3 heartbreaker to San Jose on a 98th-minute stoppage-time goal. The Earthquakes lead the group with four points (from two games) while Chicago Fire SC has three points (from one game) and Seattle has one point (from two games).
"We're desperate for points," said Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer. "I mean if we lose, if we don't get a result, we're going home. And Vancouver falls in the same trap ... They have to get a result because they don't want to leave it 'til the last game.
"So you've got Cascadia rivals that aren't playing in the Pacific Northwest but the implications of the match are certainly very large."
The top two teams in each of the six groups plus the four best third-place finishers advance to the knockout round of 16 at ESPN's Wide World of Sports complex in the Orlando area.
With Chicago playing San Jose earlier Sunday, the Whitecaps know a victory is essential. A Chicago win coupled with a Whitecaps loss would eliminate Vancouver with a game remaining.
"We have to go to the game to win," said Vancouver coach Marc Dos Santos. "We feel as a team we went through a lot of hard moments to get here ... We're here and we're here fighting. And we're here being committed in the games and giving our best.
"So we have nothing to lose. We can't play Seattle being afraid of losing and it's not the mentality that I want to bring to this team."
Dos Santos said his team's worst stretch against San Jose on Wednesday was "that period when we were backed off close to our (penalty) box and being afraid.
"And we can't be that ... We need to play Seattle with the objective of the three points regardless of what happens in the Chicago game."
The Whitecaps arrived at the tournament without forwards Lucas Cavallini, Fredy Montero and Tosaint Ricketts, defender Andy Rose and defender/midfielder Georges Mukumbilwa, who stayed home for personal or medical reasons.
Things have got worse since.
Backup goalkeeper Bryan Meredith left the team Tuesday to be with his family in New Jersey after the death of his mother Beth.
Defenders Janio Bikel (adductor strain) and Eric Godoy (quadricep strain) were injured in training Sunday. Ghanaian midfielder Leonard Owusu was helped off the field in the dying minutes of the San Jose game.
Bikel is gone for the tournament while Godoy is not available for Sunday's game. Owusu is day-to-day.
"Let's talk about the lack of depth now and then not talk about it any more ever — until the end of the tournament," Dos Santos said Friday. "It's there. It's a fact."
He pointed to the experienced substitutes that San Jose was able to send on, with veterans Chris Wondolowski and Shea Salinas each scoring in the Quakes comeback. The average age on Vancouver's bench was 20 years 10 months two weeks — and the Whitecaps could only muster nine substitutes compared to 12 for San Jose.
Vancouver led 2-0 and 3-1 but could not hold on.
Dos Santos said while depth is an issue, his focus is maximizing the talents of the players he has — and keeping the tactics simple because there isn't enough time to get complicated given the tournament schedule.
Seattle, which tied San Jose 0-0 then lost 2-1 to Chicago, comes in on four days rest, one more than Vancouver.
"Watching their first two games, we know that they struggled a bit," said Whitecaps fullback Jake Nerwinski. "It's not the Seattle that everybody knows. They are the MLS reigning champions so we know they do have the players to compete really well and to have good games.
"But right now we need to look at their weaknesses. We need to really focus on our game plan and how we're going to attack them. And how we're going to make sure that we can get three points."
Fingers can be pointed at Seattle centre back Xavier Arreaga on both Chicago goals. The Ecuador international misplayed the ball on the first goal, allowing Robert Beric to race in on goalkeeper Stefan Frei, and then Arreaga lost track of Mauricio Pineda off a corner on the 84th-minute winner.
"He's starting. I have full confidence in Xavi," said Schmetzer.
Vancouver started 22-year-old Tunisian Jasser Khmiri and 21-year-old Serbian Ranko Veselinovic at the heart of its defence against San Jose. Despite the outcome and some bumpy moments along the way, the two youngsters acquitted themselves well on a chaotic night.
For Dos Santos, there were plenty of learning moments. He pointed to the San Jose winning goal, saying rookie substitute Patrick Metcalfe — normally a bull terrier in practice — could have fouled Salinas in the buildup to the goal to stop the attack.
"Little things like that, that they have to learn and grow and become better to help impact the game. And they have to be good enough to do it."
The 21-year-old Metcalfe, a local boy who replaced the injured Owusu one minute into stoppage time, was making his MLS debut.
Dos Santos says his team has to press its opponents more from the front, while defending higher in its own end. Vancouver conceded an MLS-record 22 against San Jose.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 17, 2020.
Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press