VANCOUVER — After looking like they had run out of answers, the Vancouver Whitecaps now face some big questions.
The Whitecaps hopes of making the Major League Soccer playoffs took a blow with an embarrassing 3-0 loss at home to Nashville SC last week. Now, with just six regular season games remaining, the Whitecaps must answer questions about their pride and belief in themselves as they prepare to play the San Jose Earthquakes on the road Sunday.
“Instead of looking at the team we are playing against I think we have to look within ourselves,” said veteran midfielder Russell Teibert. “The pride within ourselves. We have to play with our heart, our passion and play as a team.
“We need to be better all around. We need to be better for our jersey, we need to be better for our fans, we need to be better for ourselves. Down the stretch we have our pride on the line.”
Head coach Vanni Sartini was harsh in his criticism of his team after the Nashville game. He called the loss unacceptable, said the Whitecaps owed their fans an apology and even accused his players of giving up.
Given a few days to reflect, Sartini said the team needs to rethink its focus for the final games.
“We basically shot ourselves in the foot,” Sartini said after a training session this week. “Nashville didn’t do anything to win the game but we did everything to lose the game.
“We have to prove that we are a team that wants to win big and wants to make the last game meaningful. The only way to make the last game meaningful is to win the next couple of games. I think we have this fire in us.”
Sartini said the coaching staff shares the blame. For the last few weeks the emphasis has been on how many points the Whitecaps might need to make the playoffs. Now the team will concentrate on gaining points from each game they play.
“Forget about the playoffs,” Sartini said. “The only game that matters is win against San Jose. Win against San Jose then let’s try and win (the next game) against Colorado.
“It’s the only way to be back in the battle again.”
The Whitecaps will face the Earthquakes without striker Lucas Cavallini, who leads the team with eight goals. Cavallini will miss the game after taking a red card for stepping on Nashville’s Alex Muyl in Saturday’s loss.
“I regret everything I did,” said Cavallini. “I hate to do things like this and let the emotions get the worst out of me.”
Heading into the weekend Vancouver (9-12-7) sits ninth in the Western Conference with 34 points, five less than Portland which holds the seventh and final playoff spot. San Jose (6-12-9) are last in the West with 27 points.
The LA Galaxy are eighth with 38 points while Seattle (33) and Colorado (32) are nipping at the Whitecaps' heels.
The Whitecaps got a little help Wednesday night when the Galaxy tied Toronto FC 2-2 while Seattle lost 3-2 to Orlando and Nashville beat Colorado 4-1.
San Jose has five losses in its last eight games (1-5-2) but Sartini said the Whitecaps have to pay attention to a team that has scored 42 goals this season, 10 more than Vancouver.
“We need to be more compact, we need to be more applied,” he said.
“They are a very offensive team and they throw a lot of numbers at you.”
The Earthquakes and Whitecaps settled for a 3-3 draw the last time they met. Vancouver is undefeated in its last five game against San Jose (2-0-3).
Teibert said the Whitecaps need to think about the now, not what happened in the past.
“We can’t keep looking in the rearview mirror,’ he said. “We have to look forward and right in front of us is a tough opponent. We have to look at picking up a win on the road.
“I don’t think you can approach a team based on the past. We have to keep looking forward.”
VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (9-12-7) at SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES (6-12-9)
PayPal Park, Sunday 9:30 ET
INJURY REPORT: Forward Deiber Caicedo (out for the season following meniscus surgery on right knee).
ROAD WARRIORS: The Whitecaps opened the season losing their first five matches on the road but since the end of May have earned points in six of their eight away matches (2-2-4).
TEAM EFFORT: This year 19 Whitecaps have either scored a goal or collected an assist in MLS games. Midfielder Ryan Gauld leads the team with a combined six goals and seven assists.
HEAD ACHES: Two of the three goals Vancouver allowed in the loss to Nashville were headers. It was the first time since June 2021 against Real Salt Lake that the Whitecaps allowed multiple headed goals. Vancouver had allowed just two headers in their previous 15 matches
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 2, 2022
Jim Morris, The Canadian Press