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There was no ‘andiamo’ left in the Vancouver Whitecaps on Wednesday. Just ‘assonato’.
It was a lethargic, weary team that took the field at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park for the MLS clash with the Colorado Rapids, and an even more exhausted one that left after a 2-2 tie.
Only a Brian White tying goal in the 78th minute saved the Caps the embarrassment of losing to the league’s last-place team, and rescued a point in a game they had invested high hopes in boosting them into a top-four position with the stretch run looming.
There are reasons, valid ones even, for the result. It was the final of seven straight games away from B.C. Place, a stretch of 41 days without a home game. They had gone from a hot and humid clime in Houston to an oxygen-thin altitude of Salt Lake, some 1,300 metres above sea level, then climbed another 200 m higher to the oxygen-starved heights of Commerce City.
The Caps (11-10-9) are now sixth in the Western Conference, one point behind Houston and RSL — the two teams they lost to last week — and three points behind second-place LAFC and Seattle.
“These seven games have taken a toll. Today, it was probably one of the reasons why the team was a little bit disconnected,” said head coach Vanni Sartini. “We were extremely tired … There was a lot of disconnection, a lot of confusion.
Down to the line
Here are the final four games for the Caps:
• DC United, Saturday, 7:30 p.m., B.C. Place
• St. Louis City, Wednesday, Oct. 4, 7:30 p.m., B.C. Place
• Seattle, Saturday, Oct. 7, 7:30 p.m., Lumen Field
• LAFC, Decision Day, Saturday, 6 p.m., B.C. Place
“Today we played very bad. We weren’t good in the first half. We were even worse in the second half. So we need to play better. It’s not a matter of concentration … We were destroyed, we couldn’t press. In the end, we were destroyed. We were destroyed mentally, physically.”
As tired as they were, and as hard as it is to win on the road, Wednesday was a vital game for the Caps. The makeup meeting from their stormed-out game in June was their ace in the hole, the game-in-hand advantage they held over the teams ahead and around them in the West.
If the Caps want to be playing in December — they’ve repeatedly stated they feel they have the ability to make a deep run in the playoffs — then Wednesday’s result is exactly the kind they need to convert into three points.
Colorado averages the fewest goals per 90 minutes in MLS (0.72) and have the third-lowest xG and fourth-fewest shots per game, but scored twice in the second half — including Diego Rubio’s greasy goal two minutes in the second 45 to cancel out Mathias Laborda’s 11th minute opener.
“It’s two games in a row now where we start the second half on the back foot,” said White. “They get a goal early and it changes the game. That’s something we need to address as a team in the locker-room, because you’re not going to win a lot of games, not going to make a playoff run with that kind of reaction in the second half. So that’s something we have to address and I’m confident that the boys will hunker down, we’ll address it, we’ll look at it and be better for it on Saturday.”
The road to a coveted top-four finish is a daunting one. Three of their four remaining games are at home, and the other is a mere 40-minute flight to Seattle, but three of those opponents are the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 teams in the conference. The optimist would also point out that those three games are a prime opportunity to make up ground to that coveted top-four spot and the first-round home field advantage in the three-game playoff series that comes with it.
First up: a date with DC United at B.C. Place on Saturday. The Black and Red make their first visit to Vancouver since losing 1-0 in 2019, way back when Wayne Rooney played for DC. He returns this week as manager, and beside him on the bench will be another familiar face: former Whitecaps boss Carl Robinson. United is one point below the playoff line in the East, and there are just three more post-season slots available — a regular berth and two spots in the play-in game.
A potential major SNAFU for Vancouver heading into this crucial game: the status of Ryan Gauld. The Caps’ pivotal playmaker subbed off early in the second half Wednesday, hobbled by a tackle he took in the opening 45.
“We took him off because he wasn’t able to run. He felt pain. At the end of the first half, he told me, ‘I want to try. I want to try,’ but then it was clear that he wasn’t able to play,” said Sartini. “The turnaround is that quick that it’s a big question mark to see if he’s going to be available for DC. We’ll see.
“I think the most important thing for Saturday will be who’s ready to go. Who is really ready to go, to guarantee intensity, because that’s the only way that we can win this game. The objective is there. We’re No. 6 in the standings. We are happy to have our destiny in our hands.”
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