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It’s not quite Around the World in 80 Days, but travelling the equivalent of halfway around the globe in 30 days is still a lot of planes, hotel rooms and Netflix downloads.
Starting with Saturday’s short hop to Portland to take on the Timbers, the Vancouver Whitecaps will fly around 27,000 kilometres over 33 days, with stops in six U.S. cities and one Canadian metropolis.
“Wow, that’s crazy. I had no idea. Now I gotta go home and pack for that. Sheesh,” said Caps midfielder Ali Ahmed, when told of the volume of travel ahead.
The Whitecaps have played five consecutive road games twice before, in 2012 and 2015, but never seven. This month was originally supposed to see a six-game stretch, but the Caps’ rained-out game with the Colorado Rapids earlier this summer was rescheduled to the end of it.
Ahmed’s surprise at the scale of the travel comes with the team’s short-term perspective. There’s nothing to think about beyond Saturday’s game and the following game on Wednesday in Chicago.
Mentally, and tactically, they can’t afford to think any further, even if this month can make or break their playoff aspirations.
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Portland Timbers
Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Providence Park
TV: Apple TV. Radio: AM730
The eight-place Whitecaps (8-8-7) are tied on points and record with Minnesota United, who’ve been pushed into the ninth and final playoff spot through goal differential tiebreaker. They both hold games in hand on the teams above them, but the Loons play six of their remaining 11 at home.
The Timbers are five points and two places below both of them.
“We got 11 games left (and) I think we got the right group of guys to be pushing far in the playoffs,” said Ahmed. “We got to set ourselves up right from now, so we got to get three points Saturday.
“Game by game. We’ve got to prepare game by game; seven games on the road won’t be easy. I like to travel though. I’ll enjoy that, I’m going to be honest … But at the same time just, you know, it’s not about travelling, it’s not a vacation. It’s about getting W’s. It’s about winning. We’ve got to get to the playoffs.”
It’s the final third of the season, and the team will push for its pre-season goal of making the playoffs and making a run.
But while he’s living through the present, sporting director Axel Schuster has also been looking to the future.
There are unnamed targets he couldn’t make a deal happen in the last transfer window, but has been keeping into touch with for the next opportunity. His head coach, Vanni Sartini, is on an expiring deal, his future dependent on an algorithm of results and performance. And Schuster still has to convince Richie Lareya that Vancouver is the place for him, and work out the details of a Designated Player contract once the season is done.
“The (transfer) market is never, never closed, really. Other windows open, other things happening in the world on the market and you always follow that,” said Schuster. “You have a lot of players on your list that you had identified, we have shadow teams, shadow teams of different markets also … We have approached a few players … that we have stay connected with because we couldn’t make it work (last window) or whatnot. It was not the right time.
“So there’s always focus on the future.
“It’s one week, maybe a little bit more percentage on the future, and one week more percentage on the actual (day-to-day) situation, but there’s enough work to be done. Sometimes it feels like the week should have maybe four or five days more to get all of that done.”
Internally, nine players are on expiring contracts, but most with team options that could be picked up. Tristan Blackmon, Russell Teibert and Thomas Hasal are all pending free agents, while Seb Berhalter, Isaac Boehmer, Karifa Yao, Ryan Raposo, Levonte Johnson and Simon Becher are also on expiring deals but are too young to qualify for MLS free-agency.
Schuster indicated that Blackmon’s option almost certainly will be picked up, while saying discussions with Teibert and Hasal — currently done for the year with tendinitis — have already started and they’re looking to find the best solutions for them.
Berhalter was one player Schuster highlighted as important to get a deal done, but wasn’t ready to dive into the potential futures of anyone outside Blackmon.
“This is actually the development of this club,” he said. “Players that have played an important role in the past are not playing an important role anymore. This is not because they are doing something wrong or differently or they have declined in performance. It’s just the club is developing to the next level.”
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