Despite struggling in recent weeks, the Vancouver Whitecaps are glad they're still in the hunt for a first-ever playoff berth.BURNABY, B.C. – Remember last year.
It’s a line nobody expected to hear from a Vancouver Whitecaps club that has been happy to forget last season’s disastrous start to life in Major League Soccer, but that was the language following a training session on Tuesday at Burnaby Lake field, as players and coach attempted to assuage the fears of some supporters who may be getting a little bit uneasy with recent results.
Yes – the club has lost three matches in a row – but the ‘Caps are still in the driver’s seat.
The team controls its destiny. It’s a complete U-turn from this point last season, when the matches literally meant nothing and there was no meaningful destiny to speak of.
“For us, as a group, to be in this position is where want to be,” captain Jay DeMerit told reporters on Tuesday. “There’s a lot of other teams in this league already this year that aren’t even in considering [the playoff race]. For us to be in those positions and for us to be fighting for these spots is a positive. We need to look at that and make sure we’re continuing to fight and make sure we’re keeping the right attitude and moving forward in the right direction.
“I don’t think we need to panic here, I think we just need to come together.”
After the club’s electric start to the season under head coach Martin Rennie, expectations rose exponentially – perhaps some might say, even unreasonably, considering the club’s finish as the lowest rung on the totem pole in 2011.
Following a pile of midseason changes which included the departures of prominent players such as Eric Hassli, Davide Chiumiento and Sebastien Le Toux – and the arrivals of designated players Barry Robson and Kenny Miller, in addition to winger Dane Richards – things have gone off the rails a bit in recent times.
But Rennie isn’t panicking, and like DeMerit, is keeping things in context.
“At the start of the season if someone had said, ‘yeah you’ll be a good few points clear in a playoff position, you’ll be going into a game against LA [Galaxy] where you can be equal with LA, you’ll be just a few points behind Seattle [Sounders] and [Real] Salt Lake’ – I think we would have all said, ‘wow, that’s fantastic, we’ll definitely take that,’” Rennie said. “Obviously we need to improve and finish very strong. Four of our last five games are at home and that’s another important factor. We’re in a good place, and it’s an exciting game against LA [on Saturday].”
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As things stand, the Whitecaps sit in fifth place in the Western Conference on 37 points. Sixth place FC Dallas are five points back – and Vancouver has a game in hand. Add in the fact that four of Vancouver’s final eight matches are at home, and there’s that added benefit as well.
The next two matches for the ‘Caps are of particular importance. First up is Saturday’s match against the Galaxy, which sit in fourth place on 40 points. After that, the team plays Dallas on the road.
Yes, the stakes are as high as they’ve been this season, but that’s just the way the club likes it.
“All the games are important – they always have been -- especially in the [Western] Conference,” Rennie said. “I think for us now you start to gear up toward that point where you want to be in a good position at the end of the season and playing at your best. We’ve got a lot of work to get to that form but we know we can do that.”
Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for Goal.com Canada.