VANCOUVER — Playoff pressure is building for the Vancouver Whitecaps as September comes to an end.
With just 10 games to go in the Major League Soccer's regular season, the 'Caps (7-8-9) sit four points out of the post-season picture. The next chance to move up the Western Conference standings comes Saturday when Vancouver hosts FC Dallas (6-11-9), and the club knows how crucial it is to collect a positive result.
“It’s definitely getting to the stage where we need to be taking points from games. Because the closer it gets to the end, the more we’re going to need the points to make sure we’re in the playoffs," said attacking midfielder Ryan Gauld. "So there’s definitely an importance on the set of three games that’s coming up this week.”
The 'Caps have already faced Dallas once this season, battling the Toros to a 2-2 draw in Texas on July 4.
But the visitors have struggled lately and come to the West Coast with a single victory in their last eight outings (1-3-4).
Dallas fired head coach Luchi Gonzalez Sunday following a 3-2 loss to the Houston Dynamo. Marco Ferruzzi, the club's director of soccer operations, was named interim head coach.
The situation is one Vancouver's Vanni Sartini knows well — he was installed as Vancouver's interim head coach on Aug. 27 after the 'Caps turfed Marc Dos Santos.
There may be a new boss behind the bench, but Dallas has long had a clear philosophy, Sartini said.
“What I expect is a possession-based team with a lot of quality," he said.
Dallas has a young weapon in 18-year-old striker Ricardo Pepi. The homegrown player has 12 goals and three assists this season and was called up to the U.S. national team earlier this year. He also played in the MLS all-star game last month, scoring the game winner on a penalty shot.
“I expect he’s going to be a problem for us," Sartini said. "I think he’s one of the best strikers in the league and I think he’s not going to play in MLS for so long. I think he’s going to go to a European big club."
The best way to deal with players who are really good in the box is to limit how much they touch the ball, the coach added.
"Even if you play against Cristiano Ronaldo or Messi, if they don’t receive the ball, they don’t score," he said.
Pepi opened the scoring the last time Vancouver faced Dallas, netting a goal in the 22nd minute.
“He’s had a phenomenal rise," Whitecaps defender Andy Rose said of the young star. "He’s someone you have to constantly have to be aware of and try to find gaps. Clearly he’s been coached very well throughout his upbringing. Clearly someone that the whole team but especially the three of us at the back have to keep a close eye on.”
The task may be easier said than done as the 'Caps continue to struggle with injuries across the back line. Three defenders are expected to miss Saturday's matchup with various ailments.
Fortunately, the Whitecaps have a lot of players who can slot into different positions, said Rose, himself a versatile midfielder/defender.
“It’s something that’s probably said a bit too much, next man up, but it’s so true at a football club," he said. "So many guys have been called upon in different moments this season, a lot of guys have done a fantastic job of stepping up when needed. And, of course, that’s why training’s so important.”
FC DALLAS (6-11-9) VS. VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (7-8-9)
Saturday, B.C. Place
CRAMPED CALENDAR: The 'Caps will finish off the regular season with 10 games in 44 days. The coming week will see the club play Saturday in Vancouver, Wednesday in Houston, and next Saturday back in Vancouver against the San Jose Earthquakes.
ROAD WOES: Dallas has struggled on the road this season, winning just two away games. The Whitecaps, meanwhile, have lost only once at B.C. Place this year.
INJURY REPORT: Vancouver will be without defenders Cristian Gutierrez (left quad strain), Erik Godoy (right foot injury) and Florian Jungwirth (abductor strain). Dallas midfielder Beni Redzic (ankle sprain) will also miss Saturday's game, as will Toros' defenders Johnny Nelson (back surgery) and Ryan Hollingshead (foot injury).
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 24, 2021.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press