The end to last week’s busy schedule was much better than how it began for the Vancouver Whitecaps.
After that forgettable match against the LA Galaxy, the team somewhat redeemed themselves and their playoff hopes with a win against the Colorado Rapids and a respectable draw on the road against Real Salt Lake.
It puts them in eighth place in the Western Conference standings, tied with the Galaxy for the seventh spot (wins being the tiebreaker). However, there are really only seven teams fighting for the last three playoff spots right now, with the Whitecaps in the middle of that pack.
They have now had a week to recover, rest players and give those with niggling injuries and issues the time to get better. Heading into the final stretch of the season, the Whitecaps are looking healthier; only Déiber Caicedo is the club’s long-term injury, and even he has been spotted back in light conditioning.
Next up is Nashville SC, a club the Whitecaps faced not too long ago at the end of July. That game on the road ended up in a 1-1 draw. Javain Brown scored his first in MLS in the 87th minute off a Ryan Gauld free kick.
Nashville is coming to BC Place with only one win in their last seven matches. But they are a team that has the firepower and the ability to surprise.
Whitecaps head coach Vanni Sartini said after that match that his side was the best team from the 20th minute onward.
“We don’t need to give the ball away like 10 times in the first 15 minutes like we did last time. Because if we do, sooner or later, they score,” Sartini said.
That goal, which came courtesy of Teal Bunbury, forced the Whitecaps to play yet again from a position of adversity. However, Bunbury may not be the main threat the ‘Caps have to figure out.
Hany Mukhtar has 16 goals on the season, the second most in MLS right now. He also has nine assists to his name. In the past three Nashville matches, he has four goals.
“We need him to touch the ball as [little] as possible,” Sartini said of the in-form attacking midfielder. “So again, as usual, we need to act on the source of service to him, not on what he does. Because when he receives the ball, it’s already too late.”
Attacking the service to Mukhtar means winning first balls and pressing high up the pitch to force Nashville into coughing it up early.
That’s something the Whitecaps did well in the first 45 minutes of the midweek match against Colorado, but they faltered in the second, giving away a goal and almost conceding another.
Sartini said that good teams must be able to press and be relentless, but also know how to be defensive and absorb pressure as well.
“To press the other team in their final third for 90 minutes like we did in the first half against Colorado, it’s almost impossible,” he said. “We haven’t had a game where we’ve done 90 minutes…we need to be mature to understand that we have to apply both the strategies both in the same game depending on the moment of the game. That’s what I would say is the next step in terms of getting to the next level with the team.”
If the Whitecaps manage a win at home against Nashville, they will be guaranteed to finish the weekend in a playoff spot regardless of other matches as they will leapfrog over their opponents.
With only seven matches left to go in the regular season, including the Nashville game, every point can be the difference between finishing above or below that playoff line.