VANCOUVER – The Vancouver Whitecaps know the visitors have been counting them out for weeks.
Losses to Nashville and San Jose and Colorado seemed to end the club’s playoff hopes last month.
Heading into the final game of the regular season, though, the Caps (12-14-7) are still alive — a win on the road against Minnesota United (13-14-6) on Sunday and them clinching a post . Weather location.
“We worked hard to get to this point,” defenseman Jake Nirwinski said. “We’ve put ourselves in a great position, and now we’re ready to play for free. And if we win, we know we’ve done everything we can. If we lose, you know , we did everything we could.”
Sunday’s game is not easy to count. Not only had the Caps won three games in a row against opponents they had handily defeated earlier in the season, but they had also gotten plenty of help on the scoreboard from out of town.
“The stars seem to have aligned a bit,” said striker Brian White. “Don’t do it, because obviously it’s going to be a big test, a big challenge in Minnesota.”
Nirwinski acknowledged that length is “impossible.”
“It’s almost impossible and that’s what we have to take advantage of,” he said. Now, hopefully, we can make the most of it and make it valuable.”
Landing a job in Minnesota won’t be easy.
While the Whitecaps need all three points from a win to secure a post-season spot, United simply need a draw.
The road has been a struggle for the Caps all season. The club’s away record is a woeful 2-10-4, with the last win coming on June 18 when Vancouver defeated Dallas FC 2-0.
Nirwinski said recent wins against LA Galaxy, Seattle Sounders and Austin FC show, though, that the Whitecaps have what it takes to complete the job.
“We have to play the way we did in the last three games,” he said. “We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing, we’re going to defend well, we’re going to attack with speed and purpose. And scoring goals. I think that’s the key,” he said.
United have already won against the ‘Caps this season, winning 3-1 at BC Place on July 8. The game saw Vancouver leading 1-0 late in the second half.
Playing the full 90 minutes on Sunday will be crucial, head coach Vinny Sartini said.
“I think the (July 8) game, for 75 minutes we were the better team and we were 1-0 up, it’s deserved,” he said. “But they have very high-quality players and if you stop the game, if you lower your intensity and application tactically, they will be dangerous.
“So we have to be better than that in the first 75 minutes at BC.”
While Vancouver comes into Sunday’s game on a three-game winning streak, Minnesota is winless (0-5-1) in its last six outings.
White said the Caps are confident of getting back into the playoff conversation.
“The discussions we had in the locker room were to play for pride, to play to win, to play for everything we could until the last moment,” he said.
“We’ve had some lucky results, so we’re in a good position now where we’re winning and we’re in. And I think everyone is really excited going into the weekend.”
Vancouver Whitecaps (12-14-7) at Minnesota United (13-14-6)
Sunday, Allianz Field
INS AND OUTS: The Whitecaps will be without defender Cristian Gutierrez (hamstring) and winger Deborah Caicedo (season-ending knee surgery). Minnesota midfielder Kerwin Arriaga will miss the game through suspension after picking up a yellow card and United forward Bongkuhl Hlongwan is out with a knee injury.
History books: Minnesota holds a 4-3-3 all-time record against Vancouver in MLS play. While United are unbeaten (2-0-2) in four home games against Vancouver, neither side has beaten the other twice in a season.
Golden Gould: Ryan Gould has been clutch for the Caps offense lately. The 26-year-old Scottish attacking midfielder has scored seven of the club’s last 11 goals, scoring four and assisting three more.