VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Whitecaps won’t be playing in the post-season this year but the team is still acutely aware of its ability to determine who does make the playoffs.
For the second week in a row, the Whitecaps will have an opportunity to make another club’s journey to the playoffs a little more difficult when they host Columbus Crew SC on Saturday.
Columbus comes to Vancouver in the midst of a hot streak having lost just one of its last 10 games. Despite the recent results, the Crew still sit six points out of a post-season berth.
"It would be great to spoil their party," Whitecaps centre back Doneil Henry said after training on Friday.
Facing a hungry team is nothing new for the ‘Caps.
Last week they hosted the Houston Dynamo who were also battling to extend their season. Vancouver (7-15-9) snatched a 2-1 victory thanks to a last-minute goal by striker Fredy Montero.
The match leaves the Whitecaps well-prepared to face Columbus (9-15-7), said coach Marc Dos Santos.
"We understand the challenges that we’re going to have and we think it could be the type of game with dangerous transition play that could be very similar to what Houston caused us," he said.
"Columbus does some things a little bit different than Houston that are good for us to exploit and other things that cause problems."
The coach also noted that, on paper, there’s very little separating the Whitecaps and Crew.
Vancouver has 32 goals for this season while Columbus has 36, and each team has lost 15 games.
"It’s two teams that are only separated by four points," Dos Santos said. "The only difference is that in the (Eastern Conference), with that amount of points you can still be alive right now for a playoff spot. In the West that wouldn’t have been possible."
Like the ‘Caps, the Crew have faced some tough stretches this season. Columbus went on a five-game losing skid in April, then lost another six games in a row in June and July.
Now they have some confidence back and it will be important to temper that in Saturday’s game, said Vancouver’s Scott Sutter.
"They’re definitely riding a kind of high at the moment and it’s kind of our job to not let them get in the game," he said. "Once they get going and have that confidence, they’ll be high on that. So we need to do our best to bring our game to them and just kind of come out flying."
The Whitecaps will also have to find a way to stop the Crew’s leading scorer, Gyasi Zardes.
The Californian forward has been a force for his team this season, putting away 12 goals and two assists in 25 games and earning the respect of his opponents.
"Gyasi’s always been a good player," Henry said. "He’s proven himself (with the L.A. Galaxy), went to Columbus (last season) and is doing the same thing. I have a lot of respect for him. I think he’s a top player in this league."
That doesn’t mean that the ‘Caps backline will do anything special to defend Zardes, however.
"I just run. I just run and defend," Henry said.
COLUMBUS CREW SC (9-15-7) AT VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (7-15-9)
Saturday, B.C. Place
FAMILIAR FACES: Injuries kept some ‘Caps stalwarts out of the lineup last weekend, but Dos Santos said left back Brett Levis, right back Jake Nerwinski and ‘keeper Maxime Crepeau will all be available to play on Saturday. Centre back Erik Godoy could also make an appearance after missing several games with a calf injury.
SOLID STREAK: The Whitecaps are undefeated in their last seven meetings with Columbus, boasting a 5-0-2 record dating back to 2012. The Crew last visited Vancouver on Sept. 16, 2017 when they battled the home team to a 2-2 draw.
SHARING GOALS: Montero’s winning shot last weekend marked his seventh goal of the year. The Columbian striker shares the title of leading Whitecaps scorer with Yordy Reyna, though 12 other players have found the back of the net this season.