The Vancouver Whitecaps are keeping their post-season dreams alive, but they know the battle for a playoff spot will likely grow even more gruelling in the coming weeks.
The ‘Caps (11-9-7) notched a 2-1 home victory over the San Jose Earthquakes (4-15-8) on Saturday night, despite a late-game push that saw the visitors put up a goal and a flurry of chances in injury time.
Vancouver is now unbeaten in six league matches and firmly in the race for one of the Western Conference’s last three playoff spots.
But so are the Seattle Sounders, Real Salt Lake, the Portland Timbers and L.A. Galaxy. They all sit within three points of each other in the MLS standings.
Locking up a post-season berth will require more performances like the one the ‘Caps put in Saturday night, said defender Brett Levis.
“That’s determination, grit and blocking potential goals when we need to,” he said. “We’ve just got to continue to grind out wins, especially at home.”
Whitecaps midfielder Alphonso Davies opened the scoring in the 22nd minute, scooping up a pass from teammate Yordy Reyna in the Quakes’ box and tapping it into the bottom left corner of the net.
It was the 17-year-old’s sixth goal of the year.
Reyna posted another assist in the second half, sailing a pass to teammate Nicolas Mezquida. The midfielder took a moment to settle the ball, then punted a rocket into the upper left-hand corner of the net, just out of the reach of Quakes keeper Andrew Tarbell.
Reyna now has two goals and six assists in his last four league starts.
Vancouver coach Carl Robinson said the 24-year-old was once again the best player on the field Saturday night.
“He created so many chances,” Robinson said.
Reyna also picked up a yellow card for unsporting behaviour in the 67th minute – Reyna’s fifth of the year – which means he’ll be suspended for the ‘Caps next match.
Robinson called the incident a “nothing tackle.”
He added that he likes that the Peruvian has been playing with “a bit of a snarl” lately.
“I think he’s playing with an elegance at the moment, a smile, a bit of an attitude. Sometimes he bounces the ball, he gets booked – I know that,” Robinson said. “But I don’t want to take the devil out of him. Because if I do, we won’t get performances like that.”
Robinson said the team’s overall game Saturday was “terrific.” However, he noted that his players got “a little bit lazy” in the final third.
San Jose’s only point came in the 91st minute, when midfielder Vako Qazaishvili popped a rebound in past ‘Caps keeper Stefan Marinovic, ruining Vancouver’s ongoing quest for a clean sheet.
Marinovic called the late goal “pretty disappointing.”
“We dominated that game for 90 minutes. And to concede right at the end there was just unneccessary,” he said.
The Whitecaps have not posted a shutout since April 27, when they put up a 2-0 victory over Real Salt Lake.
Robinson said he wasn’t disappointed with the marker, only happy that his team took three points at a crucial point in the season.
“That’s the way it’s been going this year. The boys work hard, but sometimes it’s not your day. The last minute, it wasn’t our day,” he said.
Many of the Whitecaps will now have a few days off for the league’s FIFA international break. Eight players will be away on national duty, including four who will play for Canada’s men’s team in a CONCACAF Nations League qualifier on Sept. 9.
When they return, Vancouver will face two of the Western Conference’s hottest teams.
Seattle, who are in the midst of a historic eight-game win streak, will visit B.C. Place on Sept. 15, followed by the conference’s top seed, Dallas FC, on Sept. 23.
Marinovic said he was looking forward to getting some rest over the break and then shifting his focus back to the playoff push.
“First reset, then come back full of energy and we’ll attack those games one by one,” he said.