VANCOUVER, B.C. – There are still two months left in the MLS regular season, but for the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Portland Timbers, Saturday’s battle at BC Place (10.30 pm ET, TSN2, MLS Live) could be one of the games that both sides look back upon as a defining moment in their quest for the playoffs.
Vancouver currently occupy the fifth and final playoff place in the Western Conference, two points ahead of their Cascadia rivals and with a game in hand, and head into the game knowing that a win on Saturday will give them a five-point cushion and set them up nicely for the stretch run.
"It's a massive game for us, against a rival who are competing for that playoff spot like us," said Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson. "It'll be a very big game. We beat them in their own backyard earlier in the season but we've got to make sure we come with the same intensity.
"We've got to make sure on Saturday that we do deserve to win and we get the win. We're in contention and I think everyone would have snapped your hand off at the start of the year to be in contention."
No matter the outcome of Saturday’s Cascadia Cup clash, the Whitecaps have the slight luxury of knowing that their playoff fate would still lie in their own hands. But for veteran defender Andy O’Brien, even with a win over Portland, he knows that Vancouver still have a tough task and much work ahead of them to get to the postseason.
"With the games running short now, there's 30 points available and the goal is to get as many of those 30 points as possible," O’Brien said at training. "One thing that I would say is that whatever the result [against Portland], there's still a lot of work to be done.
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"Hopefully we get the result but the season isn't over then. We don't get anything for winning that game other than three points. There's a long process after that of obtaining our goal of getting in the playoffs."
O’Brien looks set to partner the recently-signed Kendall Waston in the center of the Whitecaps defense. With clean sheets in three of the last four games, goalkeeper David Ousted is hoping for another strong showing from his backline but echoed the sentiments that a win over Portland would still count for little if they can’t go on and follow that up.
"There's still nine games left after Saturday," said Ousted. "I'll give you that it's an important game, but we can't afford to go in there and be tight. We can't afford to go in there and believe that this is the one that will put us into the playoffs or not. This is not the game.
"This is an important one, it's one we want to win, but there's 10 games left and we need to perform for 10 games. It doesn't matter if we perform for one and don't do it for nine. It's about the next 10 games."