VANCOUVER, B.C. – With a place in the postseason already secured, it's all about Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoff positioning now for the Vancouver Whitecaps as they head into Dallas for a top of the table showdown on Wednesday night (9 pm ET; TSN in Canada, MLS LIVE in US).
The Whitecaps have two games remaining of their regular season to try and secure a top two finish in the Western Conference, and the first round bye that brings. At the very least, they're looking for a top four finish and their first-ever home playoff game.
If they are going to get there, they will to do it with a threadbare squad ravaged by injuries and international call-ups and may not even have enough fit personnel to fill a full bench tomorrow.
"Everyone that is able to walk is going to Dallas," Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson told reporters at Vancouver airport on Monday. "There are a couple of guys that are left behind. A couple of key pieces for us, but we'll move forward with the group that we've got. We've probably got 16, 17 healthy bodies leaving here."
The Whitecaps haven't had their troubles to seek in the season run-in.
Already missing attacking midfielders Pedro Morales and Nicolas Mezquida through hamstring injuries, the in-form Cristian Techera picked up one of his own in last week's draw with Dallas, while Mauro Rosales limped off with an adductor strain late in the game.
While hopes are high that Mezquida, Techera and Rosales will soon heal, there are major concerns that the Whitecaps may have lost their influential captain, Morales, for the rest of the year.
"People said to me at the start of the season, 'you have four number tens', now we've got maybe one that's healthy," Robinson mused. "It will be touch and go whether [Pedro] can get himself back for the Houston game [on October 25], if I'm being brutally honest.
"When we play in the playoffs, how much time we can get out of him, how many minutes we can get out of him, is another question. But I'm hoping, and it's 50-50 at the moment, that I can get him back in some capacity for the playoffs."
Morales has started just two of the Whitecaps last 16 MLS matches, after picking up a niggling hamstring injury in June that just doesn't seem to be able to fully heal.
The original plan was to reintroduce the Chilean gradually, easing him back into the team with a view to getting him fully healthy for the playoffs. A substitute appearance in San Jose on October 3 saw Morales last just 19 minutes before feeling something wasn't right and being subbed back off again.
With that in mind, and despite the pressure to play him, the Whitecaps are giving careful consideration to Morales' future well-being for next season.
"Everyone won't see that," Robinson admitted. "Everyone will see that if he's fit, he should play. Even though he hasn't trained, even though he's started two games since the end of July. It's been a very tough end to the season for Pedro, but it's important for his long-term health as well."
It's very much now a waiting game for the Whitecaps with Morales, but Robinson knows that at some point soon, he's going to have to make tactical plans for the rest of the season that don't involve the use of his creative captain.
"I think we're at that stage now," Robinson admitted. "The last two games, he's not going to be available. The guys who are in the team have got opportunities to try and cement their place, because we know that we're in the playoffs.
"If you keep worrying and you keep expecting him to come back, and he doesn't, then you fall flat on your face or are disappointed and I don't want any disappointment here."