Vanni Sartini VAN

Vancouver Whitecaps FC, winners of three straight games, will make the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs if they win Sunday afternoon at Minnesota United FC (5 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US, TSN 1/4 in Canada). A loss or draw means their season is over.

With those scenarios laid bare, head coach Vanni Sartini summed up this late-season push that’s produced consecutive victories over Austin FC, LA Galaxy and Seattle Sounders FC at BC Place.

“We are in a position that we were dreaming of a few weeks ago,” Sartini told Extratime before a Decision Day trip to Allianz Field. “We were very good, we were also a little lucky because of the results. So now we need to do the last step. We see the peak of the mountain. We have to do the hardest part.”

The Whitecaps are in ninth place on 43 points, while Minnesota are in seventh place on 45 points. With a two-point gap to erase, Vancouver’s fortunes will take course irrespective of what happens in Week 34’s other all-decisive Western Conference game, when the Portland Timbers (seventh place) visit Real Salt Lake (eighth place) for a simultaneous kickoff Sunday (5 pm ET | ESPN2).

The simplicity erases the need for live-standings watching by Vancouver, with Sartini offering his take on how to define their 2022 campaign based on whether playoffs are booked or not.

“If we qualify at the end, it's a good season,” Sartini said. “But if we don't qualify, it's a sufficient season. We still won a trophy. I want to remember that. I know that it's not MLS, but Canadian Championship is important and qualified us for the Champions League [in 2023].”

Vanni Sartini on Vancouver's playoff push & improvement as a coach | Extratime

To get there, Vancouver will likely need another top-notch performance from Ryan Gauld. The Scottish playmaker has 2g/2a across this three-game stretch, coming up with huge plays on both sides of the ball.

​​”What makes [Gauld] special is he's a DP who plays for the team,” Sartini said. “He's a DP that plays with the hunger and with the humility of a supplemental roster guy. That's the strength of Ryan. That's his quality but it's how he applies himself defensively, how he really does what the team needs, how he really does the tactical part following every instruction.”

Another one of Vancouver’s Designated Players, forward Lucas Cavallini, could be the difference-maker. Back from a four-game suspension, Cavallini’s production of 9g/2a in 23 games (16 starts) this year marks the Canadian international’s highest levels since becoming the Whitecaps’ club-record signing in 2020.

“Lucas is a big personality and he's someone [where] this fight, this will he has inside of himself is one of strength,” Sartini said, "but also can sometimes be his weakness because he can get a little bit carried out too much and he does some stupid things. But I have to be honest, in the duration of the season, he was a killer for us.”

Now, with their postseason fate on the line at a slumping Minnesota (0W-5L-1D stretch), Sartini feels the key to extending Vancouver’s season into mid-October or beyond is quite clear.

“For us, everything goes through the defensive organization and being focused for 90 minutes,” Sartini said. “If we're able to do this, I think we have a chance Sunday.”

For more from Extratime's Decision Day preview, check out the full show here.