It was never going to be easy for the Vancouver Whitecaps FC going into the MLS is Back Tournament, as they found themselves shorthanded with the withdrawal of multiple players that left head coach Marc Dos Santos with fewer options than usual.
But with their backs against the wall, Vancouver put everything into Wednesday night's wild Group B match against the San Jose Earthquakes, but came up just short as Shea Salinas struck for a dramatic game-winner for the Quakes deep into second-half stoppage time.
"Look, we're talking Janio Bikel, Erik Godoy, Fredy Montero, [Tosaint] Ricketts, Andy Rose, Lucas Cavallini -- it's a lot of [missing] players," Dos Santos said. "And then, they had everybody, they made those four subs at the end that was a lot of fresh legs, that brought a lot more intensity and more volume. We have a little more of a difficult time right now with our depth that it's normal. I think that until the 75th minute we were able to be in the game, to be ahead, to even create and be dangerous in some actions. But unfortunately then at the end, we weren't able to close the game. It is really hard right now. The players are not ready to play 90 minutes, they're not ready to play 100 minutes with the injury time, it gets very difficult and it's hard to keep the composure until the end. We felt it during the game."
Still, Dos Santos said he's leaving the contest taking "a lot of positives" from the match. While neither team put in a banner defensive effort in the match, the Caps can't be faulted for their effort. And they put themselves in great position to get a win after taking a 3-1 lead in the second half, before San Jose's superior fitness showed as they struck for three unanswered.
"I never felt there was no running, there was no intensity, there was no commitment. No. It was a committed team," he said. "But we played against a good team that had everybody. And when they pushed, they made it hard on us. You feel that there. They're more ready physically than us right now, and it was hard, that part. So, there's a lot of positives when it comes to the way we worked. We scored three goals, we pushed, and we scored three goals playing without a No. 9. There's a lot of positives that we're going to take from this game and move on, and now it's time to think about the Seattle game."
Midfielder Russell Teibert said the mood of the team postgame was an understandably stoic one, especially after getting so close to what would have been a massive three-point result in their first game back, against a San Jose side known for its high-intensity, up-tempo style that already had a match under its belt.
"It's an emotional one for so many different reasons," Teibert said. "Our team has gone through a lot to get to this point. Boys played their heart out tonight and it's one of those that's really hard to take in right now because we put so much into the game and we deserved so much more out of it. It's one of those we need to regroup. We've got two more games to go in the group stage and we need to maximize the points out of those two games. But this one hurts."
Still, the match spoke to what Teibert says is a new culture within the organization taking place under Dos Santos -- something he said he's looking forward to continuing to show the rest of the league for however long they remain in the tournament.
"We're consistently pushing each other, we're creating a positive environment where players aren't afraid to make mistakes," Teibert said. "You can see that and it's a testament to the youth on our squad. Guys coming in, some playing their first MLS match tonight. We've got a young team, it's going to be a learning experience definitely tonight, but again, this isn't the end of the world here. This is a tournament. And we've got two more games in the group stage and we need to get back at it as soon as possible.
"This is a club thing, this is a cultural thing. This is a new Vancouver Whitecaps and you've seen that through the heart we showed tonight and you'll continue to see that throughout this tournament and onward for the rest of the season."