Vancouver Whitecaps keep "miracle" playoff chance alive for Decision Day

1001 VAN

Vancouver Whitecaps FC won’t go away quietly.

Heading into Decision Day next Sunday, the Canadian side remains alive and kicking in the Western Conference portion of the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs race, rattling off three straight late-season wins at BC Place.

The latest positive result for head coach Vanni Sartini’s group came Saturday night, a 2-0 victory over Austin FC sparked by goals from Ryan Gauld and Lucas Cavallini, two of their three Designated Players. It was yet another reason to celebrate on their home turf, sitting two points below the line in ninth place.

“We’ve always known that we’re a lot better than what we’ve shown throughout the season,” said Gauld postgame. “For one reason or another, we couldn’t put performance and results together.

“ … We’re finally getting the results to back that up. Like you said, it’s good to have three wins in a row. I don’t know if we’ve had that all year.”

Vancouver’s other consecutive wins came just before the September international break, beating the LA Galaxy 3-0 and Seattle Sounders FC 2-1. This run follows a four-game winless stretch, finding a reserve of hope they’ll hope pose a problem until the campaign’s final moments.

Now, the Whitecaps turn the page to a crucial Decision Day meeting at Minnesota United FC that could decide who gets the West’s seventh-and-final postseason spot. That berth currently belongs to the Loons, though they’re slumping hard (winless in six with five losses).

“If we are still alive, [compared to] what we were two weeks ago, three weeks ago, it’s got to be a miracle,” Sartini said. “In Italy, we say when you do 30, the only way to have a reason for why you’re doing 30, let’s do 31. Let’s try to win. We’ll try to do everything we can and finish at 46 [points].”

Last season, when Sartini took over on an interim basis, Vancouver found late-season magic to enter the postseason as the West’s No. 6 seed. Their runway might fall short in 2022, though Cavallini believes the once-unthinkable is within grasp next Sunday at Allianz Field.

“Anything could happen toward the end of the season,” said Cavallini, who scored upon his return from a four-game suspension. “A lot of teams tend to lose a lot of important points and that’s where we need to come in and prove everybody wrong and be the underdog here.

“Hopefully we show a surprise. Hopefully the results go our way, but we still have one more final in Minnesota. That’s not going to be easy, but we just have to worry about our game.”

With momentum building, Sartini is hopeful Vancouver’s journey can carry into mid-October. At the very least, the Italian manager recognizes a couple of areas they must improve in to avoid such last-minute situations next season.

“If we don’t make the playoffs, it’s because of two reasons; the way that we started the season, the first eight games, and our away score,” Sartini said. “We finished the season at home with 33 points, it’s two points per game. So what do you want more? We need to be better away and that’s for sure, even if we win [at Minnesota] it’s the takeaway for the next year. But let’s try to start from Sunday and try to win some games away.”