Decision Day

"We'll beat Sporting Kansas City": Confident Whitecaps savor "miracle" playoff place

Maybe it was the post-match champagne or genuine giddiness from rising from last place in the Western Conference in early August to booking a spot in the Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs.

But interim Vancouver Whitecaps FC coach Vanni Sartini offered up a bold statement at the beginning of his press conference following a playoff-clinching 1-1 draw against the Seattle Sounders at BC Place on Decision Day.

As a member of the club’s communications staff informed journalists on the Zoom call the Whitecaps would play Sporting Kansas City in Round One of the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, Sartini quickly interjected.

“No, we’ll beat Sporting Kansas City – it’s different,” he said of the impending 3 vs. 6 matchup.

Later, Sartini acknowledged the difficult task at hand of trying to beat SKC at Children’s Mercy Park. But “hard doesn’t mean impossible.” When given a chance to perhaps walk back that comment, Sartini instead explained why he was so confident.

“If you were at the stadium today you would be confident, if you watched this team play the last 10 games, you would be confident because every stat says we are one of the best teams in the last 15-20 games,” he said. "So, I would be wrong if I wouldn’t be confident.”

Sartini started the call surrounded by his staff, who he stressed should also be given credit for the Whitecaps' remarkable turnaround. He also said Marc dos Santos and Phillip dos Santos should be recognized for their work before they were dismissed in late August.

“I think we did a miracle, pure and simple,” Sartini said. "We’ve been fantastic and I’m not talking just my time in charge. I’m talking even before.”

The way the Whitecaps played against the Sounders in their regular-season finale, rallying after conceding an early goal and looking to press the issue, is a sign of how they've turned things around, a role reversal of sorts in this Cascadia clash, Sartini said.

“In the last 14 games when I’ve been in charge, we made 26 points,” he said. “If you look at the game today, in the last five years of MLS, we looked [like] Seattle, they looked [like] the other team, we looked [like] the strong team. They're happy to get away from BC Place with a point.”

At BC Place, the Whitecaps amassed 22 points from nine matches, going 7-1-1 in those encounters. Asked if he thought the playoffs were a possibility when he took over 14 games ago, Sartini had two schools of thought.

"I’m a very cocky person, so yes,” he said. "I also thought maybe I was going to be there for a week or two weeks.”

Sartini said a quote from political philosopher Antonio Gramsci – ‘We always need to have the optimism of the will and the pessimism of the reason’ – helped form his approach.

“We need to have the optimism, but also be pessimistic in the sense you have to plan for everything in case things are not going well and work 1,000 percent and we did it so I’m very happy,” Sartini said.

One of those results at BC Place came against playoff opponents Sporting Kansas City, a 2-1 win on Oct. 17, while Sporting cruised to a 3-0 victory at home on May 16, well before the ‘Caps turned the corner.

“It’s going to be really hard, they’re a very good team, but hard doesn't mean impossible,” Sartini said. "Because the hardest is yet to come, but also the best is yet to come so let's go.”