As the Vancouver Whitecaps hope to cobble together a rare away result on Saturday against the San Jose Earthquakes (10:30 pm ET; MLS Live), the club's head coach is conscious of how important it is at this stage of the season to manage his players correctly.
Over a difficult eight-game spell, the 'Caps have picked up just a solitary win, and that means Martin Rennie must figure out which players need a bit of a wake-up call and which need to settle down and play with a little less tension.
“Some players, you need to make sure they're not too tight, and others you need to make sure they're focused enough,” the Scottish tactician told reporters after a training session at the University of British Columbia on Thursday. “It's a balancing act with all the different players, but...the most important thing is to just focus on playing the game.
“I think sometimes people get too caught up in what point of the season it is and where the points stand and things like that. At the end of the day, the way you make things better is by winning, and the way you win is by playing well. To play well, you have to be focused on what you're doing rather than what happens if you make a mistake.”
Still, if the consequences of failure this weekend do sneak into the minds of certain players, it will be with good cause.
Going into the match, Vancouver are tied on points with San Jose with 37, five back of the Portland Timbers who hold the fifth and final Western Conference MLS Cup playoff spot.
But the 'Caps will take solace in the return of two of their more talented attacking players to the squad. Winger Russell Teibert and striker Darren Mattocks were unavailable for last weekend's 3-1 defeat to FC Dallas due to international call ups and will offer some attacking flexibility for Rennie.
“It's nice for us to have them back,” Rennie said. “We have to sit down and think about it. Obviously we have a lot of choices to even pick the 18 for this week, so that's a good problem to have and something we need to think through.”
Teibert in particular could prove key – he was the third prong in what for a time was one of the league's most deadly attacking units, acting as the set-up man for Camilo and Kenny Miller from the right side of midfield.
“There was a spell where Russell was creating a lot of chances and Kenny and Camilo were scoring a lot of goals,” Rennie said. “We're hoping to get back to that kind of form, and we'll have to decide. Last game Daigo [Kobayashi] played very well as well and scored a goal and created some good opportunities, so it's nice for us to have that quality.”
Center back Brad Rusin also returned to training this week and is "in contention" for the Earthquakes match after suffering a severe ankle sprain during a match against the Portland Timbers on August 3. Kobayashi ended up breaking some bones in his wrist after running into goalkeeper Joe Cannon during Tuesday's training session, but is available to play this weekend, albeit with a cast.
Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com.