VANCOUVER, B.C. – The Vancouver Whitecaps’ 2014 season came to a sudden and controversial end last October when referee Mark Geiger awarded FC Dallas an 84th-minute penalty kick in their Knockout-Round match of the MLS Cup Playoffs.
Michel hit home what proved to be the game-winning goal from the spot, after center back Kendall Waston was adjudged to have handled in the box when the ball hit him at point-blank range, much to the Whitecaps’ ire.
The teams will meet for the first time since that game at BC Place on Saturday (10 pm ET, TSN1 in Canada, MLS LIVE in US) and while ‘Caps coach Carl Robinson may be tempted to use the controversial ending as motivation to his squad, he feels it’s better to focus on the here and nows rather than the what could have beens.
"No, last season's gone,” Robinson told reporters. “The players have changed. The coach is still here, thank god! You can look back at things like that but I don't. I look forward. Dallas have had a very good season under [head coach Oscar Pareja]. A very dangerous team. We're not too bad either, so it should be a good game of football."
The quirks of the MLS schedule mean that Vancouver meet Dallas three times over the course of their remaining nine regular-season matches.
Those games are likely to play an important role in determining both teams' playoff positioning come the end of the season, and with the Western Conference so tight right now, the Whitecaps know that every point counts massively from here on in.
"Every game's going to be tough,” Robinson added. “We've got nine league games left. We want to be talking about big games at this club. It seems to be that every week will be the next biggest game. Well, good, we want to do that.
“I've been here for four years now, and we sort of say it sometimes and we don't sort of say it sometimes. Now, we're in reality. The next game is the biggest game, and we're playing a lot of Western Conference teams. All fighting, six, seven, eight teams fighting for places, so it's no different. It's exciting."
Recent encounters between the two sides have been feisty affairs, both on and off the pitch, with both teams’ players and coaches getting involved. Robinson expects more fireworks on Saturday in what has become a heated rivalry.
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"There seems to be rivalries all over the place,” Robinson said. “Not just with us, but with every team. It's competitive games of soccer. Us and Dallas, we like to go at each other. There's lots of action, there's lots of goals, there's a lot of close calls, good decisions, bad decisions, strange decisions. We just get on with it. We play them three times, so it's important we come out on the right end of the three results if we can."
The game takes on added importance for Vancouver following last weekend’s defeat at Sporting Kansas City, which saw Peter Vermes' side close the gap on the first-place Whitecaps in the standings to just two points.
Dallas lie four points back, and they and Kansas City now have two games in hand on Vancouver, leaving the Whitecaps knowing they need to take maximum points this weekend if they want to keep their place near the top of the Supporters’ Shield race.
“We know that it’s important to beat Dallas,” goalkeeper David Ousted told MLSSoccer.com. “They're right there beside us and are fighting for those top spots. We know they're coming in to our place, and we need to get three points to keep ourselves in those top spots and hopefully keep contending. We have nine games left, and that's going to be nine extremely hard games, no matter who we play and where we play.”