VANCOUVER, B.C. – With three games of the regular season remaining, the Vancouver Whitecaps could still realistically finish anywhere from first in the Western Conference, potentially with the Supporter’ Shield, to out of the playoff picture altogether.
The Whitecaps are currently occupying third spot in the West, two points off the top and five points above the red line for the Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs. It couldn’t be tighter for a team that has led the way for much of the season but has faltered down the stretch.
As Vancouver get set for the first of their last three games in a crucial home and away showdown with conference leaders FC Dallas on Wednesday (10 pm ET; TSN in Canada, MLS LIVE in US), they know they still control their own fate, with a win sending them back to the top of the standings.
"It's great," goalkeeper David Ousted told reporters with a chuckle. "It must be great to watch as well that everything's still on the line. If we win the last three [matches] we know where we're going to end up, which is nice. It's still all in our own hands, and we still believe that we've got the quality in this team to end up on top. We need to get results now."
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The pressure on Vancouver has certainly been upped a few notches after recording just one win and three losses in their last five MLS matches. Results elsewhere have remarkably continued to go their way, but the Whitecaps are keen to not simply limp into the playoffs.
Vancouver now find themselves in a familiar position of needing to hit their stride in October. The Whitecaps had to rely on a late run last year to make the playoffs and responded with three wins and a draw in their four matches in the season's final month.
They may be much better placed this time around, but it’s still an environment in which Ousted feels the ‘Caps thrive.
"There will always be pressure in a club that wants to win,” Ousted added. “That's what you want. I would hate standing here with no pressure on us and just waiting to go on vacation. These are the situations we want to be in. Lots of pressure, lots of upside. I see this as more of an upside. We have the chance to finish [things] ourselves.”
It's perhaps fitting that the Whitecaps' postseason positioning may now come down to two games against Dallas, the team that controversially knocked them out of last season's playoffs on the back of a disputed late penalty call.
That loss still rankles but adds to the continuing storyline between two teams that don’t appear to like each other very much.
"I don't really hate anybody in this football world, but let's just say I love to hate Dallas,” Ousted said of his feelings toward the Texans. “Let's keep it at that. It gets intense in there. I definitely hate losing to anybody in this league, but Dallas is one of them.
"I would say we love playing against each other because we know how competitive it gets. We showed last year that these teams have a little bit of an edge towards each other, but it only makes for great games. It makes for intensity throughout these 180 minutes that we're going to play."