VANCOUVER, B.C. – The Vancouver Whitecaps have seen a season upon season improvement since Carl Robinson took the helm two and a half years ago. Record point tallies, record number of wins and highest-placed finishes have set expectations high.
Realistically, that’s an unsustainable position. Every club suffers a dip at some stage from one season to the next, but that still doesn’t temper the expectations in the fanbase, where there are some serious concerns at the moment around the Whitecaps recent form.
Winless in four and scoreless in three, the ‘Caps have dropped out of the playoff places in the Western Conference, with 10 games of their season remaining. Friday night’s home game against the San Jose Earthquakes (11 pm ET: UniMás in US | TSN in Canada) now takes on an added importance, as Vancouver try to right their ship ahead of what looks like being another frantic finish in the West.
"We knew it was going to be tight all along," Robinson said. "Even from the first game of the season. We're in a position at the moment, not where we'd like to be, but we've got to deal with it. It's probably a fair position based on how we've performed in the first 24 games. It's a challenge for us and it's a great challenge to look forward to. There's no point in being afraid, we've got to look forward, and we all look forward."
Naturally no one at the ‘Caps will say that it’s a must-win game against the Quakes at this stage of the season. There’s still a lot of soccer left to be played, but San Jose sit one place, and two points, below Vancouver in the standings, with two games in hand.
The result could very well have a significant impact on what the final table looks like and whether or not the Whitecaps find themselves in the postseason. Home form will be crucial down the stretch, something which has been very up and down for the ‘Caps this season. With five games remaining at BC Place, maximum home points are basically a must, but that won’t get Vancouver to the playoffs on their own.
"The results aren't the way we want it," midfielder Andrew Jacobson said this week. "I don't think we need to run the table at home. We need to pick up points home and away. We need to start winning and performing well.
"We're going to be sharp no matter who we're playing against. It probably makes them a little bit more than three points for a win, just because they're near us in the standings, but every game is critical for us."
While defeat on Friday would see Vancouver fall further down the standings, a win would see them jump back into the playoff places, at least temporarily, and put them one point behind Sporting Kansas City, who they travel to next weekend.
Those two matches could very well shape the remainder of the Whitecaps’ season and the feeling within the camp is that two big back-to-back matches against teams around them in the table should give Vancouver the impetus they need to kick start their form for their tough run-in.
"For me it's a good thing," was the take of new addition Giles Barnes, who is set to make his home debut for Vancouver against San Jose. "You know exactly what's at stake. You've got ten games left. We know if we take three points of them, three points off Kansas and it puts us in an even better position in the standings."