KANSAS CITY, Kan. – After clinching a postseason berth with a huge road victory in previously-impregnable Children's Mercy Park, Vancouver Whitecaps FC have some breathing room atop the Western Conference – but not enough to allow them to let up in the season's final weeks.
Two of Vancouver's three remaining matches are on the road, starting with next weekend's trip to take on the New York Red Bulls (5 pm ET; UniMás, Facebook.com in US | TSN in Canada) and concluding with a visit to Cascadia rival Portland in the season finale on Oct. 22.
“I don’t see why we shouldn’t try to push for it,” said goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic, who recorded seven saves in Saturday night's 1-0 victory over Sporting Kansas City. “We've got two away games and a home game, so going on the road against Portland at the end of the season and New York next week, those are some tough games.
“Hopefully we can put on a performance similar to today and maybe come away with another win and cement ourselves at the top of the table.”
The way Vancouver won, goalscorer Erik Hurtado told reporters, also bodes well for their playoff mindset as they prepare for the postseason. The Whitecaps withstood intense pressure from the home side in the early minutes – and caught a break on Diego Rubio's missed penalty in the 10th minute – before taking the smash-and-grab victory on Hurtado's counterattack finish eight minutes into the second half.
“It’s a credit to the team,” Hurtado said. “We just have to build on this. Everyone put their bodies on the line, from the goalkeeper up to the forward line. You've just got to do that.”
Even if it's not pretty – and it often wasn't, in a second half that saw one player sent off from each team and heard Sporting fans voice their frustration over the Whitecaps' clock-milking.
“Sometimes football isn’t pretty, unfortunately,” manager Carl Robinson told reporters. “We all watch Barcelona play or Paris Saint-Germain this season and sometimes it’s about good, honest hard work. And my guys, every one of them rolled their sleeves up and fought today.
“Yes, we can play a little better, but what they did today was an absolutely phenomenal effort.”
And after dropping a 3-0 decision to Seattle at midweek, Robinson was glad to see that effort – and he's counting on it from here on out.
“It’s just one game,” he said. “We have an important game next week at New York Red Bulls. We know that it’s going to be another difficult place.”