The Vancouver Whitecaps didn't make it easy on themselves in their 2-1 win over Real Salt Lake on Saturday.
As head coach Marc Dos Santos put it: "I was thinking, I'm 43 and I am gonna be 61 after this game. That's what I was thinking, very honestly, that's what I was thinking."
Dos Santos had plenty of reason to be stressed at the time. Protecting a 1-0 lead with RSL reduced to 10 men after a red card to Kyle Beckerman, Vancouver yielded an equalizer when Justin Meram scored in the 81st minute. The Whitecaps were just minutes from dropping two valuable road points in excruciating fashion, when Designed Player forward Lucas Cavallini came to the rescue with the game-winning goal in the 84th.
It puts the suddenly resurgent Whitecaps at three wins in their last four games, with Dos Santos feeling like his side is finally ready to show what it can do having played shorthanded most of 2020.
"Just a lot of positivity. No more long faces, everybody's happy, We're winning games," Cavallini said. "This is a lifestyle for us and in order to be happy we need to win games and right now we're on the right road and hopefully things keep going this way, and we try to improve a lot of things we need to improve on, nothing but the best for us."
Prior to the game, Dos Santos had spoken of the possibility of playing Cavallini together with veteran forward Fredy Montero, who showed he still has plenty left in the tank with a two-goal outburst in Vancouver's 3-1 win over the Montreal Impact on Sept. 16, with Cavallini on a red-card suspension. He gave it a run against RSL, as Montero started the match and Cavallini subbed on in the 59th, giving the pair almost 30 minutes before Montero subbed off.
"It’s an honor to play with such a quality player," Cavallini said. "To me he’s the most talented on the team, you could say that. A lot of experience obviously playing in Europe. Being a goalscorer, it’s great to play alongside him, because obviously our relationship off the field is good, but on the field we know each other well and today, we did a lot of interesting stuff together and it’s good to work with Fredy.
"With Fredy, we have a good relationship, on and off the pitch. Not only does it come from only us too, it comes from the team and the support from our teammates and the good attitude they show today. Going forward, hopefully we continue to be like this. Fredy knows me well. We try to practice a lot, train together, we try to recognize, memorize each other’s runs and positions on the field so we're always like a step ahead of the other team."
Dos Santos said the biggest factor that has led to the improved recent form is simply continuity. With all the moving parts earlier in the season, establishing the necessary chemistry and cohesion was a challenge, but with the results of late, there's a vibe in Vancouver that they're starting to figure it out. Time will tell if the recent hot stretch is sustainable or a mirage, but for now, the club's focus is on keeping it rolling.
"When you have everybody together, training together all the time, you're able to read the things in a much better way," Dos Santos said. "And these are players that have a lot of experience. These are players that want to win. They want to win and want to help the team, and it showed today again, not only the quality that they have, but also the workload that they had in the game. And yes of course they could play together, 100 percent, they did."