In the midst of a disappointing start to the season, Vancouver Whitecaps head coach Marc Dos Santos is once again reminding his team that every game in Major League Soccer is theirs to win — or lose.
It's a lesson the group has learned over and over through its first 10 outings the year, with several games slipping away in the dying minutes, leaving the 'Caps at the bottom of the Western Conference standings with a dismal 2-6-2 record.
"What I believe is that in MLS, the first against the last (place team) is a winnable game and a loseable game. And every game in MLS, every game is winnable and every game is loseable," Dos Santos said. "You have to go into every game with the right mindset, the right focus as an organization to succeed.”
Vancouver stemmed a five-game losing skid last week, though, when it took a 2-2 draw against the league-leading Seattle Sounders. It's a result Dos Santos wants his squad to build on heading into Sunday's matchup with FC Dallas (2-4-4).
The 'Caps have a habit of allowing late goals this season, seeing potential draws against Minnesota United, Real Salt Lake and the L.A. Galaxy evaporate. The results caused frustration, Dos Santos said, but the team was able to turn things around against the Sounders and leave Seattle with a single point.
"You need to have players on the field that their maturity, their experience, what they lived in other games allows them to understand the time that they’re in the game, what’s going on, the level of focus needed to do plays that allow you to get out with one point or three points," the coach said. "And we haven’t done that enough. And it was good to do that in Seattle.”
Goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau believes the tough results have helped him grow as a player.
"Losing in extra time, I think you gain more experience and there's things that you don't want to recreate," he said. "As for my game, I always want to evolve, I always want to be better. … I want to give a game where you say 'Oh wow, this is going to be a tie,' give three points for our team and when you say 'Oh, this is a game we might lose,' get one point out of it."
The group has addressed the need to close out games both in training, where they've been working on defensive plays, and away from the field, the 'keeper added.
"It's something really hurt us in the last few games. But we looked at ourselves in the mirror and had a conversation about closing out games to get results when we need it," Crepeau said.
In order to collect three points against Dallas, the 'Caps will need to shut down young star Ricardo Pepi. The 18-year-old forward put away both goals in his team's 2-1 victory over the Eastern Conference-leading New England Revolution last week and now leads Dallas in scoring with four strikes on the season.
“That was (Pepi's) first brace for the jersey at the first team level and he has all that potential. So, really proud of him and just the energy that he showed," said head coach Luchi Gonzalez. "The mobility to play against a physical and athletic back line but to still find spaces, get shots off and play with a chip on his shoulder."
Vancouver needs to know which individual players can hurt them as they prepare to face a team that can be unpredictable because of its tactical rotations, Dos Santos said.
"It’s a fast team wide, it’s a fast team in transition. And who are the guys that can hurt you in those moments? It’s important that we’re very aware of that," he said.
"But it’s also very important that we believe in what we’re doing and we believe in what is the best thing for us as a team and focus on what we have to do as a team and not play the game thinking about what Dallas is going to do. Dallas also has to be concerned with our weapons and with what we can do and how we’re going to hurt them.”
VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (2-6-2) AT FC DALLAS (2-4-4)
Sunday, 8:30 p.m. ET, Toyota Stadium
STADIUM STALEMATE: FC Dallas hasn't lost at home yet this season and boast a 2-0-4 home record, but the Whitecaps have come away from Toyota Stadium with a point on their last three visits (1-0-2).
FIRST-HALF FREEZE: The Whitecaps have yet to score a goal before halftime this season. It's the 11th time in MLS history a team has not scored in the first half through the first 10 games of the season.
CANADA CALLING: Crepeau and Whitecaps striker Lucas Cavallini have been called up to the Canadian national team for the Gold Cup. Both are expected to play for Vancouver on Sunday before joining Team Canada on Monday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 2, 2021.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press