VANCOUVER — Even when his team was flying high, Vancouver Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson cautioned the regular season would come down to the wire.
A 2-4-1 stretch since the middle of August will do that, but with just three games to go on the schedule Vancouver still controls its own destiny in Major League Soccer’s Western Conference, beginning with a crucial home-and-home series with FC Dallas that begins Wednesday.
“The league is very tight,” said Robinson, whose team can clinch a playoff spot with a point. “You’ve got to concentrate on yourselves. When you slip up someone else tends to slip up, when you take care of business other teams take care of business. No one’s run away with it.”
Two victories over Dallas and another against the Houston Dynamo in their finale would guarantee the Whitecaps first place in the West and also put Vancouver in position to possibly win the Supporters’ Shield for the league’s best record.
“Everything’s still on the line,” said Whitecaps goalkeeper David Ousted. “It’s still all in our hands and we still believe we have the quality in this team to end up on top.”
Vancouver (15-12-4, 49 points) and Dallas (15-10-5, 50 points) have played some feisty matches over the years, including last season’s first-round playoff encounter that saw the Whitecaps eliminated in Texas.
“These teams have a little bit of an edge towards each other,” said Ousted. “It only makes for great games and it makes for intensity throughout these 180 minutes we’re going to play.”
Vancouver can retake top spot in the West and the overall standings with a victory at B.C. Place Stadium on Wednesday after getting some help over the weekend. The Whitecaps picked up a 1-1 draw against the San Jose Earthquakes, but the Los Angeles Galaxy (14-9-9, 51 points) could only manage the same scoreline thanks to a stoppage-time equalizer by the Seattle Sounders.
L.A. has two games remaining and can finish with a maximum 57 points, while Vancouver could finish with 58. Dallas, which has four game left on its schedule could also get to 58, but the Whitecaps have other ideas.
“We want to make sure we take care of business,” said Vancouver rookie defender Tim Parker. “We want to make the playoffs, but there’s more to achieve as well.”
The Whitecaps will be shorthanded on Wednesday, especially in defence. Kendall Waston is away on international duty with Costa Rica, while Steven Beitashour is suspended for yellow card accumulation.
Add to that a trio of Canadian international call ups (defender Sam Adekugbe, and midfielders Kianz Froese and Marco Bustos) as well as the uncertain injury status of captain Pedro Morales and fellow midfielder Nicolas Mezquida, and the Whitecaps could be stretched.
“We can’t focus on the guys we haven’t got,” said Robinson. “I won’t do that because we’ve got enough quality that we believe can go out and win that game. If you worry about who’s missing then you lose your focus.
“No point in crying over spilled milk. We’ve got to deal with it.”
Notes: The top two teams in each conference get byes to the second round of the playoffs, while No. 3 plays No.6 and No. 4 plays No. 5 in single elimination games. … Vancouver visits Dallas on Oct. 14 before wrapping up the season on Oct. 25 at home against Houston. … The Whitecaps also have to play a meaningless CONCACAF Champions League game in Honduras versus C.D. Olimpia on Oct. 22. Vancouver was eliminated by Seattle from the competition last month.
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press