“We don’t have to be scared”: Despite the pressure of playoff push, the Vancouver Whitecaps are remaining calm ahead of crucial home Dallas clash

The Vancouver Whitecaps are getting set to take on FC Dallas in MLS action at BC Place on Saturday night. Here’s our preview ahead of that one. 

With just 10 games left in the MLS season, it’s starting to be do-or-die time for the Vancouver Whitecaps. 

Having done so well to crawl back into the Western Conference playoff picture with a good run of form that has seen them pick up points in 13 of their last 15 games, they won’t want to throw all of their hard work away now, as they sit just 4 points back of the elusive playoff line as of writing, with a game in hand on many of their foes. 

So heading into a crucial 6-point game on Saturday at BC Place against an FC Dallas side that sits just 3 points behind them in the standings, they’re well aware of how big a win in that game could be, both in terms of pushing them towards that line, while also leaving a bit of space behind them. 

“Of course the pressure is on us in every game because we see that the line there is very close,” ‘Caps interim head coach, Vanni Sartini said on Friday. “So yeah, we have the pressure, and I would say the right kind of pressure, we don’t have to be scared to play, we need to have the enjoyment of (knowing) that the prize is there, so let’s go and take the prize”

Despite that supposed pressure, though, this ‘Caps team doesn’t look to be feeling it all too much at the moment, as they’ve managed to stay very loose in training sessions and in games, looking like a very confident team at the moment. 

That was evident at training on Friday, where the team had a very upbeat session ahead of their game with Dallas, looking very much like a team that feels quite good about themselves right now. 

After a tumultuous summer, one that saw them sink to the bottom of the standings, get eliminated from the Canadian Championship by a Canadian Premier League team and fire their head coach, Marc Dos Santos, they’ve seemed to have left all that behind them now, in a good way. 

And according to Sartini, that’s one of the things that he likes most about his group right now, as he likes how they’ve started to approach games, and that’s so far shown to have worked on the field, as they’ve picked up 7 out of a possible 12 points through 4 games with their interim manager. 

“That’s kind of our philosophy,” Sartini admitted. “We try to work and do 100%, but we know that if we don’t create the right environment where everyone is happy, or enjoying what we’re doing, it’s really hard to perform 100%. So we try to be as serious as we can be, but when we can, we have a laugh, and a good moment, because why not.”

But while the ‘Caps have every reason to be feeling good about themselves heading into this Dallas game, they’ll have to be prepared for an opponent that no one knows a whole lot about in FC Dallas, as they fired head coach Luchi Gonzalez mere days ago, and are coming into this game with an interim manager of their own, Marco Ferruzzi. 

That change can be both good and bad, as while the ‘Caps will know next-to-nothing about how Ferruzzi will want his side to play, Dallas won’t have drilled in those ideas, either, so it will be a game where no one will really know anything about this Dallas side. 

Plus, this isn’t the first time that Ferruzzi has taken over as an interim coach for Dallas, so there is a bit of history there, too, which all only benefits the ‘Caps. 

So for Sartini, who had to already go through a similar situation in his first game in charge, when he beat a Real Salt Lake team that also just lost their head coach, cruising to a big 4-1 win, he’s ready for whatever his opponents throw at him, as he’s just instead focused on what his team can do better heading into this one. 

“Oh, I hope it goes like RSL,” Sartini said with a laugh. “But yeah, it poses challenges to me and him, because I remember the game, I was very nervous before the game against RSL, so probably even if their coach has a lot of experience, he’s been at the club for a lot of years, he was the assistant of Oscar Pareja before, there’s a little bit of unknown, but that’s also the reason why we focus on what we have to do and not what they will do.”

And while there will be a lot of unknowns surrounding Dallas in terms of how they will play, they still have a very good team, filled with good players, such as Jader Obrian, Jesus Ferreira, Paxton Pomykal and Justin Che, among others. 

Plus, they have one of the hottest names in MLS at the moment, Ricardo Pepi, the 18-year-old American striker who sits tied for 5th in the league with 12 goals, and is fresh off making his US Men’s National Team debut earlier this month, where he picked up 1 goal and 2 assists away to a tough Honduran side. 

Seeing that, though, Sartini is well aware of the threat that comes from not only Pepi, but the rest of his teammates, too, so in his quest to keep the talented teenager quiet on Saturday, he’s looking to make sure that the supply is shut off, neutralizing the whole team. 

“I expect that he’s going to be a problem for us, I think he’s one of the best strikers in the league,” Sartini admitted. “I don’t think that he’s going to be in MLS for long, he’s going to go to a big European club, because he’s 18, he’s already played with the National Team, he’s scored with the National Team, he’s surely a threat.”

“So when we play against players that are really good in the box, it’s not about how you mark them when you go against them, what you to is to stop the team from servicing the ball to them.”

But as mentioned earlier, while the ‘Caps will be well aware of the threat offered up by their opponents, they’ll also look to focus on themselves to have the best chance of winning, so look for them to come out flying in this game. 

Other than the absences of Erik Godoy, Florian Jungwirth and Cristian Gutierrez, who will all be out of this one but are close to returning, this is a nearly fully healthy ‘Caps squad, something they haven’t had very often this season. 

So with that pushing them forward, it’s do-or-die time now for them, and facing a team that is in a bit of a crisis, at home, this is a game they absolutely need to win, so they’ve prepared for it accordingly. 

“Yeah, it’s getting to the stage where we need to be taking points from games,” ‘Caps midfielder, Ryan Gauld, said on Friday. “Because the closer it gets to the end, the more that we’re going to need the points to make sure that we’re in a playoff place.”

“Definitely an important next set of 3 games that is coming up this week, but we have to take it week-by-week, and if we do what we’re capable of, and produce, that should be enough.”

BTSVancity Player to Watch: Ranko Veselinovic

Ranko Veselinovic in action vs Pacific FC last month (Keveren Guillou)

Heading into this game, though, with the ‘Caps 3 injuries all to defenders, 2 of them to centre backs, that’ll put a lot of onus on the healthy centre backs to perform, making Veselinovic our player to watch on Saturday. 

Having had a very good season for the ‘Caps to date, he’ll need to come up huge against Dallas’s strong attack, especially seeing that his team will be missing 2 guys in Godoy and Jungwirth that have been so good for them as of late. 

But seeing how much growth Veselinovic has shown in his game so far in 2021, you have to feel that he’s up to the task for this one, and he’ll look to prove that on Saturday. 

Projected XIs: 

Vancouver Whitecaps: 

Record: 7W-8L-9D (30 PTS)

Head Coach: Vanni Sartini

FC Dallas:

Record: 6W-11L-9D (27 PTS)

Head Coach: Marco Ferruzzi

2021 Matchup:

FC Dallas 2-2 Vancouver Whitecaps

Looking Forward: 

Now, all that’s left is for both teams to come out under the bright lights of BC Place on Saturday night, and to put on a show for those in attendance. 

As the games continue to dwindle down here, the occasions are only going to get bigger from here on in, but if the ‘Caps are to continue to play in these big games, a win on Saturday would go a long way towards helping them do that. 

So with that in mind, they’ll need to come out strong and pick up a commanding win, their 5th in the last 8 games, sending a message to the rest of the Western Conference. 

If they can do that, they’ll be in a good position heading into their last 9 games, but if not, it might be a long road up towards a playoff spot, one that might be too big to surmount. 

Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs FC Dallas, Saturday, September 25th, 2021, 19:00 PDT, 22:00 EDT (BC Place, Vancouver)

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