Two weeks ago, the Whitecaps became the second Major League Soccer side, after expansion franchise FC Cincinnati, to be eliminated from 2019 MLS Cup playoff contention.
That, however, does not mean the game against Houston is meaningless.
Whitecaps head coach Marc Dos Santos will use the last four games of the season to evaluate the depth of his side and what the club needs in terms of new pieces in yet another rebuild this winter.
“We have to play the [final] four games with a winning mentality and finish the season with the most possible points,” Dos Santos said in an interview with the Vancouver Sun this week. “At the same time, my thoughts are also about evaluation.”
It is an evaluation process that will not just include the current crop of players, but also the club’s recruitment strategy.
“What I admit is, I had a philosophy, an idea of play, and I wanted to bring players in to spots to develop that philosophy,” Dos Santos said Friday. “We closed windows on other good players. If I’m focused on a right-winger … maybe I’m missing [out] on another player that’s maybe not made for my model of play that I’d love to play one day, but will make our team better.”
Still, Vancouver’s head coach is not willing to give up on all his core principles.
“Yes, we’ll stay in our principles of being an aggressive team, more dynamic, fast guys that cover more ground, but at the same time, let’s get the best players possible, and then as coaches try to find a way [to] connect everything together,” Dos Santos said.
Eight Whitecaps players were on international duty in the past two weeks. Doneil Henry, Derek Cornelius, Russell Teibert and Maxime Crépeau all represented Canada against Cuba last Saturday. Crépeau and Teibert returned to Vancouver early and missed Canada’s second game against Cuba Tuesday. Hwang In-beom (South Korea), Ali Adnan (Iraq), Yordy Reyna (Peru) and Michaell Chirinos (Honduras) were also traveling.
“It is obviously fantastic for the club that a few guys are missing, the more than better,” Scott Sutter said about the eight call-ups. “But it is always tough, for the coaching staff as well to put on a variety of sessions with a limited amount of people. But we got some good work in; it has been a tough few days, which is good.”
The Whitecaps have dealt with a few injury absences as well. Erik Godoy, Jake Nerwinski and Victor “PC” Giro all missed recent training sessions.
“There is always going to be injuries,” Sutter said. “It has been a long season and a lot of games, and we only have four left. At this point tiredness is setting in, which mean you can always be subject to injuries.”
For rotational players like Sutter, the injury crisis could provide an opportunity for some playing time: “You always have to be ready,” the wingback said. Sutter is undoubtedly one candidate to start on Saturday against a Dynamo side that is struggling to stay alive in the Western Conference playoff race.