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Takeaways from Vancouver Whitecaps’ defeat to Sporting Kansas City

Without a win in seven games, the Whitecaps are crashing out of the playoff picture.

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — With the playoff race heating up, Saturday night’s game against Sporting Kansas City was a must-win match for the Vancouver Whitecaps. But with the exception of five minutes in the second half, the Whitecaps were no-shows in their 3-0 defeat to Sporting KC and are now nine points out of a playoff spot. 

Going through the motions

“I told the players what I’m going to say now that I have to apologize to the fans for the first half,” head coach Marc Dos Santos said. “That is where the game happened. It was very sloppy lack of intensity, lack of willingness mentally, you can’t play like that in a game that had this much importance for us.” 

It almost appears these days the Whitecaps play to get through a match, rather than win it. Devoid of ideas and attacking prowess, the ‘Caps have scored the fewest goals in the Western Conference (20). In fact, league-wide, only the Columbus Crew (17) have been less productive.

The lack of scoring in many ways has been a staple of the Marc Dos Santos era. In some ways, that makes sense. Dos Santos wanted to build the club from the back, with controlled, possession-based football built on a strong defensive foundation. 

That defensive foundation had been there at the beginning of the season, but in the past two Major League Soccer games the Whitecaps were scored on nine times. “What we need to do is bring it every single day,” defender Doneil Henry said after the game on Saturday. “But it has to come now. I have been tired of talking about this,” he added. 

The playoff picture

“Looking at the standings, it is a big game for both us but also Sporting Kansas City,” Dos Santos said before the match. “We have to take care of business,” Henry added. 

Heading into the game, the ‘Caps and Sporting KC were separated by just two points. Hence, the match in some ways was a six-pointer, a decisive game that determined which of the two sides will still have a realistic chance of making the playoffs. 

That question has been answered in Sporting’s favor. Kansas City is now five points ahead of Vancouver in the Western Conference and just four points behind the final playoff spot. 

Meanwhile, the ‘Caps have dropped to the bottom of the Western Conference standings. They are five points behind Sporting KC, nine points behind the final playoff spot — a gap that could grow to ten points should the Houston Dynamo win their game in hand. 

With all that in mind, are the Whitecaps still playoff contenders? “Yes, with everyone on the same page,” Henry said.

Meanwhile, Dos Santos was more defensive. “We can’t think about that right now,” he said. “Yes, we want to be in, like other teams. But what I told the guys right now is that we have to think from game to game and think of what we want to look like in the future. We also still have the Canadian Championship, overall there is still a lot to be played for,” Dos Santos added. 

The future

Both the statements by Henry and Dos Santos come with their own set of problems. Henry admits that there is a sense that not everyone in the dressing room is pulling their weight. 

Dos Santos, in the meantime, pointing at the future suggests that the coaching staff has written of the MLS season as part of the first-year rebuild. The ‘Caps missing the playoffs was very much a possibility ahead of the season, and most fans would have accepted that had the product on the pitch improved throughout the year. 

Fans, however, started booing the team after Sporting KC’s second goal. Furthermore, by the time the 80th minute had come around the stands were mostly empty. Overall, there is a sense that Dos Santos’ rebuild has been stuck and needs a boost to get going again and provide fans something to cheer about, even if the playoffs are next to impossible to reach. That boost could be a new signing but also success in the Canadian Championship. 

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