Whitecaps hope to clinch top playoff seeding with win over San Jose
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Vancouver Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson doesn't mind saying I told you so.
If the Whitecaps defeat the San Jose Earthquakes on Sunday at BC Place Stadium, Vancouver will clinch first place in Major League Soccer's Western Conference and secure a bye into the conference semifinals.
Vancouver (15-11-6) heads into the weekend leading the West with 51 points, three more than second-place Sporting Kansas City (12-8-12). Kansas City's hopes of catching the Whitecaps were dealt a blow when they dropped a 2-1 decision to Houston on Wednesday night.
It's an impressive turnaround for a Vancouver team that missed the playoffs by seven points last year after finishing eighth with a 10-15-9 record.
"It's about proving people wrong every time," Robinson said after a Whitecaps' training session this week. "No one gave us probably a chance to get into the playoffs to start with. I did.
"The target I set for the group at the start of the pre-season was to get into the playoffs. We've managed that. No one probably gave us a chance to play in a home game. We've done that. We want to try and finish in the top two, we want to try and win (the conference). We know it's not going to be easy but we have to take care of our own business and we get a chance to do that on Sunday."
Winning the conference would be a huge reward for the Whitecaps and their fans, but Robinson has even higher goals.
"It's a massive game for the club, we know that," he said. "We've managed to get a playoff spot. The boys deserve a lot of credit for that.
"But we're not stopped there. We want to finish the job off now."
The Earthquakes (12-14-6), meanwhile, sit eighth in the West, one point behind Dallas which holds the sixth and final playoff spot. San Jose needs a win in Vancouver and some help from other teams to make their season-ending match against Minnesota meaningful.
San Jose defeated Vancouver 3-2 at Avaya Stadium the last time the teams played in March.
"When you play a team that is fighting for something it's dangerous because they maybe take a few more risks than they need to," said Robinson.
The Whitecaps are 5-2-2 in their last nine games but have lost two of their last three. They were beaten 3-0 on the road by the New York Red Bulls last Saturday.
Defender Tim Parker said the Whitecaps were too passive against the Red Bulls.
"We have to have kind of a character and an attitude about us all the time," he said. "I think we really didn't show that in New York.
"They might have been the better team on that day but sometimes where there is a better team you have to be able to scrap and do the little things. Sometimes you have to find ways to scrap and win those games."
Midfielder Aly Ghazal said the Whitecaps must put the two recent losses behind them.
"You are going to have games you are going to lose, you are going to draw and you are going to win," said the Egyptian-born Ghazal. "The last game we lost.
"The most important thing is we don't take the loss and stay with it. We are going to have go harder than before so we can get over it."
One player who is no stranger to stepping up in pressure situations is Whitecaps captain Kendall Waston. The big defender scored a goal in the 95th minute last weekend in a 1-1 draw with Honduras which secured his native Costa Rica a spot in next year's World Cup.
"Everyone went crazy," Waston said about the crowd's reaction. "I felt like the stadium was going to fall down. It was a really special moment."
After what he called "a dream come true," Waston said he won't have trouble refocusing for the game against San Jose.
"The focus is always there," he said. "I enjoyed that moment. Now we are looking forward to win.
"We know what we are playing for and we just want to make history."