Decision Day: Expect B.C. Place to be a fortress for the Whitecaps, but not a bunker

A single point against the rival Seattle Sounders on Sunday is all the Vancouver Whitecaps need to book their tickets to the playoffs. But the team’s own painful history has taught them to always go for the win.

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Smiling and jocular as usual, Vancouver Whitecaps coach Vanni Sartini dazzled the press corps with his command of newly-learned Japanese.


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“I’m very ‘waku waku.’ Waku waku shimasu,” he said, an onomatopoeic phrase that roughly translates as “I’m very excited.”

Centreback Florian Jungwirth was gleefully leaning into his persona of an on-field beast and resident quote machine.

“I’m hungry, man. I’m really hungry,” he chuckled. “I haven’t eaten since the last game, so I want to feast on someone.”

The mood at UBC, said midfielder Ryan Gauld, was electric.

“Everyone here is buzzing about the place,” he said. “It’s a good place to be.”

Yes, days of the team’s training facility being a joyless Mudville have been relegated to the past. There are smiles, laughs and joy.

And there is also supreme confidence.



Seattle Sounders vs. Vancouver Whitecaps


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3 p.m., B.C. Place. TSN1. Radio: AM730

The Whitecaps go into Sunday’s game with the Seattle Sounders knowing that one single point will end their three-season playoff drought. It’s a dry spell of four years and 14 days since their last post-season game, or, to be precise, 1,475 days. But who’s counting?

“Well, the message (to the team) is … we don’t depend on anyone else than us,” said Sartini. “It’s a beautiful thing to go (in) Sunday and know that if we do a result, the other team can do whatever they want, but we’re in.

“I think that there is an awareness (with) the team that we’ve done a fantastic job, that we are a very good team, but the job is not done yet. … If we do the things that you’re supposed to do and with the quality that we showed, I’m very confident that we’re gonna celebrate at the end.”


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On June 23, Vancouver had lost its fifth straight game in particularly cruel fashion. Janio Bikel had appeared to have rescued a point for the club with a 92nd minute equalizer against the L.A. Galaxy, but Efrain Alvarez snuck free to score the winner for just 60 seconds late.

They were last in the Western Conference. They’d scored eight goals in nine games.

But the following week, the Whitecaps travelled to Seattle, who were still in the midst of what would eventually be a record-setting 13-game unbeaten streak to start the season. The Caps rallied from a 1-0 deficit to lead 2-1 late in the second half until Jimmy Medranda saved Seattle with a 71st minute strike.

There were glimmers of what the team could be in that game, and although their winless streak stretched to eight before they downed the Galaxy three weeks later, it was the beginning of a run unprecedented in team history.


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Since that game against Seattle, Vancouver has only lost three times. And they did it playing the first 14 games of the season as nomads in Salt Lake City, with every fixture essentially an away game. The only team with fewer losses were the runaway Supporters Shield champions, the New England Revolution, who have already set a record for points in a season .

“We worked hard all year long. Yes, I joined late, but the team took so much sacrifices, being in Orlando, being in Portland, being in Salt Lake,” said Jungwirth. “Everyone worked so hard all year, and now are in a situation where we have it in our own hands, and I think that’s just beautiful.

“We have a big crowd (expected) and we want to have a big party after the game.”


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Whitecaps midfielder Janio Bikel (19) celebrates his second half stoppage time goal with teammates and head coach Marc Dos Santos against the Los Angeles Galaxy at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Whitecaps midfielder Janio Bikel (19) celebrates his second half stoppage time goal with teammates and head coach Marc Dos Santos against the Los Angeles Galaxy at Rio Tinto Stadium. Photo by Rob Gray /USA TODAY Sports


“Beautiful” was a word bandied about plenty by the Whitecaps on Friday to describe their situation, but two hours down the I-5, where the money is green and politics are polarized, they were talking about grit and grind.

Seattle comes into the game winless in five games, having lost three of those, and scoring just four over that stretch. But they are, thanks to Sporting Kansas City’s 3-1 implosion against lowly Austin FC earlier this week, still first in the Western Conference. A win guarantees them home-field advantage in the playoffs all the way to the MLS Cup Final and a first-round bye to get their banged-up roster back to full health.

“We need to make sure that we grind out a win,” said Sounders midfielder Kelyn Rowe. “Not every win is beautiful in this league. And we’ve proven that we can do those kind of wins. Whether it be a 1-0 win or last-minute goal, a few blocks that need to be had in the back line … whatever it takes to get that win. It might be a grind.


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“I think the urgency isn’t in the points that we’ve dropped in the past — we’ve obviously not happy with it — but we got ourselves in a lucky spot, where if we when we’re first place. I think that’s the urgency that we need. If we do get this result, we are top of the West and all our games are at home for the playoffs.”

Seattle is riding a 13-game unbeaten streak against the Caps, having outscored them 24-6 since Vancouver’s last win, when then-Whitecap Fredy Montero scored twice in a 2-1 win at B.C. Place on April 14, 2017. Montero returned to the Rave Green in the off-season and is second on the team in scoring, with six goals and three assists.

While recent history has tilted heavily in the Sounders’ favour, their 4-1 win at CenturyLink Field on Oct. 9 their last meeting, the Whitecaps can still capture this year’s Cascadia Cup by beating Seattle by at least four goals.


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The script for this season couldn’t have been written any better, though. A resurgent Vancouver team, trying to erase three seasons’ of futility, with a do-or-die win against a rival on Decision Day. Every team in the West, save the long-eliminated and last-place Houston Dynamo, plays at the same time. Five of the six games have playoff implications.

A point cements the Whitecap’s fate, but a loss, combined with wins by Real Salt Lake and LAFC, could see them south of the red line. A Galaxy tie, combined with a win by RSL or LAFC, would have the same result.

“Everyone wants this pressure. This is the type of pressure that every athlete would want,” said Rowe. “When you play in the backyard, you count down, ‘3 … 2 … 1’ for that final shot. That final shot right now is against Vancouver.


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“It’s kind of come down to decision day right? I think that’s what everyone wants — players included. This is fun pressure that we enjoy. For the fans and for the experience, I think it’s an amazing thing to have every game going on. You have phones, laptops and you’re watching the game as well. You’ve got three, four different scenarios that if they ‘if they keep this score, and we score a goal …’ I think that’s pretty incredible. It’s going to be a fun experience for everyone.”

Vancouver Whitecaps’ Nosa Igiebor lies on the field as other players greet each other after the Sounders defeated the Whitecaps 2-0 in the second leg of an MLS soccer Western Conference semifinal, Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017, in Seattle.
Vancouver Whitecaps’ Nosa Igiebor lies on the field as other players greet each other after the Sounders defeated the Whitecaps 2-0 in the second leg of an MLS soccer Western Conference semifinal, Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017, in Seattle. Photo by Elaine Thompson /AP

The drama of Decision Day can make it a day or joy or one of sorrow. Jungwirth has experienced both.

In 2017, when he was in San Jose, the Quakes needed a victory at home over Minnesota United to make the post-season. They led until the 81st minute, when Francisco Calvo equalized for the Loons. But Marco Ureña scored in the 93rd minute to book their ticket to the playoffs —  where they were pumped 5-0 by the Caps at B.C. Place .


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Two years later, it was a Decision Day showdown between the Quakes and the Portland Timbers, with the winner going through, and the San Jose missed out with a 3-1 loss.

There is no chance, he said, of playing for a tie. They’re going for the three points regardless.

“When we play at home, we always attack. It doesn’t matter the situation that it’s Decision Day,” he said.

And the 21,000-plus Whitecaps fans expected at the game Sunday also know the danger of trying to play for a specific result. When the reached the quarter-finals in 2017, they bunkered at home, playing the Sounders to a scoreless tie, and hoping to steal a result with an away goal in the then-two legged series. But Seattle blanked Vancouver 2-0 at the Clink, ending their playoff run.


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“The only the only way to make (a) point is trying to win. The only way to arrive to the skies is to look at the sun. So that’s the thing,” said Sartini. “We need to try to win from minute one. At minute 87, if we’re tied, maybe, yeah, we’re going to manage the game in the last 10 minutes, but we will enter the competition trying to win the game.”

“I don’t know what we’re gonna do,” said Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer. “A little birdie might fly into my ear and give me some scores, you never know. But yeah, it’s exciting. The games on Tuesday meant something, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, last Sunday … I mean, it’s pretty cool.

“But if you’re on the right side of a score line, and you can lock a game down, maybe you do that anyway. If you’re needing of a goal, you’re probably going to do the same thing anyway. (Out of town scores) have a little bit there; it might have a minuscule effect. But we want to win the game. I need the team to play well. If we play up to our potential, we’ll get a good result. I mean, first or second doesn’t really matter. I just want the team to play well the last game of the season. That’s more important.”


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The Whitecaps are winless in their last 13 games vs. Seattle. Here’s a look at how they broke down.

Sept. 9, 2021: Seattle 4, Vancouver 1 (CenturyLink Field)

June 6, 2021: Seattle 2, Vancouver 2 (CenturyLink Field)

Sept. 27, 2020: Seattle 2, Vancouver 0 (Providence Park)

Sept. 3, 2020: Seattle 3, Vancouver 1 (CenturyLink Field)

July 19, 2020: Seattle 3, Vancouver 0 (ESPN Orlando)

June 29, 2019: Seattle 1, Vancouver 0 (CenturyLink Field)

March 30, 2019: Seattle 1, Vancouver 1 (B.C. Place)

Sept. 15, 2018: Seattle 2, Vancouver 1 (B.C. Place)

July 21, 2018: Seattle 2, Vancouver 0 (CenturyLink Field)

Nov. 2, 2017: Seattle 2, Vancouver 0 (CenturyLink Field)

Sept. 29, 2017: Seattle 0, Vancouver 0 (B.C. Place)

July 21, 2017: Seattle 3, Vancouver 0 (CenturyLink Field)

Aug. 23, 2017: Seattle 1, Vancouver 1 (B.C. Place)


April 14, 2017: Vancouver 2, Seattle 1 (B.C. Place)

Whitecaps: Fredy Montero, 65th, 80th. Sounders: Will Bruin, 89th



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