VANCOUVER — It's been a disappointing season for the Vancouver Whitecaps, but coach Marc Dos Santos says the team isn't quitting with just four games to go.
"We respect way too much the league and we respect way too much our position, our club, to go about things in the way that we just have fun in the last four games. That's not going to happen," he said after training on Friday.
While the 'Caps (6-15-9) have already been eliminated from the playoffs, the squad could still help determine which teams capture post-season berths, Dos Santos added.
The club's next chance to play spoiler comes Saturday when the Houston Dynamo (10-15-4) visit Vancouver. With 34 points, Houston is currently out of playoff position but could still get in with a good run of form.
"They have a lot to play for. It's a big game for them," Dos Santos said.
The two clubs previously met back on March 16, with the Dynamo taking a 3-2 victory in Houston.
A lot has changed for both sides in the ensuing months, but the Dynamo still have a dangerous counter attack and some offensive weapons, including Alberth Ellis, Mauro Mantos and Tomas Martinez, Dos Santos said.
"We can counter that," the coach added. "We're going to have pieces also that are dangerous and could make a difference, hopefully."
Several of the Whitecaps top pieces have recently returned to Vancouver after spending some time away during the FIFA international break. Eight players — including four Canadians — were called up to their national teams.
Between the absences and a spate of injuries, there were some gaping holes in Vancouver's training roster.
"You can't work a lot of tactic for the next game," midfielder Jon Erice said at training earlier this week. "But we are working very hard also to be fit. We are players that most of us don't play usually in the last month and we need to be fit if we need to help the team in the next game."
Centreback Derek Cornelius returned to the 'Caps on Thursday after putting in work with the Canadian national squad in a pair of friendlies against Cuba.
The 21-year-old native of Ajax, Ont., logged a full 90 minutes in Canada's 6-0 win on Sept. 7, then came in as a sub during the 1-0 victory on Tuesday.
Travelling between Toronto, the Cayman Islands and Vancouver was long, Cornelius admitted.
"It's good to get back in the rhythm," he said.
Whitecaps training was simplified on Thursday and Friday to accommodate bodies that had been stuffed on planes for cross-continental journeys.
Still, preparation for the Houston game was top of mind, Cornelius said.
"It's really continue to work on what we've been trying to do all season long and then just looking at little small details on what we want to prepare for," he said.
Dos Santos was blunt in his assessing how missing players mid-season impacts his ability to prepare for a game.
"It sucks," the coach said, adding that Houston faced a similar situation.
"It's difficult because you don't really work the team so you have to stay very simple in your approach to the game. The more you try to work on certain dynamics, the more you're inventing and it gets disorganized. So we have to be very, very simple in our approach to maximize what we have."
HOUSTON DYNAMO (10-15-4) AT VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (6-15-9)
Saturday, B.C. Place
HOT STREAK: Whitecaps striker Yordy Reyna will be looking for his eighth goal of the season on Saturday. The Peruvian has scored in three of his last four matches.
SWAPPING 'KEEPERS: Zac MacMath is expected to start in net for Vancouver after netminder Maxime Crepeau picked up an ankle injury while training with Team Canada. MacMath has appeared in six games this season and is looking for his first win in a Whitecaps jersey.
ROAD WOES: Houston has struggled away from home this season, posting a 2-12-0 road record. The Dynamo's last road win came on July 20, when they beat Toronto FC. The club followed the victory with a seven-game winless streak, which was snapped by a 2-0 win over Minnesota United on Wednesday.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press