For Vancouver Whitecaps it is pretty much a must-win game. As the 'Caps take to the pitch at BC Place on Sunday against the worst club in Major League Soccer's Western Conference, they know anything less than three points against Chivas USA will see their push for the playoffs hit a major roadblock.
It's so tight in the Western Conference that the loss to LA Galaxy at BC Place last weekend saw the Whitecaps drop to seventh in the standings, when a win would have been enough to move up to second. While they will still not be far away from the playoff positions even if they lose on Sunday, the fact is they must make home advantage count.
After Sunday's game the Whitecaps will have eight matches remaining of which five will be on the road – and that's where the problem lies. The Whitecaps have been excellent at home this season, but have struggled to find a winning formula away from BC Place. If they're to make the playoffs, they can't rely on going to Dallas, San Jose, Montreal, Seattle and Colorado, and picking up the points they will need. They can probably gain a few points on their travels, but not likely enough, and that puts massive pressure on the remaining home games.
Saturday's loss against the defending champions LA Galaxy was a bitter blow because the Whitecaps actually played pretty well, especially in the second half. It was the same story when Philadelphia inflicted the 'Caps first home loss of the season in late July, when Vancouver had the better of the chances – despite being down to 10 men – but were unable to get anything out of the game.
Against LA, the Whitecaps looked much more dangerous in the second half when they switched to a 4-4-2 formation. The 4-3-3 wasn't effective enough going forward in the first 45 minutes, with the Galaxy's well organized defence difficult to break down. But after half time it was a different story when the 'Caps were able to use the width of the pitch and really stretch LA, carving out a number of excellent chances. If it wasn't for a world class save from Galaxy goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, Vancouver would have taken at least a point.
So now it is imperative that Martin Rennie's men are able to make their chances count against Chivas on Sunday. It will be interesting to see how Rennie decides to fill the void left by Nigel Reo-Coker's suspension. I expect he will probably stick with the 4-3-3 formation despite finding success following the switch against LA.
With Daigo Kobayashi struggling to influence games in an attacking midfield role, one option would be to move Kenny Miller into that position – a role he played in preseason. During the first half on Saturday, Matt Watson was deployed in a midfield role and while he brought athleticism and mobility to the midfield, he lacks the creative edge needed to break teams down.
In the long term, the attacking midfield position is one the Whitecaps need to upgrade by looking elsewhere for help. I understand the search is well underway and although it is still in the very early stages, the club has already zeroed in on a target.
The Whitecaps should be boosted by the return of their leading scorer Camilo on Sunday. He was on the bench against the Galaxy after missing training with an injury, but he should be available against Chivas. The Brazilian's availability would make a big difference for the 'Caps who didn't see enough of an impact from his replacement Darren Mattocks against LA.
When it came down to the final run-in last year, the Whitecaps limped over the line after a dramatic dip in form during the closing weeks of the season. It's now just one win in six for Vancouver, but they are playing much better than they were a year ago. They are more settled as a team and look much more capable of securing the results they need in order to qualify for the playoffs for a second straight season, but they must ensure Sunday's match isn't another letdown.
For once, the performance doesn't really matter – at home against Chivas USA, a win is the only acceptable outcome for a team with postseason aspirations.