(Photo credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)
No team will be in more urgent need of a boost to their playoff hopes this weekend than D.C. United when they visit the Vancouver Whitecaps Saturday night.
D.C. (9-13-9, 36 points) begins this weekend in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, one place and one point out of the playoff field.
But the Black and Red have only three games remaining, compared to some playoff contenders who have four or five. And Saturday's match against Vancouver is the first of three in eight days that will wrap D.C.'s season early, while the remaining 28 MLS teams will play their final match on Oct. 21 after an international match window.
It will be an all-hands-on-deck situation for head coach Wayne Rooney, beginning with Saturday's game and then Wednesday's match at Austin before a home finale against New York City FC on Oct. 7.
"We're not at the stage of the season where we have to look at managing minutes," Rooney said. "The most important game for us is Vancouver on Saturday, so I'll pick the best possible starting 11 I feel that can win the game for Vancouver. And then obviously the Austin game, we'll monitor the players and then see who's ready and available."
D.C. is winless in its last four, most recently wasting Christian Benteke's hat trick in a 5-3 home defeat to the New York Red Bulls. The performance took Benteke's team-leading total to 13 goals, only two off the MLS lead.
Vancouver's Brian White also has 13 goals after scoring in a 2-2 draw at Colorado on Wednesday.
While the Whitecaps (11-10-9, 42 points) might be home, they could be weary after completing seven consecutive games on the road.
Vancouver earned a respectable 11 points in that stretch, but Wednesday's draw was its only point in the last three matches. The Whitecaps begin the weekend in sixth place in the Western Conference but only four points clear of the playoff line.
"These seven games have taken a toll," Sartini said after Wednesday's draw. "We need to regroup early because Saturday is very important at home. It's a must-win game. We need to win to defend the playoff spot and maybe get in a better playoff spot."
--Field Level Media