After an impressive victory over one of the best teams in MLS last weekend, the Whitecaps travel to Carson, Calif., on Saturday to face Chivas USA, a side languishing at the bottom of the Western Conference, but one that has also given Vancouver fits in 2014.
"It's going to be a tough game, but a game that's winnable if we do things right and if we're paying attention to the little details," Whitecaps goalkeeper David Ousted said after Friday's practice at the University of British Columbia. "Definitely they've had our number a little bit this season. I think it's time we go down there and show that we can win."
The clubs tied 1-1 back in March at StubHub Centre before Chivas scored a 3-1 victory at B.C. Place Stadium on July 12 in a game that saw Vancouver reduced to 10 men in the second half.
The Whitecaps (7-4-11) occupy the fifth and final playoff spot in the West heading into the weekend, two points up on the Colorado Rapids and Portland Timbers, and two back of the Los Angeles Galaxy. Last-place Chivas (6-11-5) is nine points behind Vancouver.
"It's another difficult challenge for us," said Whitecaps assistant coach Gordon Forrest. "Results wise, they've maybe not picked up what they've wanted to achieve, but in our games they've done well against us."
Vancouver hasn't had trouble getting up for games against regional rivals or top MLS competition — including last weekend's home victory over defending champions Sporting Kansas City — but the lesser lights have been different story.
With another trip to Carson set for Aug. 23 against the Galaxy, the Whitecaps know they can't look past Chivas.
"It's a mental challenge that we as a team need to mature in these games," said Ousted, whose team is unbeaten in five (1-0-4). "It takes a lot of hard work to beat a team like Chivas because there's no easy games in MLS. Coming off a win, we need to work even harder."
Whitecaps defender Andy O'Brien returned to the lineup against Kansas City after a seven-game absence — partly because of injury, partly because of a coaching decision — and said Vancouver can't afford to be overconfident against a team that has lost four straight.
"We need to match them for work rate. I think in the games we've played against them, they're a high-tempo team," said O'Brien. "We always treat every opposition as a clean slate and accordingly for that game. We hope that our efforts give us the result we desire."
Darren Mattocks has four goals in his last five games for Vancouver, somewhat silencing calls in some circles that the Whitecaps need to add another striker for their post-season push.
"I never really focus too much on what the media says," said Mattocks. "I focus on what I know I'm capable of doing, and doing what I do best to help the team."
O'Brien knows what it's like to have competition brought in to challenge for your place in the team — Vancouver signed Costa Rican defender Kendall Waston last week — and said all players can do is worry about their own business.
"I think the easiest thing to do sometimes is just accept it and throw the towel in, but talking from experience, some guys are going to start their careers and have maybe 18 or 20 years of this so get used to it," said the 35-year-old, who played more than 300 games in the English Premier League. "The sooner you realize it's about hard work and your work ethic and your reaction to stuff, the easier the journey may be."
Saturday's journey for O'Brien and the rest of Vancouver's defenders will likely include a heavy dose of Chivas striker Erick Torres. The 21-year-old has not scored in his last three games, but he has two against Vancouver this season, and 14 of his team's 21 goals in 2014.
Torres can fade in and out of matches before pouncing on his one chance, like he did at B.C. Place on July 12 for Chivas' winner in one of only four Vancouver defeats this season.
"He can be quiet in periods of the game and then get a goal," said O'Brien. "He has the potential to do that and we've got to take that into consideration. He's one of many good players that they have."
Two of the three goals Chivas scored against Vancouver in the last meeting came on headers, and the Whitecaps spent extra time practising that aspect of their defensive setup on Friday before flying to California.
"They've got players that are good technically and quick in the wider areas that put good supply in," said O'Brien. "It's one thing we're aware of but hopefully we'll give a good account of ourselves."
Notes: The Whitecaps will be without injured midfielder Gershon Koffie (ankle) on Saturday. ... Waston will make the trip to California after practising with Vancouver for the first time this week. ... The Whitecaps' four losses on the season are tied for the fewest in MLS with Los Angeles and Real Salt Lake.
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