VANCOUVER - They expect to have one of their best players back on the pitch Sunday when they face one of the worst teams in Major League Soccer, but the Vancouver Whitecaps know taking Chivas USA lightly could prove costly.
The Whitecaps are in a battle for a playoff spot in the tight Western Conference. With nine games left on the schedule, and the team playing their next three on the road, the Whitecaps (10-9-6) can't afford to squander a chance at three points playing at BC Place Stadium.
"The margins are dwindling," interim captain Kenny Miller said Saturday after the Whitecaps practised at the University of British Columbia.
"After our indefinite results (lately), for us it's important we get back to our winning ways. We'll be going out to win the game and the right result can push us up the table a few places."
Camilo Sanvezzo, who leads the Whitecaps with 14 goals, missed last week's 1-0 loss to the L.A. Galaxy with a slight groin pull. He has trained this week and looks ready to play against Chivas.
"I am feeling very confident," said the Brazilian striker. "I have been striking some balls and feel very good."
The one-week break could play dividends down the stretch for Sanvezzo.
"I didn't want to stay out but I think it helped a lot," he said. "I feel very confident for this game."
Heading into Saturday's MLS play Vancouver was seventh in the Western Conference with 36 points. Only four points separated the second-place Galaxy from the Whitecaps.
Chivas is last in the West with 21 points (5-14-6) and are just 1-8-3 on the road this season. The Goats have shown some life recently and upset the New York Red Bulls 3-2 at home last Sunday for their first MLS win since March.
It will be the third meeting of the season between the two teams. Chivas won the first 2-1 while the Caps earned a 3-1 victory at BC Place on June 19.
It is tempting for the Whitecaps to look past Chivas, especially when they play their next three games on the road against Dallas, San Jose and Montreal, before returning home for a Sept. 28 match against Western Conference leading Real Salt Lake.
Head coach Martin Rennie said his team is focused on the task at hand.
"The players know what they need to do," he said. "This is when the season really starts.
"They (Chivas) have a couple of dangerous forwards. They are a good possession team. We have to make sure we close them down. You always have to be on your toes because they are dangerous."
The addition of Erick Torres has added more punch to the Chivas attack. The 20-year-old from Guadalajara scored twice in the victory over the Red Bulls and has four goals in six games.
The Whitecaps will be looking for Sanvezzo to bring a scoring touch that lacked against the Galaxy.
Vancouver is second in MLS with 25 home goals, but 16 of those came in a six-game stretch earlier this year. The Whitecaps are currently struggling through a 1-4-1 run where they have scored just four goals and been shutout three times.
Rennie preferred to look at the glass half filled.
"We have scored a lot of goals," he said. "Last game we missed Camilo.
"I think we know we have to work hard but we are confident we can score goals. We need to prove that."
Miller, who has scored seven goals this season, said Sanvezzo brings an artist's flair to the Vancouver canvas.
"He brings back goals," said Miller. "This season he has scored a lot of big goals and in a lot of games he's come up with important goals.
"He brings all kinds of threats whether it be dead-ball situations or whether it be open play. We missed it last week, we missed his goal threat. Hopefully this week we can get back to the winning ways."
The Whitecaps will be without midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker who will serve a suspension after receiving his eighth yellow card of the season against the Galaxy.
Captain Jay DeMerit, who recently married Olympic skicross gold medallist Ashleigh McIvor, is also questionable. The 33-year-old defender is still recovering after rupturing his Achilles tendon in the March 2 season opener.
DeMerit did play 70 minutes in a scrimmage with the UBC Thunderbirds last week.
"He's coming on really well," said Rennie. "He's got himself training consistently.
"He probably needs a little more practise game time, then he will be in contention."