VANCOUVER - Despite having not scored in nearly seven hours of play, the Vancouver Whitecaps remain confident their sputtering offence will eventually get back in gear.
They really don't have any other choice.
The Whitecaps head into Wednesday's home game against the San Jose Earthquakes without a goal in 411 minutes, a stretch of more than 4 1/2 games.
Darren Mattocks was the last man to score for Vancouver, bagging the club's second in the first half of a 2-0 victory over Sporting Kansas City on Aug. 10.
Kekuta Manneh hasn't scored since May 3, while the once red-hot Erik Hurtado has failed to find the mark since June 7. Sebastian Fernandez — who can play in midfield or as a striker — started Saturday's 0-0 draw at B.C. Place Stadium against D.C. United alongside Mattocks, but was largely ineffective in his 68 minutes.
In the midst of a 1-3-6 slide and with just two wins in a 14-game stretch that has seen Vancouver (7-6-13) tumble down Major League Soccer's Western Conference standings, the Whitecaps know their youthful strikers need to start burying chances — and fast.
"They can score. I think they've demonstrated this season of what they can do," said veteran defender Andy O'Brien. "It's there. They can do it. It's just a matter of it coming, and hopefully it will come sooner rather than later.
"It's important we stick together as a team. We can create chances, we can score goals. We've demonstrated that this season and now is the crunch time where things need to come together."
The Whitecaps were filling the net early in the season — including a 3-2 victory over San Jose — but have had to settle for a total of 13 ties, including five scoreless draws.
"I think you have seen that (the strikers) are definitely good enough. I think the only thing we need to work on as a whole ... is just be more consistent," said defender Jordan Harvey. "Everybody has the talent — you've seen it in years prior and this year, it's just about somebody stepping up."
Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson has remained steadfast in his support of the beleaguered forwards, at least in public, but added they might be trying too hard at times to break the goose egg.
Case in point from Saturday was Mattocks missing two great chances to score in the first half against D.C.
"Top strikers in this league know how to keep a calm head and a cool head in front of goal," said Robinson. "I think sometimes when you haven't scored in four games, you snatch at things and maybe you balloon it over the bar or you drag it wide, and that's what's happening at the moment."
The Welshman said the failure in the final third falls to everyone, not just the men up front, on a Whitecaps team that was booed off the field by some fans last time out.
"Can they do better? Yes. Can I do better? Yes. Two wins in fourteen games for us is not good enough," said Robinson. "We all need to be better, me included. I'm in charge of these players and if they're not doing it then I've got to take responsibility for it, and I will."
The Whitecaps endured similar summer slumps in their first two MLS seasons, and goalkeeper David Ousted said that while no one has come out and vented to the media, that doesn't mean there isn't frustration in the locker-room.
"I think everybody's disappointed. If they're not disappointed I don't think they should be here," said Ousted. "I definitely think that you feel in the squad that we're disappointed not getting the wins, but it's also about putting things in perspective and having a positive mind."
Vancouver currently sits one point back of the Portland Timbers for the fifth and final playoff spot in the West, while San Jose (6-10-9) is seven back of the Whitecaps heading into Wednesday. Vancouver has eight games remaining, while Portland has seven.
O'Brien said all of the players — especially the young strikers — are aware of what's at stake for a team that has been shut out in five of its last six games.
"There has been a stage where lads have been coddled, and there's been a stage where lads have been told," he said. "In recent weeks, lads have been told what is expected of them. (But) it's not being aired out in public, which I think is a good thing."
Whitecaps midfielder Mauro Rosales, who has been one of the most energetic players on the pitch since arriving in a trade with Chivas USA last month, said the lack of goals is not due to a lack of effort.
"This team has been working very hard to get the results, get the points and be the better team," he said. "Sometimes the things don't go in your favour and you have to accept it, but (also) keep working and keep moving forward.
"We have to step up and finish the plays earlier. Not try to create the best goal — just score."
Robinson said tough times show the character of a club, and this period for the Whitecaps is no different.
"You learn a lot more about your players now when you're getting thrown to the wolves maybe sometimes then you do when you're winning games of football," he said. "At the start of the year, I knew there was a lot of work that we needed to do and it wasn't going to happen over night for us, and it doesn't change now."
San Jose comes into Wednesday having not won since Aug. 2 — a stretch of 0-2-4 — but tied Portland 3-3 on Sunday night in a game the Earthquakes led 2-0 and 3-2 thanks to a pair of goals from Chris Wondolowski, who now has 12 on the season.
"They're definitely in the mix (for the playoffs)," said Robinson. "Anyone's who's writing them off are pretty naive, to be honest.
"There's a number of points to play for and they're a very good team."
Notes: Mattocks was supposed to meet up with the Jamaican national team for Tuesday's friendly against Canada in Toronto, but he picked up an ankle injury on Saturday. Robinson said his status remains uncertain for Wednesday. ... Whitecaps defender Steven Beitashour missed out against D.C. because of a hip injury and it's also unclear if he will play against San Jose. ... Vancouver's next game is away at FC Dallas on Saturday, before a key game at Portland on Sept. 20.