VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Whitecaps are in contention to finish first overall in Major League Soccer, but coach Carl Robinson thinks the Seattle Sounders are the heavy favourites entering Saturday's home game against Seattle.
"If you ask every manager, they want to end up finishing first, but unfortunately 19 teams are not going to finish first and one team does," said Robinson. "We're in a good position at the moment, (but) we still have a lot of work to do. We know we're an underdog. We've been an underdog all season."
The Whitecaps had a one-point lead on FC Dallas and the Los Angeles Galaxy in the Western Conference standings entering play Friday. Seattle is alone in fourth place, six points off the lead.
"We've done nothing (in MLS), so I'm being realistic," said Robinson, whose team won this year's Canadian championship.
Robinson's comments were a clear attempt to take the pressure off his youthful players as they prepared for an archrival and more tough matchups over the last six games of the regular season. The Whitecaps (15-10-3) are attempting to host a playoff game for the first time since entering MLS in 2011.
A post-season berth is not a sure thing for Seattle (13-13-3) as Portland, Kansas City and San Jose are also hovering near the playoff bubble.
"We're playing with confidence at the moment," said Robinson. "We've been on a very good run. So have (the Sounders), so it should be a cracking game."
The Whitecaps have lost only four league games since June and are unbeaten in their past four contests at B.C. Place, where they have not allowed a goal since July 26 — a span of 270 minutes. But the Sounders handed the Whitecaps a home loss on May 16 before the Whitecaps blanked them 3-0 at CenturyLink Field on Aug. 1.
"Our away game showed that we can play very well against them," said Vancouver goalkeeper David Ousted. "But the home game we had against them showed as well that they're a very dangerous team. So we need to be aware of what they're good at, especially with (Obafemi) Martins back up front (and) the speed they have up there."
The Sounders are unbeaten in three games, with Martins having scored in each. He has five goals in as many games since returning from a groin injury.
Seattle coach Sigi Schmid is expected to return to the sidelines Saturday after missing the past two games due to an undisclosed health issue.
Ousted wants the Whitecaps to balance offensive pressure with timely defence and maintain the confidence that has kept them consistent.
He said the team has a "great will" to go out and "win something" in MLS, and the club's ability to avoid a summer swoon for the first since 2012 demonstrates that it is maturing.
"The mental aspect of it, it's a good approach that we have to every game," said Ousted. "And, that needs to continue in the next six games if we want to get to where we want to go."
Monte Stewart, The Canadian Press