VANCOUVER — Coach Marc Dos Santos is facing another tough task — turning around a Vancouver Whitecaps club that's melting down mid-season.
The 'Caps are winless in their last seven Major League Soccer games, but Dos Santos said at training on Friday that this is no time to dwell on results.
"We're in a moment right now that's difficult for us but we also know that we have to be strong mentally," the coach said. "This happens with many teams in the history of the MLS where they go through stretches like that. We have to learn, we have to be strong. It's not life or death. I'm sure we can move on from this."
Vancouver (4-10-8) hit the bottom of the Western Conference standings this week after losing a mid-week matchup to the New England Revolution 4-0.
Now the squad is looking to rebound and start climbing their way back into playoff contention Saturday when they host the San Jose Earthquakes (9-7-4).
The 'Caps and Quakes had similarly rocky starts to the season, with neither team clinching a win in their first five outings. But while Vancouver's patchy play has continued, San Jose has found a groove and currently holds a post-season berth.
The Earthquakes made some big moves in the off-season, signing players like Peruvian defender Marcos Lopez and Argentine forward Cristian Espinoza.
"That brought a lot to the team and slowly they've been able to grow in their model," Dos Santos said. "It's been clear what they do on the field and how aggressive they are, their men marking pretty much all over the field. And it's been a success for them."
The 'Caps aren't focusing, though, on what the Quakes have been up to. Instead, Dos Santos says they'll be looking to regroup and re-establish their own way of playing when they hit the field on Saturday.
Earlier this year, Vancouver was known for its robust defence, allowing fewer than three goals in any single game before last month's international break.
Lately, however, the back line has faltered.
Centre back Derek Corneilus said part of the issue has been players losing confidence as the team concedes goals.
"The boss (Dos Santos) mentioned it before — when the second goal goes in if we concede the first one, it's kind of like heads start going down and so on. And we need to get rid of that, we need to change that. There's a lot to still play for," he said.
"When we're up against the wall, we can't lose that mentality or that hope, we can't lose that drive and belief to just keep pushing."
The Whitecaps have been missing an offensive spark all season, but the lack of scoring has become glaringly apparent in recent matchups. The squad has been out-scored 13-1 in their last three league games.
Fredy Montero, who leads the team with six goals, has been in and out of the starting line up recently.
Coaching staff are working with him to try and find the best way to utilize his strengths, Dos Santos said.
"(Montero's) a player that he's very dangerous when he's closer to the box and maybe he has to work his game much more when we're away from the box. And lately we haven't been able to be very close to the opponent's box. It's something that's been difficult," he said.
"We just have to find a way how do we match him, who is he better matched with to show all his qualities."
Coming off the bench doesn't seem to bother the 31-year-old striker.
"I'm here to help whenever I'm required to," he said. "When I'm called to the starting 11, I will. When I'm on the bench, I will support my teammates. And I know that we have a long way to go still."
The team can't be greedy when it comes to scoring right now, he added, saying that every player needs to be attacking and creating chances.
"Whoever has the opportunity, bury it. Because we need to win, no matter who scores the goals," he said.
"For us, it's more important to score one goal. It doesn't matter who."
Despite the 'Caps recent run of form, Montero remains confident that he and his teammates have what it takes to win.
"I know that it's been a tough time, especially to create chances and score, but I believe that this is a process and we have to believe," he said.
SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES (9-7-4) AT VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (4-10-8)
Saturday, B.C. Place
LOOKING BACK: The 'Caps have fared well against the Quakes in recent years, going unbeaten in their last five matchups with San Jose. The record includes a 2-0-1 series last season.
MISSING IN ACTION: San Jose will be without defender Marcos Lopez, who is suspended due to an accumulation of yellow cards.
HELPING OUT: Quakes forward Cristian Espinoza has eight assists this season, tied with Toronto FC's Alejandro Pozeulo and Chicago Fire's Nicolas Gaitain for fourth-most in the league.