October 14, 2016 - 12:45 PM
David Ousted crumpled to the turf when the Vancouver Whitecaps' flickering playoff hopes were finally extinguished nearly two weeks ago.
The veteran goalkeeper was crushed by that 2-1 home loss to the Portland Timbers on Oct. 2 — there have been plenty of crushing moments for Vancouver in 2016 — and would have liked to get back out on the pitch right away to dull the pain.
But because of a break for international games, Ousted and the Whitecaps were left with plenty of time to sit and think.
"I would have rather just go (compete)," said the Dane. "A number of us were devastated. We wanted to just get back on the field."
The Whitecaps (9-15-8) will finally begin to play out the string on this lost campaign Sunday when they visit the San Jose Earthquakes (8-11-13), who are also picking up the pieces after getting eliminated from playoff contention following Thursday's 2-1 road loss to the Colorado Rapids.
Vancouver finished 2015 with a franchise-record 53 points, good for second in the Western Conference, but have a meagre 35 this season with two matches left.
The Whitecaps head into the weekend second-last in the West and could easily drop below the Houston Dynamo (33 points) and finish 19th out of Major League Soccer's 20 teams if results don't go their way.
Vancouver's problems have run deep, from poor defending to a lack of goals to horrendous home form, but with jobs on the line the players are intent on finishing strong.
"You want to see some fight," said defender Jordan Harvey. "You want to see some determination to close out a season that has been disappointing. You want to do that for the team and individually to show that you should be here next year, and then for the fans."
Even though their schedule will come to a close after a home date with the Portland Timbers on Oct. 23, next year is also going to be coming quick for the Whitecaps, who qualified for the CONCACAF Champions League quarter-finals in one of this season's few bright spots.
That competition resumes in February, and Vancouver has already stated it plans to take its training camp to Europe in early 2017.
"It's about coming into that pre-season flying," said Ousted, who will stay in town to prepare rather than return to Denmark. "Everybody needs to come into camp in their very best shape to make sure we go into those quarter-finals with a good chance to advance."
But knowing it will be a short winter comes as little comfort now for a club that saw itself on the rise ahead of a season that ended up being nothing short of a disaster.
"Like everybody on the team, I wanted to go and push on from what we did last year," said Ousted. "It's been disappointing. I've tried everything that I knew to push us, to make us better, to try and go win. But things just haven't come off.
"You learn about yourselves in these periods. You learn about who wants to really step up, who want to give it that extra 10 per cent when it hurts."
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News from © The Canadian Press, 2016