VANCOUVER — Kei Kamara believes his Vancouver Whitecaps have what it takes to claw out a playoff spot, but he knows that the battle won't be an easy one.
"We knew it was going to be a really, really tough time coming into the final stretch of the season," the striker said after training this week.
"And I think we're ready for it."
The 'Caps (11-10-7) have six regular season games left, starting with a home match against FC Dallas (14-6-8) on Sunday.
With Vancouver currently sitting four points out of a post-season spot, each remaining contest is crucial.
"We're hungry for points," said Kamara, who has put up a team-leading 12 goals across league play this year.
"Nobody wants to be done by the end of next month. We want to keep playing."
The 'Caps have made the playoffs four times since joining the MLS in 2011. Last year, they battled their way to the Western Conference championship, where Vancouver was ousted by their West Coast rivals, the Seattle Sounders.
Now they're chasing the Sounders for playoff position and a win over second-place Dallas could help keep the post-season dream alive.
Four of the team's final matches are against teams above them in the table, including FC Dallas, Sport Kansas City, LAFC and the Portland Timbers.
Defender Doneil Henry said everyone in the Whitecaps locker room knows what's at stake.
"We know that we have to take down targets to start climbing the table," he said.
"Guys want to play. There's a few games left in the season. Guys want to really fight for what's left here."
He added the team has been performing well. Before last week's match, Vancouver was undefeated in six games.
"If we come with the same intensity, resilience, fighting, on our day, we're going to win," Henry said.
Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson said every game from here on out is a "must-win," but the club has to focus on one match at a time.
This week, that will mean being cleaner in both boxes, finishing on scoring opportunities and and being clinical on defence, he added.
Defensive lapses have been a constant source of strife this year for the 'Caps, who've given up 54 goals in 28 games.
"We've conceded a lot more goals this year than we did last year, but we've scored a lot more goals this year than we did last year," Robinson said. "It's apples and oranges at the moment. Now in this final stretch, we need to tidy up a few things."
Vancouver is coming off a disappointing 2-1 loss to the Sounders.
Despite the result, Robinson said his team did everything he asked of them against Seattle. He wants to see the same kind of play and effort on the field against Dallas.
"If we can take care of our business and we're competitive and we play like we did (last week), with a little bit of luck, then we'll be fine," he said.
FC DALLAS (14-6-8) AT VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (11-10-7)
SUNDAY, B.C. PLACE
REYNA RETURNS: The Whitecaps missed attacker Yordy Reyna in last week's matchup with Seattle. The 25-year-old sat out the game on suspension, but has posted five goals and nine assists this season. In his last four MLS starts, Reyna has tallied two goals and six assists.
SHOOTING FOR SHUTOUTS: Dallas netminder Jesse Gonzalez registered his fourth shutout of the year last week, as his team battled to a scoreless draw with Columbus Crew SC. The veteran goalie chalked up nine clean sheets for the Toros last season.
CLAWING BACK: Vancouver and Dallas last met in May, when the 'Caps visited Texas. The Whitecaps went into the last 10 minutes of the game down two goals. Dallas centre back Maynor Figueroa put in an own goal late in the game to get Vancouver on the board. Kei Kamara scored the equalizer in injury time, making a penalty kick in the game's 100th minute.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press