By Ian Walker
VANCOUVER - The Vancouver Whitecaps extended their streak to 13 straight playoff appearances on Friday night.
It's no time for celebrating. They got into the post-season through the back door.
Vancouver finds itself guaranteed a playoff berth as a result of Miami FC Blues' 2-1 loss to the Charleston Battery earlier in the evening. A draw in one of the team's two remaining regular-season games would also have achieved the objective, but that's not the point.
The best the Whitecaps (9-10-10) can finish this season is one-game above . 500.
And it's not like the Whitecaps haven't had their chances to take care of things themselves. The defending United Soccer Leagues First Division champs have just two wins since Aug. 1, heading into Sunday's match with the expansion Austin Aztex at Swangard Stadium.
Vancouver was mere minutes away from locking up a post-season berth twice in the past week alone.
On Wednesday, the Whitecaps surrendered an injury-time goal to fall 1-0 to the Montreal Impact - when a win or a draw would have clinched them a playoff spot. Just nights earlier, Vancouver conceded a goal with the final whistle within earshot and had to settle for a 1-1 tie with Minnesota. A win would have eliminated Miami from the post-season race.
``The team's spirit remains high, even though it has been disappointing to give up points at the end of our last two games,'' said head coach Teitur Thordarson, whose team had a day off Friday. ``As soon as the Montreal game ended, everyone was thinking to Sunday and how important a game that will be for us.''
Vancouver concludes its regular season at home against the last-place Cleveland City Stars on Sept. 18.
The Whitecaps can still catch Rochester (11-9-8) for sixth spot, but would need to win both of its games and have the Rhinos drop both of theirs.
Vancouver will face either the Puerto Rico Islanders, Carolina Rail Hawks or Charleston in the first round of the playoffs.
Whitecaps captain Martin Nash is doubtful for Sunday. The midfielder has missed the team's last four games with a groin injury, which has proven to be more serious than first anticipated.
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