VANCOUVER -- The Vancouver Whitecaps may have been buoyed by their performance in a goal-less draw away to the San Jose Earthquakes last weekend, but the team's coaches weren't leaving anything to chance.
Head coach Martin Rennie and his assistants were not impressed with what they saw at a practice on Wednesday, and they laid down the law before Vancouver departed for yet another must-win clash on the road to the Montreal Impact.
With six games remaining, the playoff hopes of the seventh-placed Whitecaps (10-10-8) are hanging by a thread at the moment, as the club sits five points behind fifth-placed Portland, who are scheduled to face Colorado on Friday.
"Rennie is just making sure we stay on top of our game," said Whitecaps captain Jay DeMerit. "It wasn't the best performance we've had all year but it's something we can build on and we need to make sure on the training field that it continues to stem from that.
"So I think for us it's about being hard on each other, being critical in the right ways and making sure we all stay on the same page."
Rennie felt he had to read his players the Riot Act after noticing a drop in intensity and focus from Saturday.
"I think in the last game all the players were making themselves available to get on the ball and we kept good possession because of that and everybody was lively and hungry," he said.
"And today in training it wasn't as good as we'd have liked so I was just pointing that out and reminding people what we need to get to for the weekend."
Rennie and midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker believed last weekend's match in California was their best road performance of the season but the Impact (13-8-6) will no doubt present a tougher challenge.
Montreal, second in the Eastern Conference, have had no trouble finding the back of the net at Stade Saputo this season, amassing a league-high 29 goals on home turf.
Marco Schallibaum's outfit had recorded three wins (two of them emphatic 5-0 and 4-2 wins over Houston and New England respectively) and a draw before falling 2-1 to lowly Columbus last weekend. The Impact then lost 3-0 away to San Jose in the CONCACAF Champions League on Tuesday night.
Italian striker Marco Di Vaio was deadly in that five-game MLS span, scoring seven goals to lift his season tally to a league-best 18.
Luckily for the Whitecaps, Rennie -- perhaps for the first time since the beginning of a season -- finally has a range of options in central defence to choose from now that DeMerit has returned to game action and Andy O'Brien (back) and Johnny Leveron (calf) are both available.
DeMerit was forced into last weekend's game after 31 minutes when Brad Rusin went down with an ankle injury and he partnered up with Carlyle Mitchell.
It was DeMerit's first appearance since suffering an Achilles injury early in the opening game of the season against Toronto FC on March 2.
Although Rennie said it would take a "team effort" to stop Di Vaio, he was nonetheless excited about having more resources at his disposal.
"Maybe we can play all four of them in centre back," he joked.
"This season we've really had a hard time with our centre-backs getting hurt so the fact that we have a little bit of competition in a position is nice and I think it can be important because if you keep struggling through that, then it's a hard thing.
"A lot of people probably don't realize how much of a foundation the centre-backs are to any team and we have not had a consistent partnership there but I think in the last game Jay and Carlyle Mitchell did very well."
Rennie has had no injury issues up front in recent times, but the lack of goals from Kenny Miller and Camilo is starting to hurt the team's playoff hopes.
The pair have not scored since the 2-0 win over San Jose at BC Place on August 10, which was Vancouver's last win.
Miller says he isn't fazed by the dry spell engulfing him and his Brazilian teammate, but hinted a little help from the rest of the team would be welcome.
"Sometimes with strike partnerships they kind of dovetail and maybe one guy might not be scoring but the other guy does," said Miller. "And when the other guy dries up the other guy can pick the baton up, but unfortunately for us it's not quite working that way.
"But it's a team game, we defend as a team, we attack as a team and if the strikers aren't getting goals, it's up to other lads to come in and chip in with a few."