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Wicky not underestimating Whitecaps challenge with Knockout Round in sight

Never tell Raphael Wicky the odds. Even when they’re in his favor.

When his team takes the field against Vancouver on Thursday morning for their Group B finale (8 a.m. CT | ESPN), they’ll need only a draw to advance to the Knockout Round of the MLS is Back Tournament.

Still, the Fire head coach has zero interest in settling.

“There's no easy games here,” he told media on Tuesday afternoon. “It's not because (the Whitecaps) lost two games that there is going to be an easy game. It's going to be a tough game. It's a tournament.”

While he noted his disappointment in not clinching a spot in the Round of 16 in Sunday's 2-0 defeat to the San Jose Earthquakes, the former Swiss international sticks firm to his level-headed approach ahead of his group’s next challenge.

“The result (was) obviously not in our favor this time,” he said. “The team was fairly good, organized. We want to keep this organization. We want to keep being tough to play against, but obviously we want to create more. We want to be better and more calm with the ball.”

With three points through their two tournament matches, the Fire (1-1-0) sit in third place in Group B coming out of the loss on the weekend. Their chances to make it out of the group remain good on paper despite the result, but Wicky does not find it an excuse to take his proverbial foot off the gas.

Three points will see the Fire leapfrog the Seattle Sounders (1-0-1, four points) into second place.

"We wouldn't go with a mindset to a draw could be enough,” midfielder Fabian Herbers said. “We are going to the game to win it. What Vancouver's situation is, isn't really important to us that much, as we just go into it attacking, try to have possession, try to have control over the ball to not give them too much space and opportunities to counterattack us."

The Whitecaps (0-2-0, 0 points) were undone 3-0 by the Sounders in their last outing, and were defeated 4-3 by the ‘Quakes in their opening match of the tournament. However, they can still advance out of the group with a win against the Fire, a few more goals to improve their goal differential, and some favorable results elsewhere around the league.

They’ll be without the service of regulars like Fredy Montero, Lucas Cavallini, Érik Godoy, and Tosaint Ricketts on Thursday, and will be missing both starting goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau (broken thumb) and backup goalkeeper Bryan Meredith (personal reasons).

Wicky remains concerned only with his team’s own preparedness.

“We want to focus on ourselves, he said. “What we want to do, how we want to play, how we can break them down, how we can defend well against them. That's what I'm focused on.”

“Our goal is to get the three points no matter who we are facing,” Herbers added. “If they are missing some players or not, I think the approach will be the same, and we will analyze the opponent the same way.”

Defender Miguel Ángel Navarro, who arrived from Deportivo La Guaira in January, got his first start for the Fire on Sunday night in a 90-minute shift against San Jose. Like his teammates, the 21-year-old Venezuelan youth international was disappointed not to clinch a spot in the Round of 16 over the weekend, but is feeling especially confident in the group’s approach to Thursday’s match.

“I think this team is prepared to face anything,” defender Miguel Ángel Navarro said. “We are prepared to play at whatever time under whatever conditions no matter the climate, the temperature. While we were in Chicago, we were preparing as best as we possibly could. We had early morning trainings. We were really preparing from the very beginning and really there are no excuses.”

The Knockout Round is well within the Fire’s grasp, and it’s up to them to take it.

“Everything depends on us,” Wicky said. “We are not depending on other teams. We are not depending on other results. Everything is in our own hands and that's what we are focusing on.”