VANCOUVER, B.C – The clock is inching towards midnight and the Whitecaps are running out of time to earn for back to back playoff appearances. The Caps have two matches remaining this season and a three percent chance of qualifying for the MLS playoffs according to the website, FiveThirtyEight. 

The Whitecaps are 11-14-7 with 40 points, and five points out of a tie for the final playoff spot in the western conference. The first tie breaker is wins, and the second tie breaker is goal differential. The Caps have a -17 goal differential.

Whitecaps defender Florian Jungwirth has been on the sidelines for the past two months of MLS action. Jungwirth has not appeared in an MLS match since July 23 when Vancouver fell 3-1 to the Chicago Fire at BC Place. 

Jungwirth has been an unused substitute during eight matches. He has also found himself sitting at press level on three occasions, including Vancouver’s Voyageurs Cup final victory over Toronto FC July on 26.

Why is Jungwirth not playing? 

“I don’t know,” Jungwirth told Har Journalist following training during a recent FIFA international week. “That’s obviously a question for the coach because he’s in charge of the lineup. I think in general it wasn’t a satisfying season for me. I always try to give my best even though it didn’t work out every time this year. The system we play is probably not a system where I can show my strengths to full potential. That’s why I think it was hard to show my best on the field. It’s the coach’s decision. He gave us a cup and we still have a chance to make the playoffs. In the end, it’s just about that.”

In his sixth MLS season, the Flo show has taken a back seat.

Jungwirth has earned thirteen MLS appearances and made ten starts for the Caps. He is on pace for the fewest starts, appearances, and minutes played since his inaugural MLS season in 2017.

A lack of minutes could easily hurt a players confidence and overall mood, but that’s not how Jungwirth operates. The MLS veteran continues to motivate and help his teammates. 

“Of course as a player you always want to play and to provide for the team,” Jungwirth said. “You have times where you can’t do that everytime, that’s how it is. You’ve got to take it like a man or not.”

The 33 year-old Jungwirth has used his knowledge and experience to help set an example by still being a part of the team and contributing in other ways that make a difference. 

While he may not be leaving it all out on the pitch at BC Place, Jungwirth is often the last player off the pitch following training at the National Soccer Development Centre. 

On this particular morning, Jungwirth is working on crosses with 21 year-old midfielder Sebastian Berhalter, taking shots on net and cracking jokes with a trio of young Whitecaps goalkeepers.

“Just because you don’t play, it doesn’t mean that you can’t give your input to the team,” Jungwirth explained. “I think the way I can read the game and understand the game, I think not a lot of people can. That’s what I try and give to the guys in relation with the way we want to play. If I give this part, I don’t feel less important than guys who played more. I think any other player who hasn’t got a lot of minutes this year, shouldn’t feel different.”

It’s occasionally assumed that when a veteran athlete is not earning playing time, ice time or court time, that there could be an issue with the head coach. That is not the case here.

“I’ve been in situations like that in my life,” Jungwirth said. “I have no problem with Vanni. I respect him a lot as a human being. He’s a fantastic guy. Just because maybe you don’t agree on the same part, it doesn’t mean that you can’t find a solution to work together. It’s no problem from my side.”

Coach Sartini recognizes the contributions and how much Jungwirth brings to the team on a daily basis. He’s a vocal leader with a lot of respect and support from his teammates. 

Jungwirth is quick to lift up his fellow Caps players with positive encouragement. He wants to see each and everyone around him succeed just like he has throughout his own career. 

“I would say it’s true, he hasn’t played in the last six, seven games (eleven),” Sartini said. “But his influence in training, the fact that he pushes everyone to be the best and the fact of being ready. I told him every time, you’re not playing now, but you are a moment away to play back again in the lineup. I think he’s been fantastic to be honest.”

Jungwirth’s current contract which was signed when he was a member of the San Jose Earthquakes has him earning a salary of $592,667 this season. 

He will be an MLS free agent following the 2022 season.

What are Jungwirth’s plans for next season? 

“Right now I’m in good talks with Axel,” Jungwirth revealed. “I can’t really go into details. He gave me two options. I can do one, and one, I’m really intrigued. Let’s see when we get everything worked out. In the end, it’s my call what I can do. With what the club has in mind with me, it’s something that makes me very happy and very proud.”

Can we expect to see Jungwirth in a dual player and coaching role? 

“No,” Jungwirth said.

Is that something you would want to do?

“No,” Jungwirth said.

While Jungwirth has brought the Flo show to the Whitecaps U-16 level as an assistant coach this season, that does not seem like a long term plan. MLS rules stipulate that a club can only have one player on a team that has a dual role.

Currently, Tosaint Ricketts is fulfilling a role as a Whitecaps player and Manager of Community Impact.

“Right now I’m doing this,” Jungwirth said. “But I cannot go into details. It’s probably not that I would do a double function. That’s also a rule. As an MLS club, you can just hire one guy. I don’t really get it, because the league should support it. In my opinion, if you have many guys in the team, you identify with the club, why shouldn’t they be able to work for the club. I think MLS should think about it, because it has nothing to do with money. The chance we get as veteran players from the club to do the next step, I think it’s a great chance, but why not more players.”

If Jungwirth does not return to Whitecaps FC as a player next season, would he want to continue playing football elsewhere, is there enough left in the tank and much more to offer?

“It’s on me,” Jungwirth said. “I feel great. It’s always the chances you get provided in life and then you have to see is it worth it to continue as a player, is it worth it to do something else. I’m relaxed because I’ve achieved everything I could ever dream of in my career. I played in one of the best leagues in the world. I had the experience to play abroad, I don’t have to prove anything. Fortunately, I don’t have to earn money anymore, still want a little bit. I can do whatever I want. If I feel like continuing to play makes me happy, I do this. If I decided to be a coach next year and if that makes me the most happy, I’ll choose that. Right now I have a win-win situation. I’m grateful that the club offered me two scenarios. It’s on me to decide.”

The Whitecaps will be looking to continue their must win-win situation on Saturday, October 1 when they host Austin FC at BC Place. Vancouver needs several results to go their way if they are to pull off a miracle and earn an MLS playoff spot.

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