VANCOUVER, B.C. – You don't want to leave a Vancouver Whitecaps game early this season. While trying to miss traffic, you're likely to miss some goals in the process.
Thanks to some thrilling finishes, one-third of the goals in Whitecaps matches this year have been scored in the final 15 minutes of games. Vancouver have had some key point-securing strikes of their own among them, but they have also conceded a league-worst 11 goals in those closing moments, the latest of which cost them taking all three points in a 1-1 draw at Real Salt Lake on Saturday.
"It's something I'll need to look at," Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson told reporters at training on Tuesday. "It's not great conceding last-minute goals, but like I said to them on Saturday, if we'd have gone behind twice and come back with two 1-1 draws, everyone would have been positive and said we had great fightback in us.
"We've done it the other way and gone ahead, from being positive at the start, and home teams have managed to get goals against us and people say we concede at the end. It's six of one, and half a dozen [of the other]."
The late lapses have proved costly to Vancouver. The Whitecaps have lost out on 12 vital points in the eight games in which they've conceded late, with 41 percent of all their goals conceded this season coming in those final 15 minutes.
Vancouver rank fourth in MLS in goal differential in the first 75 minutes of games (+6), yet they are tied for the league's worst goal differential (-4) in the final 15 minutes of games.
Pinpointing just why Vancouver have been picked off in those final minutes of matches, though, is not so easy. Ejections that have left the team shorthanded, late surges from opponents battling for points and slack defending have all played a part.
"There's a lot of factors," goalkeeper David Ousted told reporters. "Teams pushing when they're behind, us maybe going a little bit too much for the second goal, but we're trying to stay positive. We're getting the leads, and hopefully now in the next few months, you'll see us keeping the leads as well."
With an attack-minded team and a desire to entertain and win matches by more than a single goal, Robinson admits his team can be left vulnerable at the back, which makes his players' concentration levels all the more important.
"If we're 1-0 ahead, I've always said I want to play on the front foot," Robinson said. "When we're 1-0 ahead with 10 minutes to go, I still want to catch them on the counter, and sometimes you get lazy in your jobs.
"I'm not saying the boys are getting lazy or they switch off, but sometimes you relax a little bit too much. With a young group, it's important that they don't relax, that they concentrate for 94-plus minutes.”
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With the 'Caps hovering just outside the Western Conference playoff places, it's clear that a return to the postseason will require more complete focus down the stretch.
"At the end of the day we need wins,” said Robinson. “We need to make sure we score more goals than the opposition – whether it's late goals or early goals, it's about winning."