VANCOUVER, B.C. – With ten games of the regular season remaining, the Vancouver Whitecaps have their work cut out for them if they are to make the MLS Cup playoffs for the third straight year.
A disappointing three-game road trip saw the Whitecaps head back to Vancouver with a solitary point, no goals scored, and having fallen out of the playoff positions in the Western Conference. They may have been playing in three places where they have yet to secure a MLS win (Houston, Dallas and Colorado), but the performances on display left a lot to be desired, especially defensively.
Those defensive struggles have been the tale of the Whitecaps’ season. They've already conceded three more goals than last year’s overall total, with nearly a third of the season left to play. Last year’s league-leading defense has been beset with individual errors, while last season’s defensive rocks – Kendall Waston, Tim Parker and even David Ousted – have been prone to point-costing mistakes.
With Vancouver’s attack also struggling at the other end of the pitch, ‘Caps coach Carl Robinson is faced with having to find an instant remedy to his team’s defensive woes, but there’s no easy solution for him.
"It's not going to be easy, but we've got to deal with it," Robinson admitted at Whitecaps training this week. "You tend to fix one leak and another leak pops up. It is what it is. Welcome to football. That's all you can do is keep working hard and keep encouraging them because they don't mean to make mistakes.
"We need to be better in all areas of the field. But when people make mistakes you can either sulk, or blame them, or get on with it and try and get back to work. I'm not a blamer. I accept it and I'll deal with it with those individuals and we'll get right back to work."
There's been talk all season about the need to cut out the individual errors, but defensive midfielder Andrew Jacobson feels it's "easy to talk before a game." He's looking for the whole squad to step up, do their talking on the pitch and get the team out of their current slump; everyone needs to play their part.
"It's weird, sometimes you don't know why defensively you're struggling," Jacobson said. "A lot of the times it has nothing to do with the defense. As we start picking up our possession and picking up our scoring, you might find that we're letting in less goals. It's a fluid game. It's not just that one group defends, one group attacks. It's a fluid game of everyone playing football."
How Vancouver perform in their next two matches could very well shape their season. Both this Friday's home clash with the San Jose Earthquakes (11pm ET; UniMás in the US, TSN in Canada) and next weekend's trip to Sporting Kansas City are against teams around the Whitecaps in the playoff mix.
Experienced Canadian central defender David Edgar has been brought in to shore up the defense. He doesn't feel there's "anything major" required to turn Vancouver's defensive woes around. It's more just down to tidying up those mistakes and playing with a settled defense during the season run-in.
"I think that's key," Edgar admitted. "Any manager will tell you he wants a settled back four, if not a settled 11.
"As a defender and as a back four or back five, you have that pressure nonstop. You don't want to concede and it's up to the players in front of you to create. And if we can pitch in with goals from set pieces and stuff, then all the better. But you take that pride in defending and getting that clean sheet."