VANCOUVER, B.C. – With just two wins and eight points from their last eight games, it's certainly been a tough spell of recent results for the Vancouver Whitecaps.
But are the Whitecaps in a bit of a slump after their excellent start to the season, or are they simply regressing to the mean?
Dramatic late goals saw them rack up a number of early season victories, four in their first five games, but those goals and hard-fought wins have been missing the last few weeks, resulting in two straight losses following their 1-0 defeat against the Colorado Rapids last weekend. With no goals in those games, struggles in the final third have been one of the culprits in their rocky run.
Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson has been pleased with how his team is playing of late, just not with the end results. He said nobody would be talking about the Whitecaps struggling with a few small changes in fortune, especially in a league with so much parity.
"Football is fine lines," Robinson told media at training on Tuesday. "Which is why when you get fine lines, especially in Major League Soccer, you look around the league and you can read into it what you want about how well a team is doing based upon results.
"You can think a team is going through a slump, but they're still mid-table. A team's struggling, but they win two on the trot and the team's at the top of the table. Teams go through little spurts. It's a very fine line in the league in general, but when you're on, you've got to be on."
Just what has happened to the Whitecaps offense is the question Robinson and his management team are now searching for the answer to as they prepare to play host to Real Salt Lake on Saturday (6 pm ET; MLS LIVE in US, TSN1 in Canada).
New striker Octavio Rivero got off to a flying start, with five goals in his first six matches, but the Uruguayan has netted just once now in the last seven games and has ploughed a lone furrow up front for the Whitecaps of late.
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But it's not just Rivero struggling. Vancouver have only managed 14 goals in their 13 games this season.
"We can't just rely on Octavio," Robinson stated. "He will score goals, without a doubt, but we need other players to step up. We've got to just keep working at it."
The Whitecaps' offensive woes have led to an increased focus on the rigidness of their tactics and formation. Robinson has long favored a 4-2-3-1 formation with a solid defensive footing, two-man defensive midfield shield and speedy wingers. It is a formula seldom strayed from until the 'Caps are forced to chase a game late on.
Has this made Vancouver too easy to work out and shut down? Robinson disputes that and feels that when people look at how his side isn’t performing, they're not taking into account how well the Whitecaps opponents are getting their job done.
"What people tend to forget, they always analyze yourself and what you're doing well or what you're doing not so well," Robinson said. "They forget about the opposition team you're playing against.
"Teams aren't going to let Octavio score. Whether they double up on him or sit deeper, which teams have done, they find a way. We've got to find a way to try and stop them. We've got to find other ways, that if they do stop Octavio, then we've got to find solutions out wide or in central midfield area, and that's what we're working on."