VANCOUVER, B.C. – Vancouver Whitecaps' league-leading defense from last year looked a shadow of its former self to start the season, with uncharacteristic sloppy play and self-inflicted mistakes costing them as they opened the new campaign with a couple of losses.
But after two solid defensive displays, one that saw them give up just one goal from a free kick in Seattle and the other holding the free-scoring Houston Dynamo scoreless, the signs are there that Vancouver are starting to find their footing at the back and turn things around.
"We just got back to basics," is 'Caps coach Carl Robinson's take on the turnaround. "Defending is about doing the basics very well. If you do your individual jobs and you concentrate, it puts you in a chance in every game to try and win it. We've done that very well in the last two games."
You can put it down to early season rust or the rebuilding of some team chemistry after the offseason additions and departures, but with the Whitecaps attack still struggling to score, Vancouver badly need their miserly defense to be firing on all cylinders.
Throughout the tough start, the Whitecaps were in no doubt that their defense would soon rediscover their form. This was not a backline that suddenly got bad overnight, instead it was basic errors and a lack of cohesion that was hurting them.
"Mental mistakes," is where goalkeeper David Ousted firmly lays a bulk of the blame. "It's fair to put it down to that, as well as getting back into that cohesiveness and have that communication in line for the first game. It's there now. We feel we're more settled and better as a unit, so hopefully that's going to continue going forward."
Despite their better showing in the last two games, there are still some questions around Vancouver's backline.
Saturday's clean sheet against Houston was achieved without both starting center backs, Kendall Waston and Tim Parker, who were away on international duty. Robinson is now hoping both will be fresh to return for this weekend's tough test against the LA Galaxy (10 pm ET; TSN2 in Canada, MLS LIVE in US).
The right-back position still appears to be Vancouver's area of weakness after Steven Beitashour left for Toronto, and although Fraser Aird was given a bit of a torrid time to start his MLS career, the Canadian has shown improvement every match.
"I'm trying to get better every day," Aird admitted honestly. "You're going to have ups and downs throughout the season. I don't think I was at my best the first game of the season. Everybody knows that.
"The last two games we've played well as a team and I thought I've done a lot better in the Seattle game and the game against Houston. Hopefully I can continue that and show the form that I know that I can show and show everyone why the manager has brought me here to play."