VANCOUVER, B.C. – Their roster is still injury-thinned and the consistency isn't always there, but the Vancouver Whitecaps' outlook is better going forward out of the weekend than it was going into it.
Saturday's 3-1 comeback win over Atlanta United got the Whitecaps back to winning ways after a difficult stretch that had seen them lose a controversial league game at home to D.C. United before going out to the Montreal Impact at midweek in the semifinals of the Canadian Championship.
Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson had wanted a response from his side, and he got it. In years past that might not have been the case. But this feels like a different Vancouver side this season.
It's a team capable of coming back after falling behind, a team who have turned around their home form and are already just two games shy of their number of home wins in all of 2016. It also feels like a more united team in the locker room.
All of this pleases Robinson, especially with the way his squad has been ravaged by injuries in the first part of the season.
"I think we're stronger mentally," Robinson said after Saturday's match. "I genuinely believe that. It's a difficult place to come and play here sometimes, but away teams over the last 18 months have enjoyed coming here.
"Bit by bit, I've managed to alter the roster and bring in a group of players. I'm still missing eight, nine players. You don't hear me shout it from the rooftops, but there's some more additions to come, which are exciting. The mentality of the group is really, really strong."
Saturday's win moves Vancouver up to fifth place in the Western Conference standings, six points off first place with two games in hand. It's a solid position and one the 'Caps are now looking to build upon, boosted by the imminent return from injury of new attacking additions Yordy Reyna and Bernie Ibini.
To do that they know they need to be far more consistent against all types of opposition. The Whitecaps have performed at their best this season against teams perceived as among the stronger in the league, coming away with home wins against the LA Galaxy, Seattle Sounders, and Sporting Kansas City.
They've dropped points, however against lower-placed teams such as the Philadelphia Union, Colorado Rapids, and D.C. It's far from ideal if they want to continue to climb the table, but realizing that and remedying it are two very different things.
"It's been labelled at us before, and I can't sit here and say there is no coincidence in it," Robinson said of his team playing better in the bigger matches. "Big games, we do rise. We need to be consistent in the games that aren't, on paper, so-called big games. I totally agree.
"I don't know why, whether it's the personnel, but we need to find solutions to change that, because if we don't, we'll drop too many points and the West is tough. Everyone beats everyone, but we need to make sure that this year we do take care of every single team that comes into BC Place and become a strong team."
MLS veteran Fredy Montero said that rough outings against struggling clubs are often par for the course in the league, and it's up to the team to find a way to deal with it.
"To be honest, that’s something you see really often in the MLS," Montero said. "It’s not that the best team is going to win every single game. For us it’s just to try to be consistent and build that balance between having not many goals in our end and scoring more goals when we have the opportunity."