- Our Town
Whitecaps confident despite subpar efforts
By Jim Morris, The Canadian Press
VANCOUVER - The salsa music was cranked up loud in the Vancouver Whitecaps' dressing room prior to a training session this week.
The players looked relaxed and smiled as they filed out for practice. There was little evidence the team's confidence had been shaken by a pair of subpar performances and its first loss in eight Major League Soccer games.
There was even talk about how the Seattle Sounders, Vancouver's Cascadia rival with the best record in MLS, are the right medicine to cure whatever ails the Whitecaps.
"It's the perfect test to bounce back," forward Nigel Reo-Coker said about Saturday's game at BC Place Stadium.
"It's a great test for the team. No one expects us to win this game. They are the most experienced team, I would say, in the league. For us, as an emerging young team, it's a great time for us to prove to people we should be taken seriously as a team."
The Whitecaps had a franchise record eight-game unbeaten streak (3-0-5) snapped in a 2-0 loss to the Colorado Rapids last week. Vancouver had also played poorly in a 0-0 draw to the Montreal Impact the previous game.
A Vancouver team that had gone six of seven games scoring two or more goals has suddenly had problems putting the ball in the net.
"The last couple of games I don't think our team has produced the same amount of opportunities they have in the past," said forward Erik Hurtado. "That is going to affect us scoring goals."
Coach Carl Robinson doesn't see any big problems with the Whitecaps' game, just areas that need little fixes.
"Good teams are able to do the crappy jobs very well," said Robinson. "We've done that the first part of the season. In the last two games I think we went away from that.
"Our transition play needs to be a little bit better. It's the little details that make the big differences. If we get back to that, then everyone will put a smile on their face."
Seattle leads the MLS standings with 35 points from a 11-3-2 record. One of those ties came against Vancouver last month. The Sounders have also scored 33 goals, more than any other team in the league.
Vancouver is fifth in the Western Conference, 13 points behind Seattle with a 5-3-7 record.
Steven Beitashour, who is returning to the Whitecaps' lineup after playing for Iran at the World Cup, said the last two results are a minor bump in a long season.
"We were on a nice streak," said the 27-year-old right back. "The guys did well during that.
"The league is going to have runs, good runs, bad runs. I don't think two is bad at all. I'm confident this weekend we will have a good result, then we will start a new winning streak."
The last time the teams met Seattle salvaged the tie on a late penalty kick after a controversial call. Sounders coach Sigi Schmid doesn't expect things to be any easier in the rematch.
"They are going to be a team that is motivated," Schmid said on the Sounders' website. "I'm sure they haven't been happy with their last two games they played, they haven't scored any goals.
"Coach Robinson will be under them and motivating them. That team is going to be hungry when they play us."
One reason the Whitecaps have had problems scoring goals is teams are dropping back defenders to counter Vancouver's speed.
Robinson said his team must be smarter with the ball when they have possession.
"We have to get back to maintaining possession, dictating possession, but also being a threat in the final third," he said.
"We know we have quick players, but have we got players with an understanding how to move (opposition) players out of position? Seattle is a very organized team. They like to get eight, nine men behind the ball. We are going to have to be open and expansive but also a little bit creative in our final third play."
Vancouver could also improve its set plays. The Whitecaps have been unable to take advantage of some good deliveries from midfielder Pedro Morales.
"I think the service has been there," said Robinson. "Now it's the challenge for the players to get in the right position. It's about movement in the box."
The Whitecaps have been guilty of giving up leads. Robinson said that's a result of his team still learning how to deal with certain game situations.
"The top teams are able to grind out results," he said. "I haven't got an experienced core. I have a young group.
"When we bend we might break at the moment. It's important we learn from scenarios like that. At the moment we have broken but we will learn form certain things."
One player thrilled to be back in the Whitecaps' lineup is Medhi Ballouchy. The 31-year-old midfielder from Morocco spent 11 months recovering from anterior cruciate ligament surgeries on both knees. During that time he also lost his father to cancer.
Ballouchy played 20 minutes against Colorado and called the experience "amazing."
"Taking something from a soccer player ... it's always hard," he said about his long recovery. "I'm just happy (and) at this point don't even want to think about it.
"I hope I can stay in this phase for a long time."