One warm day doesn’t make a summer and one win in fourteen doesn’t make everything sunny and bright in the world of the Whitecaps, but the recent 1-0 victory against Philadelphia at least sends the team on their three game road trip in better spirits.
Tom Soehn would probably have preferred to follow that performance with another game at Empire Field in the hope of building on the momentum gained, but one match in Kansas and two in Toronto aren’t the worst options that Vancouver could face.
Both opponents are in the lower end of the Eastern Conference and, equally importantly, both play on grass and not artificial turf. Soehn has had his players practising on the natural surface recently in an effort to promote the possession game that he favours, and three consecutive matches should only help to bring that goal a little bit closer.
The downside is that the team is facing a punishing schedule with five games in two weeks, and no doubt squad rotation will once again be the order of the day. Both Terry Dunfield and Gershon Koffie have looked weary of late in midfield and Jeb Brovsky may find that he is again asked to fill in (a job he did with some assurance on Saturday) and the likes of Khalfan, Tiebert and Salgado could well find themselves promoted from the bench on at least one occasion.
It’s not the names in the starting lineup though that will concern the fans as much as the way that the selected eleven play. One important psychological hurdle has already been overcome by getting that much needed win at Empire Field, and now they need to repeat the trick away from Vancouver.
Winning away from home takes a degree of mental courage that has been missing from the Whitecaps thus far, and they have found it all too easy to fall back towards their own penalty area and resort to long hopeful passes that frequently turn over possession and quickly create the kind of siege mentality that looks heroic but so rarely produces satisfactory results (think of it as subjecting your team to one long power play).
It’s been noticeable that their play on the road only really kicks into gear once they have fallen behind in a game and they now need to work out a way to start games with that kind of attitude, and not just turn to it as a desperate last resort.
There were signs on Saturday that progress was being made in altering the mind set of this team, and the Whitecaps are blessed with a number of players that possess the ability to use the ball intelligently and to dictate the pace of play even when away from Empire Field.
The next three games won’t tell us much that we don’t know about the physical and technical strength of this squad but they will tell us if, and by how much, their psychological approach to playing on the road has progressed.
Tags: MLS, Vancouver Whitecaps, World soccer