VANCOUVER â€” It’s very early in the season but the Vancouver Whitecaps have already made strides to tighten up their defensive play.
Vancouver has allowed just one goal in the three meaningful games played so far this year. The Whitecaps beat the New York Red Bulls 3-1 in a two-game CONCACAF Champions League series, then battled to a 0-0 draw against the Philadelphia Union in their Major League Soccer opening game last weekend.
“It feels great,” defender Jordan Harvey said after a training session this week. “The defensive side of things, I think we are organized. We have a defensive unit that can keep clean sheets and be hard to break down.”
The Whitecaps’ defence will be tested Saturday when Vancouver plays the San Jose Earthquakes in a MLS match at Avaya Stadium. The Earthquakes defeated the Montreal Impact 1-0 on the strength of Anibal Godoy’s goal in their season-opening game.
Harvey said San Jose will challenge Vancouver’s defensive resolve.
“They are a hard-working team,” he said. “It’s going to be difficult to break them down.”
The Earthquakes are feeling good about themselves after starting the season with a win.
“This is the most excited I’ve been about an Earthquakes’ team since I’ve been here,” midfielder Tommy Thompson told the San Jose Mercury News.
One of the challenges for Vancouver will be controlling forward Chris Wondolowski who has 121 goals in 260 MLS games.
“Inside the box (he) is one of the best in the league,” said Harvey. “He’s proven over the course of his career he can finish.
“He’ll be someone we are mindful of in and around the box.”
Last season the Whitecaps allowed 52 goals, second most in the Western Conference. Mental errors and giving up late goals helped contribute to Vancouver failing to make the playoffs.
“We conceded far too many goals last year, individually and collectively,” said head coach Carl Robinson. “One of the targets in the off-season was to try and be a little bit more disciplined in the back, tighten up individually and collectively.
“If you don’t concede goals you have a chance at winning every game. If you are able to score goals that helps as well. I think we have addressed that. We have to do it more consistently. Be hard to play against, be difficult to create chances on.”
Vancouver acquired veteran defender Sheanon Williams from Houston in the off-season. The backline has also been helped by the return of Christian Dean who missed all of last year with injury.
Harvey said a win against San Jose will help Vancouver keep pace in the West. Last year the Whitecaps dug themselves a hole, then scrambled to stay in the playoff hunt.
“Last year was a misrepresentation of our team as whole,” he said. “At the beginning of the year we let in some poor goals from mistakes. It wasn’t because teams were breaking us down.
“Around the half way of the season, and toward the end, we started to chase games because we needed the points. Then you saw teams break us down.”
Vancouver’s fitness and durability is being tested early in the young season. Beginning with their Champions League game March 2, the Whitecaps are in a stretch of playing five games in 15 days.
After Saturday’s match in San Jose, the Whitecaps will play Tigres UANL in a Champions League semifinal game at Estadio Universitario in Monterrey, Mexico. Vancouver returns home for a March 18 game against Toronto FC at B.C. Place Stadium.
“The scheduling hasn’t been kind,” said Robinson. “We’ll deal with it.
“We won’t complain. We will look forward to it. We will put the best teams out to try and win each game possible.”
The Whitecaps can make franchise history by advancing to the Champions League final, but Robinson said dealing with the Earthquake remains his first order of business.
“It will be an interesting challenge for us,” he said. “There will be players who get the opportunity to play because we have a game three days later.
“It’s early in the season. We will go there full of belief.”
Jim Morris, The Canadian Press