Before every season, Vancouver Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson maps out how many roads wins he believes his team will need to make the playoffs.
He isn’t about to share the number publicly, but rest assured the Major League Soccer club is ahead of schedule in 2017.
Vancouver heads into the finale of a three-game road trip Saturday against the New England Revolution with the second-best away record in the Western Conference at 4-5-2.
The Whitecaps have seven of a possible nine points from their last three road matches, with victories over the Los Angeles Galaxy and FC Dallas to go along with a tie against Colorado Rapids.
"The players have took onboard what I expect from them," said Robinson. "We’ve got to be disciplined, the intensity’s got to be there."
In fact, the only blemish in recent weeks was a 2-1 home loss to the severely undermanned Portland Timbers.
Vancouver’s 4-0 victory the following week in steaming hot Dallas — a place where the club had never earned a point in eight previous attempts — and last Saturday’s 2-2 draw at altitude in Colorado highlighted the Whitecaps’ ability to shuffle the deck and not see a drop in performance.
"It’s the confidence we have in our group," said veteran defender Jordan Harvey, who stayed home for the Dallas game before returning against Colorado. "We’ve been able to rotate guys in and get good results.
"Everybody’s at 100 per cent each and every game. There’s not that complacency in the group."
The Whitecaps were annoyed by the two goals conceded against the Rapids after grabbing an early lead before striker Fredy Montero scored an equalizer — his third goal in the last two games and ninth on the year — to share the spoils.
"We were disappointed," said Robinson. "That’s how far we’ve come. We go away from home and we’re disappointed when we only pick up a point."
Robinson said he’s seen a change in Montero, the club’s high-priced designated player on a season-long loan from his club in China, over the last month.
"He’s just working harder," said Robinson. "He’s rolling his sleeves up and wanting to do the nitty-gritty jobs that you need to. I’m a firm believer that the more work you put in on the training field, the more rewards you get in games."
Vancouver (9-8-4) currently sits one point back of the final playoff spot in the West, but has at least two games in hand on all but one of the conference’s top-6 teams.
The Whitecaps, just six points adrift of first, are also in a three-way tie for third in the West on a points-per-game basis at 1.48.
Robinson should get some help in defence against New England with the return of hulking centre back Kendall Waston. The Costa Rican has missed three of the last four games because of international duty and an immigration issue.
"You get more nervous when you watch because you can’t do anything," said Waston, who represented his country at the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
His main task against New England (7-10-5) will be to help stunt a three-headed attack that features eight-goal men Kei Kamara, Lee Nguyen and Juan Agudelo.
The Revolution (7-10-5) enter play second last in the East thanks in large part to an 0-8-3 mark on the road. But home has been a different story, where New England is 7-2-2 while averaging more than 2.5 goals per game.
Vancouver is 1-2-1 all-time at Gillette Stadium, but 1-0-1 there under Robinson, including a 2-1 victory in 2015 where the Revolution were reduced to 10 men. New England beat the Whitecaps 2-1 at B.C. Place Stadium last season.
"They’ve got quality," said Harvey. "They’re a team that at any point can go on a run.
"It’s one of those games where you don’t look at the standings."
Notes: Vancouver acquired defender Aaron Maund from Real Salt Lake in a trade on Wednesday before signing midfielder Aly Ghazal, who was most recently with a club in China, on Thursday. Neither player will be available this weekend. The Whitecaps also dealt defender Christian Dean to the Chicago Fire. … Vancouver hosts the Houston Dynamo on Aug. 19 to open a stretch of three games in eight days.