VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Whitecaps will be the underdogs when they face off against New York City FC this weekend, but coach Carl Robinson believes his squad can take a bite out of the big apple.
Playing the league’s second-best team on their home turf in New York City will be tough for the ‘Caps (8-9-5), Robinson said.
"Obviously everyone will expect them to beat us," he said after training this week. "But me and my group will be positive, we’ll be ready for the challenge. And if we can limit the mistakes and then take advantage of what we’re good at, then there’s no reason why we can’t go there and win."
New York City (13-5-4) haven’t lost a single game at home this season and sit just behind league leaders Atlanta United in the standings.
The Whitecaps have struggled on the road this year, taking just seven of a possible 33 points, but are coming off a pair of wins at home.
They beat the Montreal Impact on July 25, punching their ticket to the Canadian Championship finals, then put up a series of highlight reel-worthy goals in a 4-2 win over Minnesota United on Saturday.
The victories couldn’t have come sooner for the ‘Caps, who had lost four of their previous five matches.
The slump was difficult for the team said defender Doneil Henry, especially the 2-0 loss they suffered in Seattle on July 21.
"We had a group conversation, just a little team meeting (after the game), and we all understand that we need to be better," he said. "Fatigue is going to happen, but we need to be able to dig deep and not go out of the season with any regrets."
Vancouver sits just out of playoff position in the MLS Western Conference, so every game is a crucial opportunity to earn more points, said midfielder Russell Teibert.
But the team will have to battle tough opponents and a gruelling schedule of five games in 15 days to claw their way up the standings.
"We understand what it takes," Teibert said. "It is a grind. It may not be the prettiest soccer … but we’ve got to get the job done, get three points, get clean sheets and continue to do what we did on the weekend."
Staying dialled in for the entire match will be key to winning, said Whitecaps defender Jake Nerwinksi.
"That’s kind of what it’s been this year. We’ve defended really well and kind of gave them easy goals," he said. "And that’s what we need to clean up on. We need to make sure we are focused for 90-plus minutes."
Vancouver held Minnesota back from scoring until the 82nd minute of Saturday’s game, then let two balls in within five minutes.
The Whitecaps have been scored on 44 times in league play this season, allowing an average of two goals per game. They sit at the bottom of the Western Conference when it comes to goals against.
Giving away "silly goals" has been an issue for the team, Robinson admitted.
"We need to tighten up defensively. We’re leaking too many goals," he said.
It’s also important that players step up offensively and spread the scoring around, the coach added.
Striker Kei Kamara leads the team with nine goals and three assists, while 17-year-old midfielder Alphonso Davies has five goals and 10 assists, including two of each in Saturday’s game. Robinson wants other players like midfielders Cristian Techera and Brek Shea to step up too.
"It’s important we score by committee. We’re doing that a lot at the moment," he said.
VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (8-9-5) AT NEW YORK CITY FC (13-5-4)
Saturday, Yankee Stadium
THIN MIDFIELD: The Whitecaps head to New York down a trio of midfielders. Jordon Mutch is still out with a foot injury and coach Carl Robinson said Aly Ghazal is "doubtful" after he left last week’s game hurt. Efrain Juarez is also out, serving a three-game suspension.
MAXI CHALLENGE: Vancouver will be looking to contain New York City’s Maximiliano Moralez. The Argentine midfielder has 19 points for the team this year, including a league-leading 11 assists, and he made 61 successful passes against the Seattle Sounders last week.
MILESTONE FOR THE BUG: Whitecaps midfielder Cristian Techera is looking to play in his 100th MLS game. Known as "the Bug" for his five-foot-two-tall stature, Techera is in his fourth season with Vancouver and has put up 38 points for the club, including six goals and an assist this season.