The Vancouver Whitecaps are trading the steaming Texas humidity for Colorado’s thin air.
One thing they hope doesn’t change is the final product.
The Whitecaps visit the Colorado Rapids on Saturday night coming off their most impressive — and quite frankly, surprising — performance of the season last week against FC Dallas.
Vancouver travelled to the Lone Star State to meet what was then the top team in Major League Soccer’s Western Conference sporting a pathetic 0-8-0 all-time record at Toyota Stadium while getting outscored a combined 16-3.
The game-time temperature hovered near 40 C, but the Whitecaps grabbed an early lead, doubled it after halftime and then poured in two more goals after Dallas had a player sent off for a convincing 4-0 victory.
“We know how difficult it is with the heat and the conditions,” said Vancouver head coach Carl Robinson. “(The players) deserve a lot of credit. I set them up and organized them, but they were the ones that played.
“It was satisfying.”
Even more so after the Whitecaps were soundly beaten 2-1 at home the previous week by the severely undermanned Portland Timbers.
“I couldn’t recognize the team against Portland,” said Vancouver goalkeeper David Ousted. “Those weren’t the Whitecaps I know. The team that played Dallas was the one I knew — working hard and getting the nitty-gritty stuff done.”
The focus for Vancouver (9-8-3) now shifts to Colorado (6-12-2), with the Whitecaps knowing last weekend’s good vibes will be short-lived if they don’t maintain the same level against the Rapids in a game that will be played at altitude.
“We need to do that in Colorado now, we need to do that next week in New England,” said Ousted. “There has to be a consistency there every single time and making sure that’s the standard.”
Vancouver occupies the sixth and final playoff spot in the West, but have at least two games in hand on every team ahead of them in the standings, save for Dallas.
The Rapids, meanwhile, sit last after finishing second in the race for the Supporters’ Shield in 2016, but are a respectable 6-4-1 at home this year.
“They’re going to be a hungry team,” said Whitecaps defender Tim Parker. “They know what it takes to be at the top of the table.”
Vancouver picked up a 1-0 victory in Colorado in May to halt a six-game slide at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, where Saturday’s temperature is expected to be a manageable 26 C.
The Whitecaps’ strategy while playing a lung-busting 1,600 metres above sea level is likely to mirror to the path they took against Dallas, with Vancouver treading carefully to conserve energy whenever possible.
“Going from the heat to the altitude, it’s going to be hard,” said striker Fredy Montero, who scored twice last week to give him eight goals on the season. “We know when you’re at home and you’re struggling as a team, you don’t have anything to lose.
“They’re going to risk a lot.”
Robinson made six changes to his lineup in Texas, with Brek Shea, Bernie Ibini and Yordy Reyna all slotting in up top to support Montero, and is likely to again tweak his starting 11 against Colorado as Vancouver looks for a third straight road win.
“It’s down to the players to pick themselves,” said Robinson. “We’ve got really good options now, which I haven’t had all season.
“I’m OK making hard decisions. I’ve got no problem with that.”