VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Whitecaps know they’re still very much a work in progress.
The Major League Soccer club defeated the rival Portland Timbers 2-1 at home on Saturday despite trailing at halftime in what was by far Vancouver’s best performance of 2016.
The Whitecaps (4-5-2) directed 26 shots towards Portland’s goal and played with a spirit that head coach Carl Robinson had been demanding as he tried to shake his team out of a disappointing 1-3-2 run.
With the Chicago Fire (1-2-4) up next at B.C. Place Stadium on Wednesday, Vancouver is hoping for more of the same.
"We’re looking better. I don’t think we’re done," said Whitecaps goalkeeper David Ousted. "We constantly need to be better … I’ll always be one of the guys who says the work’s never done."
Vancouver hustled to every ball against the Timbers. A late defensive play from captain and offensive catalyst Pedro Morales to deny Portland a possible tying goal stood as a perfect example of the commitment Robinson wants to see game in, game out.
"I require that from every single player, whether you’re the goalkeeper or the captain of the team," said the Welshman. "The work rate was there. The quality takes care of itself. You can’t just turn up and expect to be a good team. You’ve got to put the hard work in."
And Robinson made it clear he expects that effort level all the time, not just against the reigning MLS Cup champions, who also just happened to be the team that bounced the Whitecaps from the 2015 playoffs.
"The standard is set now from Saturday’s game, but we’ve got to maintain that," said Robinson. "It’s about consistency. The teams that are most successful in this league are very consistent, and we’ve got to start striving for that as well."
Whitecaps midfielder Christian Bolanos — a veteran of two World Cups for Costa Rica who joined the club in the off-season — had his best game in a Vancouver uniform against Portland, scoring his third goal in as many outings.
"In my position I try to make good chances for the strikers, I try to score goals," he said. "I’m very happy to score goals, but for me the more important thing is to win the game, to get the three points."
The Whitecaps are in the middle of another stretch of three games in eight days that will see them visit Toronto FC on Saturday. They went 1-1-1 over an identical period at the end of last month.
The Fire, meanwhile, have suited up for the fewest games of any team in MLS (seven) and will be playing for just the third time since the middle of April.
"They’ve had a lot of rest and haven’t played for nearly two weeks," said Robinson. "They’ll be ready to go, but we’ve got to make sure we concentrate on ourselves."
Ousted, one of the Whitecaps’ leaders who has been vocal about the team’s lack of focus at times early this season, said he hopes the result over the weekend demonstrated to his teammates what it will take to be successful.
"I think we know the recipe," he said. "We showed hard work, that we were a team and that everybody wanted to sacrifice."