Consistency key as Vancouver Whitecaps look to overcome last season's road woes

VANCOUVER — Clearing snow was not in Vanni Sartini's plans for the week.

And yet, when an unseasonable cold front dumped centimetres of white stuff on the fields at the Vancouver Whitecaps' training facility, the head coach picked up the shovel — and tailored his training plans.

The squad spent several days working out on a turf surface this week and waiting for Mother Nature to help clear their usual grass surfaces.

“Of course, it's better to train on grass, but there's a lot of teams in the league where the weather is usually very cold now and they will train on turf," Sartini said Thursday after shovelling snow from the grass field.

"So that's not an alibi or anything. We were able to do everything that we wanted to do.”

The unique weather conditions created a "hectic week," but the team found ways to make the best of their circumstances, said striker Brian White.

"It's led to some fun snowballs thrown," he said. "So it was a good time. It's fun. Everyone's excited."

The 'Caps (0-1-0) are likely to see some warmer weather when they head to California to take on the San Jose Earthquakes (0-1-0) Saturday in their first road game of the Major League Soccer campaign.

Both sides are coming off frustrating season openers where they scored first but ultimately fell 2-1, with Real Salt Lake downing Vancouver and Atlanta United taking a win over San Jose.

The Whitecaps were the dominant side for much of their clash, controlling 56.2 per cent of the possession and out-chancing the visitors 6-1 in on-target shots across the first half before conceding two goals in two minutes midway through the second.

“Playing well is good, but if you don't win, it's for nothing, almost," Vancouver midfielder Julian Gressel said Thursday.

"So we've got to try and sustain that good first half into longer spells, especially at home so that teams come here and have a nightmare all 90 minutes. That's kind of what we want to be at. And unfortunately, we weren't in the first game.”

Fitness and game management were both issues against Real Salt Lake, Gressel added, and that's to be expected early in the season.

The coaching staff needs to be quicker to make substitutions when they see intensity flagging, Sartini said, and players need to realize they can't go full out for 90 minutes.

“We don’t have to go 100 miles an hour every time when we have the ball," the coach said. "We need to be more mature and sometimes dictate the tempo of the game.”

Getting a result in San Jose looms large for a Whitecaps team that went 2-11-4 on the road last season.

The group needs to get off to a solid start before away games become a talking point once again, White said.

“The fact that (last year,) we were like, ‘We need to win away from home, we can't win away from home.’ And I think, at times, that starts to snowball a bit," he said. "So I think it's important to come out of the gates early and get a result away from home.”

The 'Caps can't view road matches as "bonus games" but as prime opportunities to collect three points and move up the standings, Gressel said.

“It's a mentality. It's a winner's mentality that we want to establish here, to have week in week out," he said. "No matter if it's home, no matter if it's away, it doesn't matter — we want to win the game.”


PayPal Park, Saturday

INS AND OUTS: Deiber Caicedo remains out of the Whitecaps' lineup after undergoing knee surgery in July. The Colombian winger could return soon, though, after participating in full training with the club this week. San Jose will be without midfielder Judson Silva Tavares (knee), defender Nathan Cardoso (knee) and midfielder Niko Tsakiris (adductor).

HISTORY BOOKS: Vancouver boasts a 22-18-12 all-time record against San Jose and have gone 10-9-2 against the Earthquakes in MLS play. Last season, the two sides battled to a 3-3 draw in Vancouver on May 14 and the 'Quakes took a 2-0 victory in San Jose on Sept. 4.

HELLO AGAIN: The Whitecaps could go up against a familiar face in California. Canadian midfielder Michael Baldisimo came up through Vancouver's academy program and signed with the MLS club in July 2018. The 22-year-old from Burnaby, B.C., had one goal and three assists in 49 appearances for the 'Caps before signing with the 'Quakes in January.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 3, 2023.

Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press