A strength for Whitecaps last season, defence a headache so far in 2016 - InfoNews

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A strength for Whitecaps last season, defence a headache so far in 2016

Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Pedro Morales (77) walks away as members of the Portland Timbers celebrate a goal by forward Jack McInerney (99) during first half MLS Soccer action in Portland, Ore., on May 22, 2016. An air-tight defence got the Vancouver Whitecaps to new heights last season, it's been a much different story so far in 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Steve Dykes
May 27, 2016 - 2:29 PM

VANCOUVER - An airtight defence got the Vancouver Whitecaps to new heights last season.

The club tied for the fewest goals against and most shutouts on the way to a second-place finish in Major League Soccer's Western Conference. It has been a much different story so far in 2016.

The Whitecaps have already allowed 24 goals through 14 games — tied for the most in MLS — compared to the 36 they surrendered in 34 matches last season.

And while there have been controversial refereeing decisions, great individual play from opponents and some bad luck, there has also been a maddening number of mistakes from a side that recorded 13 clean sheets a year ago.

"Too many goals," said Vancouver head coach Carl Robinson. "If you look at individual errors ... far, far too many. We need to cut them out. If we cut them out we've got half a chance."

A perfect example of what has ailed the Whitecaps was on display in last weekend's 4-2 loss at Portland as Vancouver gifted the Timbers two early goals on what should have been simple plays.

"We're a team that prides itself on clean sheets," said Vancouver defender Jordan Harvey, whose club has just three shutouts this season. "We're giving up too many goals and it needs to be locked down."

Against Portland, veteran defender Pa-Modou Kah took a poor touch on the ball and then compounded the problem by giving away a penalty inside the first five minutes before counterpart Kendall Waston fell down later in the half on the sequence that led to a second goal.

"You can't legislate for mistakes, but we're in it together," said Robinson, whose team saw a three-game winning streak come to an end. "You deal with them and you move on."

The next test for the Whitecaps (6-6-2) comes Saturday at home against the Houston Dynamo (3-7-2), a team that parted ways with head coach Owen Coyle this week and has lost all six of its road fixtures.

Vancouver beat Houston 1-0 at B.C. Place Stadium earlier this season in a game decided by a controversial penalty that resulted in striker Masato Kudo getting retroactively suspended for diving.

Despite the Dynamo's poor form, the Whitecaps know they can't take anything for granted.

"Houston is a good team," said Vancouver forward Kekuta Manneh, who has three goals over the last two games. "They're very physical and very direct. We're just going to have to figure out ways where we can exploit their weaknesses."

The Whitecaps will be without three key players for the foreseeable future because of international callups ahead of next month's Copa America tournament.

Waston and midfielder Christian Bolanos have joined up with Costa Rica, while striker Blas Perez is away with Panama.

"Big players for us," said Manneh. "They've been contributing ... not even their play, just the leadership.

"They set the example for us. It's going to be a big loss, but it's a team. I think we have enough quality players to come in and fill the spots for them."

Notes: After Kah struggled against Portland and with Waston away, Robinson could start midfielder Andrew Jacobson in the heart of defence alongside Tim Parker against Houston. ... Vancouver right back Fraser Aird is available for selection after serving a one-match ban. ... Following the Dynamo game, the Whitecaps will travel to the nation's capital to take on the NASL's Ottawa Fury in the first leg of their Amway Canadian Championship semifinal on Wednesday. It will mark the Whitecaps' third flight across the continent this season, but should give Robinson the opportunity to sprinkle some young players into his lineup. "Our travel schedule, it's a nightmare," Robinson said with a smile. "Why not (go to Ottawa)? When it's a nightmare let's make things harder."

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News from © The Canadian Press, 2016
The Canadian Press

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