Sports

Whitecaps know they need to bury chances

Head coach Carl Robinson has his Whitecaps in the fifth and final playoff spot in the MLS
Head coach Carl Robinson has his Whitecaps in the fifth and final playoff spot in the MLS's Western Conference, one point ahead of Vancouver's Northwest rival Portland Timbers.
— image credit: YouTube screenshot (Whitecaps FC)

By Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER - The Vancouver Whitecaps know they have to be more ruthless in front of the goal.

They nearly ran the Seattle Sounders out of B.C. Place Stadium in the opening 30 minutes last weekend with their attacking style, but couldn't capitalize on a number of clear-cut chances and settled for a 2-2 draw.

Creating those opportunities is one thing, but the Whitecaps understand they must be better finishers in order to climb up the Major League Soccer standings.

"We have to continue to try to take our chances," said Vancouver captain Jay DeMerit. "Over the past couple weeks we've really created a lot of them, now the final step in that is to put a few more in the net."

The Whitecaps (4-2-5) will be looking to do just that on Sunday when they travel south to Oregon to take on the rival Portland Timbers (3-3-7).

"It's part and parcel of our DNA as a team now to start on the front foot, be a forward-thinking team and try and go for the throat," said Whitecaps assistant coach Martyn Pert. "We've got the surprise element at the moment because people are looking at us and probably weren't tipping us to play that offensively.

"(Head coach Carl Robinson's) philosophy is to be on the front foot and play attacking football. You're going to create chances."

But burying those chances has been a problem.

Vancouver could have had at least four goals in a 1-0 road victory over the Columbus Crew on May 10, and also wasted a number of opportunities in the second leg of the Amway Canadian Championship semifinal four days later against Toronto FC.

Then last week, the Whitecaps could have easily been up 3-0 on the Sounders after half an hour, but they were betrayed by their final touch on numerous occasions.

"We've just got to focus on doing what we've been doing," said Whitecaps striker Erik Hurtado, who has three goals in three games in all competitions. "We're attacking ... we just have to finish our chances more often."

Vancouver currently occupies the fifth and final playoff spot in the West, a point up on Portland with two games in hand. The L.A. Galaxy, meanwhile, are two points back, but have a game in hand themselves and are also in action Sunday.

Looking up in the standings, the Whitecaps are also just a single point behind both the Colorado Rapids and FC Dallas, with games in hand on both clubs.

"There's a good team spirit, and I don't use the term loosely because there is a general feel-good factor about the place," said Whitecaps defender Andy O'Brien. "The chances that we've created, and with a little bit of luck the results could have been a little bit different. But taking everything into consideration we're pleased with how we've done so far."

Sunday will also mark the second game for both Vancouver and Portland in the Cascadia Cup, a mini-tournament played between the Whitecaps, Timbers and Sounders for bragging rights in the Pacific Northwest. The team with the most points in games between the three clubs is crowned champion, something that Vancouver has accomplished four times, including last season.

"We've got to start well. We know to expect a battle against Portland, especially at their ground," said DeMerit. "They're a big, physical team. They like to get the ball down and play as well so we're going to have to stay up and not give their good players time and space because they can hurt you."

While the Whitecaps have not lost in MLS competition in their last five (2-0-3), the Timbers enter the derby clash unbeaten in six (3-0-3), including back-to-back road victories.

"We're looking forward to Vancouver, we know with a win there we can jump them in the table," Timbers head coach Caleb Porter told the club's official website. "And with our fans behind us, the boys will be flying."

Portland, which will be playing its third game in eight days, got two goals from six-foot-four striker Fanendo Adi in a 2-0 midweek victory over Chivas USA, his first two with the club.

"He's a big, athletic guy. He gives a different element for them," said DeMerit. "Most of the guys that play up front for them are tricky guys or guys that have a bit of flair.

"We're going to have to battle him, stick with his pace and make him play."

The atmosphere inside B.C. Place last week against Seattle was electric and O'Brien said the Whitecaps expect the same in Portland.

"It's one of the beauties of where we located that we get that because coming from Europe that's part and parcel of the game," said O'Brien, a veteran of the English Premier League. "I must admit the abuse that you get from away supporters is not as bad as in Europe, but it's certainly one of the fixtures that you look for when they're released because you know they're going to be great games."

DeMerit said it will be crucial for the Whitecaps to continue to play the attacking, aggressive style that made them successful through 11 games this season if they're going to pick up their second road win of the campaign.

"(The Timbers) will make it hard for us, especially in the beginning with the crowd on their side," he said. "It's up to us to make sure we battle that back but still try to stay expressive on our end and not sit back and give them the ball.

"We've got to make sure we continue to stay at a high tempo both offensively and defensively to give ourselves the best chance."

Notes: The Whitecaps have never beaten the Timbers in MLS play, including three draws last season. ... Vancouver plays at the Philadelphia Union on June 7 before MLS goes on its World Cup break. The Whitecaps don't play at home again until June 25 against the Montreal Impact.

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