Before his Vancouver Whitecaps even stepped on the pitch Wednesday against the Seattle Sounders, head coach Carl Robinson already had one eye on the team’s next match — and was dreading it.
Not because of the opponent, but rather the long trek just to get there.
“(It’s) like going to Azerbaijan,” Robinson joked of Saturday’s game at Orlando City SC. “It’s a nightmare.”
Now, getting from Vancouver to central Florida isn’t quite the same as venturing to Baku on the shores of the Caspian Sea. However, the roughly 12-hour, door-to-door travel day flying commercial with a layover in Houston was always going to be a challenge.
And when factoring in it will be the Whitecaps’ third game in eight days against a rested and desperate team fighting for its playoff life, the task becomes even more difficult.
Just don’t tell that to the players.
“We’re going in there to win. I’ll say it straight out,” said goalkeeper David Ousted. “We’ve been good at going away from home and taking those games head on.”
Vancouver (10-9-5) enters the weekend occupying the sixth and final playoff spot in Major League Soccer’s Western Conference after defeating the Houston Dynamo 2-1 last Saturday before battling back with 10 men to tie Seattle 1-1 and grab four of a possible six points from the two-game homestand.
The Whitecaps are just six back of the Sounders, who sit atop the crowded West standings, with anywhere from one to three games in hand on four of the five teams ahead of them in the table.
They’re also just two points up on seventh-place San Jose, although the Earthquakes have played two more games.
“We feel full of energy,” said Vancouver striker Fredy Montero, who has 11 goals on the season and five in his last five games. “If you feel tired, you just talk to the coach and the other guy’s going to step in and do the best that he can.”
Robinson made just one change against Seattle from the Houston game, but promised to pepper his starting 11 against Orlando (8-10-7) with new faces after the Whitecaps looked flat in the first half against the Sounders.
“There will be players playing in different positions,” said Robinson. “We’re a little bit banged up.”
The red card issued to midfielder Tony Tchani on Wednesday complicates matters further, with the coach suggesting that Aaron Maund could see his first action after being acquired from Real Salt Lake earlier this month.
Brek Shea, who was dealt to Vancouver from Orlando before the season for Giles Barnes, also looks set to return after sitting out the last two.
“There will be a number of rotations on Saturday,” said Robinson, whose team owns the best road mark of any West team currently above the playoff line at 4-6-2.
The temperature at game time is expected to be around 30 C with the humidity, but playing in tough conditions is nothing new for the Whitecaps after picking up a 4-0 victory over FC Dallas in stifling Texas last month.
Saturday’s hosts have a good home record since joining MLS in 2015, including 6-3-4 this season, but are 0-2-3 at Orlando City Stadium over the last five.
Orlando also has just two victories from the last 18 games overall (2-9-7) after starting the season an impressive 6-1-0, and are winless in six (0-4-2) following last weekend’s 1-1 home draw with the Columbus Crew.
Currently eighth in the East, Orlando is five points back of the Montreal Impact for the conference’s final playoff spot.
But despite the struggles, the club still has a lot of talent up top, including Canadian international Cyle Larin, Dom Dwyer, Carlos Rivas and Brazil legend Kaka.
“We know the offensive threat they pose,” said Ousted. “They’re going to put us under a lot of pressure.
“I believe that if we approach that game correctly we can go there and get points.”
Notes: Larin leads Orlando with nine goals, but has just one over his last eight appearances. … Whitecaps midfielder Matias Laba underwent surgery to repair the torn ACL in his right knee on Thursday. The 25-year-old Argentine will be out until next spring. … Vancouver doesn’t play again until Sept. 9 at home against Real Salt Lake to open a stretch of four straight at B.C. Place Stadium.
Follow @JClipperton_CP on Twitter