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Road Performance Will Be the Key

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There have been plenty of electrons devoted this season to the Vancouver Whitecaps and their home field advantage under the Bell hole at BC Place. But it's been the club's road performance thus far that's kept them in playoff contention in 2014.

Vancouver Whitecaps DM Matias Laba sends the ball upfield versus Chivas USA.
Vancouver Whitecaps DM Matias Laba sends the ball upfield versus Chivas USA.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Before turning our attention to the Caps (version 4.0), let's develop some context and start at the beginning, shall we?

It's a painful trip back in time, and more impressionable readers might just want to skip down to the start of the next paragraph. Back in 2011, Vancouver's inaugural year in Major League Soccer, the Whitecaps finished with an excruciating -20 goal differential (GD) from their 17 road matches. It's hardly a surprise when you look at their road record for that year: 0 Wins, 12 Losses, and 5 Draws. Five measly points from 17 matches.

The Caps celebrated 2012 with their first-ever MLS road victory - winning 1-0 over Chivas early in the season. The bright start continued for a few weeks, and Vancouver racked up two wins, a draw, and just a single loss in their first four road matches that year. But, and there almost always seems to be one if you're a fan of the blue-and-white, Vancouver would manage just one more road victory the rest of the way through the 2012 campaign, en route to slightly improved road record of 3 Wins, 10 Losses, and 4 Draws. Their road GD improved accordingly, to a still-disappointing -14.

Last year, we saw a breakout of sorts for Vancouver. The Whitecaps won more and lost fewer on the road, amassing a road record of 4-9-4. At first glance, that's not so special, but in MLS road victories are rarer than problem-free days on the city's Skytrain system. The big improvement, however, came in the road goal differential department - a rather impressive betterment to -5.

So, where are we today?

The Whitecaps are currently at 2 Wins, 2 Losses, and 6 Draws from their ten road matches so far, and the GD is at a rather stellar -1. By comparison, Western Conference leaders and overall Supporters' Shield leaders Seattle Sounders sport a road GD of 0. Eastern Conference leaders Sporting Kansas City now sit at +4. Only two other MLS franchises are in positive territory: LA Galaxy and the resurgent D.C. United.

Can the Whitecaps keep it up through the rest of the season and continue along the road GD trajectory they're currently on? It looks like it'll be a tough ask.

The Caps went 2-1-3 through their first six road matches this season. Since then, they've cooled off somewhat - going 0-1-3 in their last four away games.

Vancouver has seven road matches remaining. On the face of it, it would appear that the Caps have three matches that are highly winnable: Chicago, Chivas, and San Jose.

Although the match versus the Fire is a mid-week affair with Vancouver coming off a three-day break between Dallas (in Vancouver) and Chicago, the Fire have a short turnaround following the Caps, and might have to save some resources for when they host Columbus three days later. Chivas have a league-worst home GD of -9 so far, and San Jose? Well... it''s San Jose.

The remaining road matches see the Caps visit LA, Dallas, Portland, and Seattle. While a road win certainly isn't out of the question within Cascadia, the Caps won't be coming in as overwhelming favourites.

Can the Caps exceed their club record (MLS) of four road wins in a season? Possibly. And will they hover in and around zero on road GD? That looks to be a lot less likely.

Of course, the run for the playoffs will overshadow these questions. However, if the Caps are to indeed qualify for the post-season, it'll be the road matches that will be the crucial deciders.