VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Whitecaps can probably be forgiven if they have to look up directions to B.C. Place Stadium.
“Big, white building,” head coach Carl Robinson quipped when asked if he remembered what his team’s home looks like.
“Long time away,” added defender Kendall Waston.
It will have been 36 days since the Whitecaps (4-5-1) last played in front of their fans when the Major League Soccer club hosts Sporting Kansas City (6-2-4) on Saturday following a four-game road trip that saw them earn a respectable six out of 12 points while crisscrossing the continent.
The sojourn started with a 2-1 defeat to the Portland Timbers where the Whitecaps probably deserved a better fate before they secured a 2-1 victory over the Montreal Impact the following week. Vancouver then made it two wins in a row thanks to a 1-0 decision against the Colorado Rapids, and wrapped things up last Friday by falling 2-1 to the Houston Dynamo.
“The boys are playing with great confidence at the moment,” said Robinson. ”If you review the last four away games, probably the two best performances … we haven’t taken any points (in Portland and Houston).”
The Whitecaps feel they have found the right mix in terms of shape and personnel over the last month. Robinson has gone with a 4-1-4-1 formation as opposed to the 4-2-3-1 he’s predominantly used in the past, while the same 11 players have started the last four games after Vancouver used 10 different lineups in the club’s previous 10 combined CONCACAF Champions League and MLS matches.
“It was a long four-game road trip, but I thought it was productive,” said Whitecaps defender Jordan Harvey. ”We played some really good stuff. Hopefully that carries over to our home field.”
That home field is what cost Vancouver a playoff spot in 2016 after the club went just 6-5-6, the second-worst mark in the league.
“We need to be competitive away from home, which we certainly are,” said Robinson. ”But we’ve got to try and take care of business at home, which was our downfall last year.”
Sporting Kansas City comes to Vancouver sitting tops in the Western Conference following a 3-0 home victory over the Seattle Sounders on Wednesday where Gerso Fernandes scored three times in a 13-minute span in the second half.
“Very hard-working team,” said Whitecaps midfielder Andrew Jacobson. ”They’ve been playing one system with a lot of the same players for a long time. They know what they do well.
“That being said, I think we’re finding that similar rhythm. We know what we do well and we’re starting to execute that.”
Any game featuring Vancouver — currently sixth in the West — and Kansas City means there’s potential for another chapter in the ongoing feud between Waston and Sporting striker Dom Dwyer.
The pair has gone nose-to-nose on more than one occasion, with seemingly constant gamesmanship and verbal jousting par for the course between the five-foot-nine Dwyer and the six-foot-five Waston.
“It’s always nice to have a battle with the (opposing) players,” said Waston. ”Me as a defender, I like contact and all those things.
“It’s nothing personal. Everything stays on the pitch. He fights for his team and obviously I fight for mine.”
Notes: Vancouver midfielder Brek Shea has goals in back-to-back games coming off the bench as a second-half substitute since returning from a knee injury. … The Whitecaps host the Impact on Tuesday in the first leg of their Canadian Championship semifinal before welcoming D.C. United in MLS action on May 27. A busy stretch of five games in 15 days continues with the return leg against Montreal on May 30 and an MLS home game against Atlanta United on June 3.