VANCOUVER - Not long ago, it was taken for granted the Vancouver Whitecaps would struggle on the road.
A draw was often their best hope.
But heading into Wednesday's game against Sporting Kansas City, the Caps are starting to prove themselves capable of playing well away from B.C. Place Stadium — at least for the time being. The Whitecaps have a chance to earn their third win in four road games and, more importantly, extend their overall victory streak to four games.
"Our record at B.C. Place is very strong, but for us to move up and develop we need to consistently win on the road," coach Martin Rennie told reporters in Washington, D.C., last weekend. "I think we showed the qualities to do that, and we need to keep doing that each time we take to the field when we’re not at home."
The Whitecaps (7-5-4) are coming off a 1-0 victory over D.C. United in the U.S. capital on Saturday, when they delivered a solid effort that varied from the high-scoring affairs of other recent games. Rennie's crew also posted a road victory against the New York Red Bulls earlier this month, marking the club's first win over the perennial powerhouse.
"To win at D.C. and win at New York are two tough places to come win, and we’ve managed to come together as a team these last couple weeks on the road, and the performances have shown," Whitecaps goalkeeper Brad Knighton said after the win at D.C.
Sporting Kansas City (7-5-5) is coming off a win, a 3-2 decision over Columbus.
The Whitecaps have triumphed despite considerable adversity as four central defenders have battled injuries. The team's talent depth has started to show signs of strength in each third of the pitch, but more changes loom Wednesday.
Midfielder Russell Teibert of Niagara Falls, Ont., is away on international duty with Canada's Gold Cup entry, and central defender Carlyle Mitchell has joined Trinidad and Tobaga's national squad for the same tournament. Rookies Kekuta Manneh and Erik Hurtado are among the candidates to replace Teibert. Brad Rusin, who played for the first time in five games following a calf injury Saturday as he subbed on in midfield, is expected to return to his more familiar centre back spot.
With Teibert gone, the Whitecaps will be looking to midfielder Matt Watson to deliver another strong performance in midfield. The 28-year-old Bromsgrove, England native made a fine run onto a through ball that resulted in the penalty-kick on which Camilo scored to give Vancouver the win in Washington.
"(Watson) set the tone for the team because of (his work rate and work ethic), and I’m really proud of the effort that he put in," said Rennie. "And it would be interesting to see just how far he ran in that game, because it was non-stop."
Watson, who played under Rennie for three seasons with the second-tier Carolina RailHawks before moving to Vancouver with him in advance of the 2011 season, has played sparingly during his Whitecaps tenure. He is known more for defence, but has shown occasional flashes of offence.
The midfielder hopes the Whitecaps can combine the two elements more effectively as they attempt to extend their winning ways.
"We’re on a little bit of a run right now, and it’s just great for our confidence and showing that we can defend and we didn’t concede any goals (against Washington)," Watson told reporters. "At our home games, we’ve been conceding a lot of goals and scoring a lot, so (the tight defence) is definitely something we can build on."
Notes — Resting Whitecaps right defender Young-Pyo Lee will sit out his second straight game. ... Fourth Vancouver goalkeeper Simon Thomas is also away with the Canadian entry at the Gold Cup. ... Kansas City traded midfielder Michael Thomas to Toronto FC on Tuesday for a second-round pick in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft. ... Manneh has four goals and four assists in nine games with Vancouver's reserve squad. He also has a goal and an assist in limited MLS play.