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The Whitecaps know they can't keep relying on others. With three defeats in their last four MLS matches, they know they need to start getting the job done themselves and pronto, but defender Jordan Harvey is confident the 'Caps will soon get the wheels back on the wagon and get back to much needed winning ways. "Every time we've gone through a loss or some sort of bad spell, we've come back on track," Harvey told reporters. "That's a credit to the consistency and not changing anything because that's what's really helped us throughout this year." The bounce back was meant to come last week at home to New York City. We all know how that ended. The less said about that now, the better. The new place for the fighting finish to begin comes tonight in San Jose. And that in itself is not going to be easy. Never mind the fact that the Whitecaps haven't won at the Quakes in their previous six attempts, San Jose are fighting for their playoff survival. A 'Caps win clinches them a playoff place, while a Quakes win moves them to within two points of Vancouver. It couldn't be tighter and the Whitecaps know they're going to be in for one hell of a battle. "It's down to the wire," admitted Harvey. "Guys are fighting for their jobs if they're out of the playoff race. If they're in it they're fighting for the playoffs. Or, like us, we're fighting for a top two spot and potentially the Supporters' Shield. "Everybody's fighting for something, everybody's got something to lose, so we're going to go in like we have in road games and really be determined and organized and see what we come away with." It would take quite the sequence of results in this last month of the season for Vancouver to not make the playoffs now, in both their own games and others, but it remains a possibility. A possibility they can kill off by the end of Saturday night. If that isn't enough to give the squad the kick up the ass they need, then I don't know what will. In reality, they don't need that kick. Everyone at the Whitecaps is painfully aware of how important the next four games are for their season. "We just need to get back on form," Harvey added. "I'm really looking forward to this weekend because everyone was hungry this week, the training was sharp and going in to San Jose we have a good opportunity." Vancouver and San Jose have served up some battles on the pitch in recent seasons with less to play for, although a lot of the key instigators in those games have moved on. They've also served up some shocking games down in California, a couple of which I've had the misfortune to be at. You have to feel it's the former that we'll see tonight and that's exactly what goalkeeper David Ousted is expecting. "They're scrappy," Ousted said of the Quakes. "They're pushing for their push into the playoffs and it's going to be a tough game. We know we have the quality to go and get a win. We just need to find that energy, to find that intensity and to match their scrappiness." Vancouver certainly need to be up for the scrap not only in this game but their remaining four matches this season. But Ousted also cautioned that it needs to be controlled if they're to come away with the wins they need. "Urgency is important at this part of the season," Ousted added. "Every team we're meeting is chasing the playoffs, is pushing and is going to have that urgency, so we definitely need to have it as well. "It doesn't have to be a panic or something that's counter effective but knowing that going into these games we need to be on top of our game." The 'Caps remaining league matches are evenly split. Two at home and two away. Those road games both come at places that Vancouver have yet failed to record a victory, San Jose and Dallas, but that doesn't faze Ousted in the slightest. "We've showed this year that we're really good on the road," Ousted said. "We've showed that we have the mentality that we can win anywhere we go, so I'm not that worried going in to away games. It's some tough places we play but I've got confidence in that we can get away with three points." It's a view shared by winger Kekuta Manneh, who feels that no matter where the Whitecaps are playing this month, they have to stick to their gameplan and use their attacking strengths to get the wins they're looking for. "For us, we're going to try and approach every game the same, whether we're home or away," Manneh stated. "We need to win the [san Jose] game if we want stay in the title hunt. We're going to out, attacking minded." But as we've seen in recent games, playing in that manner may generate chances galore for the Whitecaps but it doesn't guarantee that any of them are going to be put into the back of the net. And while the goals haven't been coming at one end of the pitch, they have been at the other with two goals given up to both Houston and New York in the recent losses and three goals conceded twice to Seattle in two matches. Both are aspects of the Whitecaps game we weren't seeing even just a few weeks ago. "It goes both ways," Harvey admitted. "We've given up goals that at the beginning or the middle of the season we haven't given up. We need to address everything and really get back to the basics and what we do well, which is being organized, hard to break down and we get chances. That's the most important thing." The lack of goals for Vancouver may put additional pressure on the Whitecaps defence, but with 11 clean sheets already recorded this season, Ousted feels he's capable of holding up his end of the bargain to reduce what's needed at the other end of the park. But he's confident a change to the 'Caps fortunes is about to play out. "Obviously you need to keep more clean sheets to get points," Ousted said. "But we've got confidence in the goalscoring ability in this team. We're creating chances and I feel like the goals are coming, but we need to tighten up as a backline as well. Not let in too many goals and if it's a one-nil win, it's one-nil win. That's going to be ok by me."
The 'Caps led the Western Conference in draws last season with 14. Still not the highest in MLS, that fell to Chicago Fire with a staggering 18 of them. Both teams certainly provided punters with a go to bet on their fixed odds coupons. Vancouver's draw total was three more than any other side that made the playoffs, and despite the 28 points lost in those drawn games, the Whitecaps still made the postseason and recorded their highest ever MLS points total in the process with 50 points. But you couldn't help but fall into that traditional pastime of football fans and wonder "what if". What would their positioning, points total and playoff experience have been like if they had only managed to turn some of those draws into wins? It would have certainly made the end of the season and that final win against Colorado Rapids a lot less stressful and maybe we wouldn't have been Geigered in Dallas. For the Whitecaps to build upon last season's performance and do even better this year, those draws had to go. They have and making that happen was a key focus from Carl Robinson and his coaching team during the offseason. "It was, without a doubt," Robinson admitted to AFTN. "People can say you're unbeaten, and three draws is three points, or you can go win one, lose one and have an extra game as a bonus game. "We drew a number of games in the first year I was here. I tired to say if we can win half of them games, then we'll obviously be in a better position, and that's what we've done. We've lost a number of games this year, we know that, and we've won a number of games, so the low draws doesn't really bother me." The Whitecaps have turned things around dramatically, going from the highest draw total in the Western Conference last year to the lowest number of draws in all of Major League Soccer this season, tied with Seattle. That number is three, and with five games remaining, if things stay that way, that would be the lowest ever number of draws in a season since Vancouver came to MLS in 2011. Seattle and New England had four in 2014, matching Colorado's total in 2012. The 'Caps had been steady in their numbers during their MLS era up until last season. From ten in their first two years to nine in 2013. Defender Jordan Harvey has been here mostly through it all and for him, this year's dramatic shift comes down to one thing, the winning mentality that abounds at the club right now. "For me, it's that desire to win and not settle for a draw," Harvey told us. "On the road, you've seen some really disciplined performances and those have led to wins this year. But at home especially, we're going for wins every time, because draws in this league don't bump you up. It's the wins that do. Even on the road we've pushed it. We just haven't been complacent." Those road wins have certainly helped. Vancouver have seemingly found the winning formula for how to execute successful tactics away from home. They've ground out results and found ways to turn what would have been draws last season into three points. Just cast your mind back to the start of the season and those huge 1-0 road victories at Chicago and Orlando. Those wins kickstarted the 'Caps season and they haven't looked back since. The 'Caps have already set a club MLS record with seven away victories this season and there's still two games to go. A win against New York City at BC Place on Saturday would set a club points record in the MLS era, with four games to go. The losses may have increased slightly, up three on last year but still their second best number to date, and Vancouver have also already recorded their most ever wins in a season, currently standing at 15. Finding a way to turn those draws into wins has been behind a lot of that. The clean sheets help too. David Ousted has 11 on the year, coming on the back of a league leading 13 last season, and he echoes Harvey's thoughts as to what's been behind the 'Caps turnaround. "I put it down to mentality," the great Dane told us. "I put it down to not coming in for a draw anywhere. If we're away, if we're at home. Obviously some of the losses we'd have liked to have drawn those instead. But it's down to mentality going in to games thinking we can win it and we still believe that these last five games, so hopefully the mentality doesn't change." So mentality, a desire to get the win no matter where they're playing and the belief they can do that all play a part but another key element behind the reduction in draws, and the clean sheets, has been the defensive play coming from the whole team. Midfielders and strikers have taken on their defensive responsibilities better than we've seen in recent years. Tracking back to mark runners, winning tackles, hitting on the counter. The effort from the whole team has been massive and several players have really improved that aspect of their game, with Darren Mattocks and Kekuta Manneh near the top of that list. Both still have work to do in that regard, but Manneh acknowledges it's an important aspect of his game and vital to the success of the side. "It's the teamwork," Manneh told AFTN. "We're doing it as a team now, attacking as a team and defending as a team. We've had a lot of clean sheets. It's not just the defenders that are defending but the whole team's come together. "It's amazing this year. Everything's just clicking for us. We're playing as a team and everything's just working for us right now." It certainly is. And long may it continue.
REPORT: Vancouver and Portland served up a fiery friendly on Sunday night in their first game of the 2015 version of the Timbers annual preseason tournament. Two sending offs, eight bookings and 43 fouls later, a first half Pa Modou Kah header was what separated the teams on the scoresheet, as the Whitecaps kicked off their defence of the tournament with a 1-0 win. The Whitecaps went for a strong starting line up, and one that wouldn't look too much out of place against Toronto for First Kick, and their performance did their cause a lot of favours. Portland certainly started the livelier and looked the more dangerous side, but Vancouver had a few forays forward of their own. The Timbers had a good chance in the 16th minute when the ball broke to Alvas Powell just inside the box but the Jamaican blasted wildly over. A minute later he had a similar opportunity but with the same end result. Vancouver were coming more into the game and looking dangerous up both wings. They were also looking physical with both Kendall Waston and Pa Modou Kah putting in some crunching tackles. Portland's midfield has already been hit hard with injuries to Diego Valeri and Will Johnson, and they suffered another blow in the 26th minute when Ben Zemanski was stretchered after going to ground away from the action. Kekuta Manneh was getting the better of Powell on the left side of the pitch and he got past his man once again before whipping in a dangerous ball to the back post but there were no takers. The Whitecaps got the breakthrough their play deserved in the 31st minute when Kah rose unchallenged against his former team and powered home a perfect Mauro Rosales cross Neither side were able to carve out any real chances for the remainder of the half and the 'Caps headed in happy with a one goal advantage. The second half continued in a high pace and with some feisty tackles flying in from both sides. Clear cut chances were at a premium however, with the best of them falling to Vancouver. Manneh continued his good work from the first half and drove over the bar six minutes in, then came close again as the hour mark approached when he got on an excellent ball from Pedro Morales. The game had shown signs of boiling over and so it came to pass in the 60th minute when Rodney Wallace picked up a second yellow for kicking out at Waston. With Portland reduced to ten men, Vancouver tried to turn the screw, with the best chance falling to substitute Erik Hurtado in the 70th minute. The Whitecaps were controlling the game fairly easily but David Ousted had to act quickly to parry a fierce Dairon Asprilla rocket in the 86th minute. As the minutes ticked down there was still time for some sparks to fly. Nicolas Mezquida went flying into a challenge on Diego Chara with two minutes left on the clock. The Colombian went as if he'd been shot and rolled around like he was trying to put out a fire. Mezquida picked up a yellow for the challenge and so did Portland's captain Liam Ridgewell for mouthing off at the ref. In the confusion, the fourth official pointed out to the referee that that was Ridgewell's second booking and Portland were down to nine men for the remaining few minutes. As Vancouver took the ball to the corner flag, Maxi Urruti chopped down Manneh at the corner flag. The young Gambian was incensed at the needless challenge way after the final whistle and had to be calmed down by Kah. So a great win, in what was a fantastic game of football. May not have been pretty at times, but it's games like this, with the fight, passion and intensity, that will help grow the game in North America. Just wait till the real action starts. FINAL SCORE: Portland Timbers 0 Vancouver Whitecaps 1 PORTLAND: Adam Kwarasey; Alvas Powell, Nat Borchers, Liam Ridgewell, Jorge Villafana; Darlington Nagbe, Diego Chara, Ben Zemanski (Jack Jewsbury 25), Rodney Wallace; Gaston Fernandez (Dairon Asprilla 64), Fanendo Adi (Maximiliano Urruti 72) [subs Not Used: Andrew Weber, Norberto Paparatto, Jeanderson, Danny O'Rourke, Nick Besler, George Fochive, Michael Nanchoff, Schillo Tshuma] VANCOUVER: David Ousted; Steven Beitashour, Pa Modou Kah (Diego Rodriguez 66), Kendall Waston, Jordan Harvey; Matias Laba (Gershon Koffie 76), Russell Teibert, Mauro Rosales (Erik Hurtado 58), Pedro Morales (Nicolas Mezquida 76), Kekuta Manneh; Octavio Rivero (Darren Mattocks 76) [subs Not Used: Paolo Tornaghi, Sam Adekugbe, Christian Dean, Ethen Sampson, Robert Earnshaw, Marco Bustos] REACTION: CARL ROBINSON On the game and what this means for the actual league meetings between the teams: "It's hard to tell, but a good game of football today, I have to say, by two good teams. These games are never going to be easy. These games are never going to be friendlies and it showed today. Obviously there were one or two sending offs in the game but then from our perspective we scored and obviously won the game, but more importantly we played pretty well when we had the ball." On being in control of the game in the second half: "The only disappointing thing I have is that we didn't manage to get the second goal because I think we deserved it and warranted it with our play. Unfortunately it didn't come and that's stuff we've got to work on." Play of Kekuta Manneh and how different he looks from last season: "He's been excellent. A very mature performance from the young boy today especially. He's come back in preseason in the right frame of mind. He's come back with the bit between his teeth. He's fit, and you see today, when he's fit, he's happy, and he performs like that. My job is to try and keep him like that for 34 games this season." On what Manneh needs to do to play well but also hit the back of the net: "There will be performances this year where he doesn't play as well as he did tonight and he'll score two goals and I'm sure everyone will say that he's this and he's that. But when he plays like that, that's all I want him to do. Because when he plays like that he'll score goals and there's no reason why he can't get a number of goals this year. Confidencewise, he's playing with confidence. And he's fit and he's happy. If you've got your players happy, then they'll perform to the levels that they should do. My job is to do that." Was that the Kah hat-trick - card, goal, calming Kekuta?! "That's perfect. We'll have some fun this year, won't we?! We'll certainly have some fun." On the card danger of Kah and Waston playing together: "It will. I thought there were areas for improvement, as there were with all units of the team. They're strong. A very strong pair. And Diego coming on as well. That was a decision because I didn't want to lose Kah because I thought the referee was a little card-happy maybe, sending people off. I didn't want him evening things up, so it was a decision I made. But they will get booked this year. There's no doubt about it, because we've got good attacking players in this league and good attackers manage to deceive defenders sometimes. It's important I carry five [central] defenders and I've certainly got five good ones." What did he learn about his group from the game? "That we're tough. That physically we were able to deal with a tough match away from home. Every match is going to be like this away from home. We've got to be able to fight and dig and scrap and run, but play our football at the right times and I think we did that, especially going in at half time 1-0 up. It was a much of a muchness kind of game, there wasn't much in it. We managed to get a great goal from a super ball from Mauro and Pa's header. The second half, I thought we were excellent. I really did. The change in numbers changed the dynamic of the game slightly but the performance was thoroughly professional." On Nico standing up to bigger players: "Imagine if he was Kendall's size what he'd do! He's brilliant. He has a heart of gold. You want guys like that in your team and we've certainly got a good group in there." On Rivero and the other new Caps getting a taste of the Cascadia atmosphere: "It's important for all the new guys coming in to realise what it's like to play [in Portland]. It's a great place to play. It's passionate, it's exciting. You hear supporters giving you abuse and things like that. You've got to get used to that." On plans and hopes for the remaining two games in the tournament: "I thought [the first game between Chicago and Stabaek] was a decent game. It was two very different styles of play within the game. We'll prepare for Wednesday's game because it's going to be a tough game. I'll decide what I'll do with the personnel there, but the guys that didn't play today will probably get a run out on Wednesday. I think it's an important game for us, against a very good Stabaek team as well." PA MODOU KAH On the perfect return to Portland for him: "Soccer is a little bit bizarre sport because it's always something like when you go to your old club it always seems to be that you will score. I always watch the game on television and I tell my wife, how is it that when you always go back to your ex club, you score. It's just in the script I guess. On how he saw his goal: "That was a tremendous delivery from Mauro and when you have a guy like Mauro with his qualities and his crosses, it's a dream for any soccer player so he put it on the right spot and it was just for me to attack the ball and I put it in the net." On the intensity of a preseason game being like a league game: "The boys, we rolled up our sleeves and everybody fought. We fought as a team, which is very important. Everybody knows when you come down to Portland, they like to play, but for us, it's the preseason, but the season is a week away so we have to fight and work together as a team. Today we played well. Every game against your rival is competitive, so you have to be at your best and today we showed why we are Vancouver." On whether to celebrate against his old team: "If I score, I will celebrate, but since this is a preseason game, there's no need for celebration. If it was a regular season game, yes, I will celebrate because, with all due respect for Portland, I feel that when you play a game and you score a goal, you should celebrate." On Manneh and Hurtado not taking chances to add second: "For me, when you have those chances, you have to finish it because those chances are the decider of the game, whether you let them back in the game or not. So when you kill the game with 2-0, with ten men, then it's a lot more easier to play, so that's something we need to work on." How comfortable does he feel already playing with Waston? "The big man is a beast. When you have a guy along like that, it's good for the back line. Both of us are aggressive players but we know how to play football, so far it's just about keeping working, getting the chemistry, the chemistry's going good. Both of us are willing to and we listen to each other and we make each other better everyday, which is important. You also have Christian Dean and Diego Rodriguez in the background, so no place is safe, so every day you got to show your best in training." KEKUTA MANNEH Did that feel like a preseason or a regular season game out there? "Obviously it's a preseason game but we don't take any game lightly for the preseason. The preparation starts from day one. It's just like any other big game for us. It's just like we're fighting for the playoffs, so it's important for us that we play the right way. We've been saying all year, do things right, make sure we perform. It doesn't matter what game it is. There's no friendly game for us. It just felt like we're in the season." On his own strong performance: "Unfortunately I wasn't able to manage to score a goal. It's just one of those things. I just need to keep my composure, try to finish it next time and just go back to the drawing board and practice work on that. I thought the team played really well considering it's an away game and we're trying to get ready for the season and trying to fit in the new players that we have too. I thought they were fantastic. They fitted in really well. Obviously we need to work on some stuff for everyone but I thought it looked great tonight." On Kah's headed goal: "We've been working on it and I feel that we're going to score a lot of goals from set pieces because we've got those big guys on the team now. So goals are going to come from different places now." On the difference between him last preseason and this: "I feel great. Thanks to the medical staff and the staff here. I've been working with them in the offseason and you can definitely see it paid off. I feel really fit. I was never really tired for the whole game today. It was great."
"Right now, I'm not sure what's going to happen but I'm working to get my passport with the US and we'll see what happens after that," Manneh told AFTN at training on Monday. "I should get it in a year and a half, that's the date it's scheduled for, so that would be good. "There's a chance I might play for Gambia as well. You never know, Canada as well because I'm going to be here next year as well hopefully. So there's a chance!" I'd put the chance of the latter down to very slim to nil to be perfectly honest. We just threw that question in there to titillate! But have US Soccer or any of the other footballing authorities contacted Manneh about his future at international level? "Not yet. They've spoken to my agent. He really didn't give me any details but he told me that they contacted him. He's just letting me focus on my soccer right now and not worry about all that stuff. So I'll just let him do that job. That's what he's paid for!" All the talk of Manneh's international future is partly understandable. He is an exciting talent and if he reaches his full potential then he will be one hell of a player. That's still a very big 'if' right now though. Manneh has a lot to work on in his game, particularly looking up when he has the ball at his feet for other options than just running at defenders and the defensive awareness that every player needs to have. To his credit, the 19-year-old is well aware of this and has been working hard this season to improve. "I'm really lucky and fortunate to have the coaching staff we have here," Manneh told reporters yesterday. "The experienced players we have, all the lads have been helping us. Just taking the advice. [i've] been working on my finishing a lot in practice and it's just paying off. "It's not just taking in information, you've got to apply it once you take it. I feel it's been better for us this season, the young players, especially me. We've been given a lot of information this year. It's a little difficult to take them all in, but we've got to take the good ones and let the bad ones go, but I think we made, for me as an individual, the right choices in the advice that they gave me." Manneh was underused under Martin Rennie last season and you do have to wonder just how much he actually learned and developed during his first season in the pro ranks. At least all the talk about going to play in the Premiership has died down. Such chatter can only be disruptive for a young player and can let them get ahead of themselves. That's something that Carl Robinson will have undoubtedly seen during his long playing career in England and the 'Caps coach and the club don't want to happen to a talent like Manneh. "Obviously the 45 minutes he showed on Friday, he was a constant threat throughout the game," Robinson told reporters at training on Monday. "He can be a lot better by the way. My job is to bring him back down to earth because you gentlemen will build him up and you'll build him up maybe to knock him down at some stage as well. "I've got to keep his feet on the ground. He's got the world at his feet, he really has, but it's important I don't let him get there before he's ready because if I do then he'll lose his way. And I don't want the kid to lose his way because he's a very special talent. Not just for this group of players but for many years to come." Manneh has had more minutes this year, but the expected output hasn't been there. Whether this was due to a stunt in his development last year or the player himself is open to debate. A bit of both is the obvious answer, and a niggling back injury in the preseason that set back his fitness didn't help matters. The player and club are at least on the same page when it comes to his future development. He needs to work hard, learn the game, make sure he doesn't become a one-trick pony, and bide his time. Good things come to those who wait - and work hard. "We've got to teach him the understanding of the game, we've got to teach him what it's like to be a professional, we've got to teach him what it's like live off the field as well," Robinson said. "It's not as simple as just picking him on a Saturday or a Friday and saying to him 'go out and play'. It's an important part of his development off the field as well as on the field. "It's taken time. He's very engaged with it. He wants to learn, he wants to get better, he wants to take things on board. He's a pleasure to work with." Manneh's international future may be undecided, but he knows where his immediate club future lies to undertake all this development and that's in Vancouver. Talk of moves abroad and to bigger clubs is still very premature. It's a fact that Manneh seems to now be aware of, but he also knows that being at a successful Vancouver Whitecaps side can only put himself in the shop window for a dream move. "I definitely want to be on this squad and on this team," Manneh said of being in Vancouver. "I want to score goals for the team and I want to provide for them. I want to win trophies for this team as well. It's a work in progress but there's a chance we can win something this year. We just need to keep doing what we do best and hopefully we can get something this year."