Before stepping onto the field for the first competitive match of each new season, every team defines a certain set of goals they want to achieve.
For clubs entering their first year in MLS, that criterion is usually pretty minimal.
“If you think about the expectations that everyone around us have had, then it’s not very difficult to manage because everyone said that we’d be last in the league [before the season],” Whitecaps FC head coach Teitur Thordarson said after Tuesday’s training session.
After a pulsating 4-2 win over rivals Toronto FC in their MLS debut, many critics have quickly changed their initial opinion of the team. Inside the ‘Caps locker room, however, the mentality remains to look at the season one match at a time.
“We won’t get carried away by Saturday,” said Terry Dunfield, who will likely wear the captain’s armband with Jay DeMerit serving international duty with the United States national team. “It’ll be important that we keep ourselves grounded, but confidence is a good thing.”
While they refuse to look too far ahead, Thordarson has stated that the goal for this season is to make the playoffs - no ifs, and or buts about it.
“For those who are close to the team and know what we are good for, the expectations we have on ourselves are not a problem,” Thordarson said. “It’s more of a challenge. [We have] to try and stay on our feet and make sure that we have the right focus all of the time.”
On Saturday, they play their first-ever road match. They’ll face the Philadelphia Union, a team that played their own inaugural season just last year. While Peter Nowak’s side also surely aimed to make the MLS Cup Playoffs in their first year, they came up well short, finishing 15 points out of the final postseason berth in 14th place.
The Union were strong at home in their debut season, going 6W-3L-6D, but like many expansion teams they struggled to get results on the road and finished with a 2W-12L-1D record away from home. However, Thordarson is confident in his Whitecaps FC team, no matter the venue.
“Many of our players have been in those kinds of [hostile] environments, and they like it,” Thordarson said. “There are definitely challenges in there, but the guys are very professional and they will show exactly that.”
Vancouver winger Shea Salinas was on the 2010 expansion Union squad - as well as with the San Jose Earthquakes in their expansion return in 2008 - but he already feels more positive with his current team than he did with those previous new entrants.
“This is my third expansion team and this is the first time I’ve ever had a winning record,” Salinas said in regard to Vancouver’s 1W-0L-0D record. “So we’re already off to a better start.
“We’ve already got a Designated Player, which I hadn’t had with the last two teams,” he added. “[Eric Hassli is] a big-time goalscorer and he proved that this past weekend, so that’s a huge difference right there.”
Despite the confidence, playing on the road for the first time will be no doubt be a stiff test for a young Whitecaps FC squad, especially with several key players absent. Dunfield, however, explained that the excitement of a new beginning for this franchise keeps everyone enthusiastic and motivated.
“It’s nice sometimes not knowing exactly what you’re going to get into.”