Through three road games in their inaugural MLS season, Vancouver Whitecaps FC are still seeking their first points away from Empire Field. But as they head to Chicago on Saturday to face the Fire (5:30 p.m. PT, Rogers Sportsnet Pacific, TEAM 1410, teamradio.ca, MLS MatchDay Live), they're confident the fourth time will be a charm with an ace up their sleeve: Denis Hamlett.
The Whitecaps FC assistant coach spent 12 years as a coach with the Fire, including his last two as head coach, before being let go after the 2009 season.
“It feels good to be back,” Hamlett told MLSsoccer.com by phone from Chicago. “It’s always special to come back. I met my wife here. Now Vancouver’s my home, but I’m excited to be back here to see some faces I haven’t seen in a while and enjoy some of my favorite restaurants.”
The ‘Caps have faced a number of challenges in their expansion year, but coming on board with a new organization is nothing new for Hamlett. He went through the same process with the Fire 13 years ago, which ended with Chicago hoisting the MLS Cup in their first year of existence.
“I was one of the first employees of the organization from Day One,” recalled Hamlett. “I saw the club grow. To coach here was special. It was my first head coaching gig and that’s something I really enjoyed. I had some really good players, but also some good people and I’ve maintained good relationships with them. It’s something I’ll always treasure.”
Hamlett was no slouch as head coach either, leading his team to the MLS Cup Playoffs in both seasons at the helm and making the Eastern Conference Championship each time. He also guided his squad to the league’s top road record in both 2008 and '09, and that experience could help provide the solution to Vancouver’s early road woes.
“It was a mentality that we had,” said Hamlett of his road warriors in Chicago. “We had a good routine in terms of how we did things on the road, and our guys were always up for the challenge of going into hostile environments and getting a good result. We were a close-knit group and I think that helps whenever you’re on the road and you can come together and that showed in those two years. Hopefully, we can start to figure that out here.”
In the past two MLS seasons, it’s typically taken between 17 to 20 points on the road to make it to the postseason. With the additions of Vancouver and Portland Timbers, each team now plays 34 games compared to the previous 30.
However, to balance things out, the playoff field has increased from eight to 10 teams, so it will likely again require roughly the same amount of road points to get to the postseason. That could appear a daunting task for a team that has struggled away from home, but Hamlett is confident the best is yet to come for the 'Caps.
“We’re in a position where we’ve come off of a good result and we’re turning the corner with a little bit of momentum,” he added. “So to get three points tomorrow will be good for us in terms of our league to get closer to teams in our Conference. We just need to get that first point on the road, and obviously for me, to get it here in Chicago would be nice.”
In addition to the Sportsnet Pacific television broadcast, 'Caps fans can also watch the match live on their Bell mobile devices or watch online with a free trial of MLS MatchDay Live. Alternatively, fans can listen to the May 7 contest live on TEAM 1410 radio and teamradio.ca, starting with the pre-game show at 3:30 p.m. PT. TEAM 1410 will also have a two-hour post-game show, which will begin following the match at around 7:30 p.m. PT.