Adapting on the road

It’s been an interesting road trip for Whitecaps FC so far. After starting with a loss to LA Galaxy, the ‘Caps responded with a win against Colorado Rapids and a draw versus Chivas USA.

Now head coach Martin Rennie will have to lift the boys from a tough last-second 3-2 defeat to Toronto FC on Wednesday as they get ready to play their fifth road game in a row this Saturday in Chicago. With a positive result against the Fire, the ‘Caps can look at this road trip in a positive light. So what really makes road trips so tough?

The Travel

When I first arrived in Vancouver in 1979, my longest road trip was from Oldham to London – which was a four hour bus ride. But in North America I had to endure four or five hour plane rides and different time zones, as well as the heat, altitude, and humidity.

My first couple of years traveling in the North American Soccer League (NASL) was an adventure as I went to many cities for the first time. One of the perks of being a professional athlete is getting to see a lot of great places, and everything is paid for. But not everything with travel is as glamorous as it might seem. There are long waits at the airport, many of which come on connecting flights. Flying to the east coast and changing time by three hours is especially difficult. You have to change your sleeping and eating habits with no real time for proper adjustment.

For anyone who’s travelled in a large group, you know how long it can take to get everyone organized. After the flying is done, you have to get everyone to the hotel by bus or vans, and then there’s the matter of sorting out rooms once you arrive at the hotel.

The Roommate

One of the biggest challenges of being on the road is finding the right roommate, not just because you have to like each other, but you need to be close to having the same routine before games. I always like to sleep in the afternoon before a night game, so my roommate needed to sleep as well. One of the best roommates I ever had was Fran O’Brien, even though he used to squeeze my toothpaste into his empty toothpaste on road trips. He was Irish.

Probably the hardest roommate I had was goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar, who I lived with in Vancouver and shared a room with on the road. He was very hyper active and hardly slept at all. I had to get used to the TV being on until three or four in the morning, and constant chatter when we were awake in the room.

The Game

When the game finally arrives you have to adjust to different challenges. You have to get used to the field quickly: the size, playing surface, crowd noise, weather, altitude, and so on.

The home crowd always gives the home team an extra boost, as we’ve seen numerous times at BC Place, and even in the last match for Toronto.

As for the weather, I remember a game we played in Chicago and at halftime we found big striker Ray Hankin lying naked on the cold tile floor trying to cool down from the extreme heat out on the field.

I can imagine that few people would feel any empathy, but when you have to go out and compete at a professional level you have to battle a lot of things to feel fit and fresh enough to be competitive on the road.

In regards to making travel easier, the ‘Caps are lucky to have exceptionally organized and diligent team administrator Steve Bridge on their side.

In the end, you have to have the mental capacity to overcome all these things. At home the goal is to make your home field a fortress and dominate the opposition so they fear coming to your home turf.  On the road it’s much different, you must become a team that is tough to beat and that can frustrate the other team so their fans get on their backs.

There are many obstacles to overcome and lots of reasons not to win when you are away from home. But good teams find a way, and that’s what the ‘Caps will have to do in Chicago as they complete these five consecutive demanding games on the road.

Since 1979, Carl Valentine has been an integral part of the soccer community in Vancouver. A club legend, Carl was a key player for the Whitecaps FC team that won the 1979 North American Soccer League (NASL) Soccer Bowl, as well as the 86ers squads that won four Canadian Soccer League (CSL) titles. Now, Carl represents the 'Caps as club ambassador. Make sure to check back regularly for his columns and videos as part of 'The TWO ONE'.