Vancouver Whitecaps FC have played an exciting, free-flowing brand of soccer for much of the season.
But 'Caps head coach Carl Robinson has been well aware that his side cannot keep relying on scoring multiple goals to win matches, so the big focus in recent weeks has been tightening up at the back and playing more of a containment game on the road.
That new style was evident in Vancouver's 1-1 draw at Real Salt Lake on Saturday night.
"They're a good footballing team; one of the best when they're on their game," Robinson told reporters after the match at Rio Tinto Stadium. "If we got into a football match with them after a road trip, we'd probably lose the game. Where we are at the moment, we're still a team that's developing. We're a work in progress, so the decision was to be tactically different and try and catch them on the counter, and I thought we did it numerous times."
Vancouver's more defensive mindset was aimed at disrupting Real Salt Lake's own free-flowing style and it worked. The home side was left frustrated at Vancouver's tactics, leading to the game boiling over into several flashpoints and scuffles. For Whitecaps FC goalkeeper David Ousted, that is part and parcel of the game and an indication that the team will not be browbeaten.
"We showed that we'll stick up for each other, and that's the way it's supposed to be in a team," Ousted said. "Normally we try and get away from the fights and not get into them, but we stick up for each other. Three games in a week was tough. Coming here is always tough, so we knew it was going to be a game where we knew we needed to be smart about how we played and not let them dictate too much of the game."
Having flown from Vancouver to Toronto to Salt Lake City during the week -- an itinerary described by Robinson as "horrible" -- the first-year coach made no apologies for not going into the game with an all-out attacking game plan.
- PHOTO GALLERY: Some of the best photos from Saturday's match
"After our last game here, where they battered us for the first 15 minutes and scored two great goals, I didn't want that to happen," Robinson said. "So I said, 'Listen, just mix it up, slow the game down a little bit, manage the game correctly.' I know they frustrated Salt Lake, and I understand it, but we're not there yet to come and play an open, expansive game against them and try and try and beat them on their own turf."
Robinson said he expects to build a squad capable of more than just defensive tactics when facing the league's top teams.
"I want to be a manager that builds, that plays simple football, that cuts through teams, like Salt Lake do to other teams," Robinson said. "But if I get into a football match now, six months from where we started, away from home, after two games in a week, I'm probably asking for trouble myself. We will get there. There will be a day when we can come here and out-football them."
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