It's difficult to imagine a stronger start for new Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson, as the Welsh tactician remains unbeaten after the month of March.There's still a long way to go in the 2014 MLS season, but it's difficult to imagine a smoother first month for new Vancouver Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson.
From the new system and style of play, to the new personnel, the Welsh tactician has come out of March looking confident and in control of a group which clearly relishes playing for him.
Claiming two stylish home wins and two road draws away from BC Place to start the season, Robinson's 'Caps have hit the ground running, with only the away draw against 10-man Chivas USA leaving a feeling of a missed opportunity to claim maximum points.
“I certainly won't get carried away,” Robinson told reporters following a training session at BC Place on Thursday. “We've had a positive start, but it's going to take time to get where I want to get with this group. They've started very well, but there'll be no complacency in the group. I know that.
“We might not play as well as we want some days, but when we don't, it's important I make sure they work 100 percent and work hard, tackle. They will do that, the group, because they're in a very good place. It's about maintaining standards. They've set the standards, not me, they have.”
Apart from instituting a fluid passing game – which has worked effectively in the club's two home matches but with more middling results on the road – Robinson has showed a willingness and ability to adapt and make changes as needed.
|It's about maintaining standards. [The players have] set the standards, not me, they have.”
- Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson
Playing the first three matches of the season with a 4-2-3-1 formation, Robinson switched to a diamond 4-4-2 for his side's 2-1 victory over the Houston Dynamo last weekend – a move that the visitors struggled to adapt to in the first half.
“It's about having a little bit of flexibility in your squad,” Robinson said. “The two systems I've wanted to use this year, I have used – even three with Chivas when we played against 10 men. We've got the personnel to do that.
“I want to become a set team in one style of play, but because I've got different players, it's important I am able to switch systems within games, because if things aren't going your way after 60 minutes, then if you flip to a different system or a different style, you can catch opponents out.”
But if there are two systems we've seen so far in the 4-5-1 and most recently the narrower 4-4-2 diamond, is there a favoured option for Robinson?
“It depends which players I decide to play,” Robinson said. “Do we play Pedro as the 10 guy behind the one, or do we play Pedro as a 10 behind the two? Or do we play Pedro out wide? That's a possibility we could look at at some stage.
“It'll just depend on the opposition as well, because different teams have different styles of systems.”
Players too have spoken about the culture change at the club, particularly the increased competition this season. Partially that's due to the new additions, but the fact that the squad's three 34-year-olds are all fit and available also plays into the success, according to central defender Jay DeMerit.
“The progression's been amazing,” captain DeMerit told reporters on Thursday. “We've added some flair, as far as creation goes, with [Sebastian Fernandez], [Nicolas Mezquida] and Pedro [Morales]. To have a healthy Kenny Miller, a healthy Andy O'Brien and a healthy Jay DeMerit is another good thing as well.
“All those things have been contributors so far, but we've still got a lot of learning to do.”