Defensive mindset paying off for Whitecaps

By Hosea Cheung, 24 hours Vancouver

It's hard not to think just how differently a game like Saturday for the Vancouver Whitecaps would have gone had it been last season.

Back in 2011, a lead - much like they had against Chivas USA over the weekend - or a draw would tend to result in the 'Caps coughing up a late tally to the opposing team. It was deflating. It was costly.

But things have been different so far this season, keeping in mind they're only two games in. Judging from the team's ability to preserve their lead against Montreal in the season opener and then hold off late pressure by Chivas in their historic first road victory, coach Martin Rennie's emphasis on team defence is paying off.

"Sometimes last year we were also just unlucky. But I think the work that we do this season it's really different, the mentality is different," midfielder Davide Chiumiento said. "Last year we did easy mistakes and it can happen once or twice but if it happens a lot, that means that something is not right in the heads. The coach, he wants us to be 100% there and we believe. That makes us a lot more difficult to play."

It also gives the Whitecaps wins - two straight to start the season. And they've yet to allow a goal. Defence produces victories, and the team seems to be buying into it.

"Everybody knows what we have to do on the field defensively," Chiumiento said.

"Against Chivas, me and Camilo had to work hard and always help the fullbacks and that was our job. We did that well and all the defence played well."

That's already a big difference from a season ago, when the Whitecaps allowed 55 goals - third most in MLS.

They also recorded just five clean sheets - a mark the team is well on their way to surpassing. It's all part of the tactical and mental change on the team.

"We're getting behind the ball well," defender Jay DeMerit said. "We're in the right spots and that allows (midfielders) to get in front of us and block passing lanes so they have to go around us instead of through us. That alone cuts out a lot of chances. Clean sheets only happen because of the 11, not because of the back four and the goalie. All those combinations are coming together."

Injury news

The Whitecaps announced Tuesday Darren Mattocks will be out indefinitely after suffering burns to his right arm and shoulder while preparing dinner Sunday. He was treated at a local hospital.

The 21-year-old Jamaican striker was picked second overall by Vancouver in the MLS Superdraft in January. Goalkeeper Joe Cannon (thigh contusion) is expected to train with the team Thursday, while Gershon Koffie (ankle) is probable to return this week. Forward Atiba Harris (knee) is also close to joining the game-day roster.

Canadian note

Whitecaps' Russell Tiebert and Bryce Alderson were selected Tuesday to Canada's roster for the Men's Olympic Qualifying tournament. The two-week tournament runs March 22 to April 2, with all three group games for Canada in Nashville, Tenn.