03/14/2014 04:23 EDT | Updated 05/14/2014 05:59 EDT

Vancouver Whitecaps look to play better on the road this season in MLS

VANCOUVER - Jay DeMerit does not mince words when discussing the Vancouver Whitecaps' road record over the past two seasons.

"To be honest, it hasn't been very good," Vancouver's captain said following a training session at UBC earlier this week. "That's something we need to improve on as a team. Most teams in this league, they don't have great records away from home.

"So if we can be the team, hopefully, this season that does the right things on the road and picks up a lot of points on the road, then that usually is the team that's at the top towards the end of the season. So that'll be our season goal, to make sure we pick up a lot of points on the road."

The challenge begins Sunday as the Whitecaps, who are attempting to get back to the MLS playoffs after a one-year absence, visit Chivas USA in Carson, Calif.

Vancouver and Chivas won their respective season openers. The Whitecaps beat the powerhouse New York Red Bulls 4-1 while Chivas downed the Chicago Fire 3-2 at home.

DeMerit said the Whitecaps must find the right "formula" that will enable them to mix their new emphasis on attack with conservative defensive play that's essential when a team is on the road.

"On the road, it's a different beast," said DeMerit. "You have to make sure you lock the door at the back and play off of good defending. Every time you go away from home it presents a different challenge. Home teams are always going to be a bit brighter.

"So we've got to make sure we compete, first and foremost, and then we can put our own stamp on the game."

Since entering MLS in 2011, the Whitecaps have rarely excelled away from Vancouver. They were winless on the road in '11 and just 9-17-8 overall away from home the past two seasons under former coach Martin Renne.

Last year, though, Vancouver had some impressive, out-of-character road wins over the likes of the New York Red Bulls and Seattle but scored approximately one-third fewer goals (21) away than at home (32).

"We've got to make sure we get off on the right foot away from home," said new Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson.

Robinson, a former Vancouver assistant, is emphasizing an attacking style, no matter where the team's playing. The concern is the players will back into a defensive shell for fear of losing on the road.

"I don't want to be a team that is two different teams, away from home and the home team," he said. "If I've got good players in the team, which I want, and they're attacking creative players, then obviously I want to create chances. And, if you're creating chances, you score goals."

But, noting that MLS road games are difficult, Robinson said the Caps need to determine the style they'll play in each road contest.

"If you look over the last number of years, it's not easy to win on the road," he said. "So you've got to find a way to win, whether it'll be defending for 60, 70 minutes, or whether it'll be going out like a bullet again from the starting whistle, we've got to decide that, depending on the team we play. The good thing we've got this year, we've got different characteristics in different players."

Scoring opportunities came easily in Vancouver's season-opening win over New York. Striker Kenny Miller, who scored two goals against the Red Bulls, said the Whitecaps must carry on from the season-opening victory.

"It's about building on that," he said. "It's about a fantastic result, a fantastic team performance.

"(Chivas) are coming off the back of a good result off the weekend as well. So it'll be a tough game, but we'll be prepared for whatever they're going to throw at us."

Miller also hopes the Whitecaps can carry some momentum from their strong road play late last season, when they posted a decisive 4-1 win at Seattle and a clean sheet in Montreal.

"(The road record) can be better," he said. "That's obvious to everyone. I think we may have improved a little bit last year by getting results towards the end of last season. There were two or three away wins in the last six or seven games last season which, hopefully, made it look a little better than it was.

"But up until that point, there was a lot of criticism."

He believes the Caps would have qualified for the playoffs if they had won a couple of more road games.

"The coach has made it clear," said Miller. "Whether we're at home or away, he wants us to play a certain style of football, and we're going to do that on Sunday."

NOTES: The Whitecaps will be out to stop Erick Torres, who scored a memorable bicycle-kick goal against them last season at B.C. Place Stadium. . . Vancouver midfielder Sebastian Fernandez missed practice time this week because of a sore toe, but will suit up Sunday. Fernandez had his toe stepped on during a pre-season tournament in Portland, Ore. . . Vancouver defender Johnny Leveron will miss the game. He went through the MLS concussion protocol this week after getting hurt in practice Monday. . . Robinson may hold star players like Miller out of some road games this season to rest them.