Carl Robinson has accomplished quite a bit in his first nine Major League Soccer games at the helm of the Vancouver Whitecaps.
After a rocky off-season that saw star striker Camilo Sanvezzo force his way out of town, the energetic and enthusiastic rookie head coach retooled his roster and has Vancouver off to a 3-2-4 start, including a 3-1-1 mark at B.C. Place Stadium.
Robinson then admittedly took a risk this week by selecting a "younger than young" starting 11 in a hard-fought 2-1 road defeat to Toronto FC in the first leg of Amway Canadian Championship semifinal that resulted in the Whitecaps escaping with a valuable away goal.
But like so many teams in MLS, picking up wins on the road has been elusive, and Robinson will be looking for his first on Saturday when the Whitecaps visit the Columbus Crew.
"We're hungry. Part of the reason I left some of the senior guys out on Wednesday was to rest them for Saturday," said the Welshman. "They've got to go in now and give me everything they've got for the weekend."
Vancouver is 0-1-3 on the road so far in 2014, but played tough in a loss to the L.A. Galaxy and a draw against to Real Salt Lake — two teams considered to be among the Western Conference's best.
Robinson said it's his job to find a way to get his players on the front foot when they are the visitors, something that comes much easier at home.
"Once I find that solution it's going to be a lot easier because it won't put us under as much pressure at B.C. Place in getting results," said Robinson. "It's known throughout MLS that teams, when they go on the road, do struggle. But I think that if you're able to win four or five games away from home and take care of your home business then you're going to be there in the playoffs.
"MLS brings up funny results. You lose two or three games and you're down at the bottom of the conference. You win two or three games and you're at the top of the conference. That's the way Major League Soccer is set up and I think it's an exciting way to go."
Whitecaps goalkeeper David Ousted said it's up to the squad to trust themselves and their abilities in tough environments.
"I think it's a mentality thing — going away from home and still believing fully that you can go win, even against good teams," he said. "Believing in the team and believing in your own ability and going away from home and trying to win every game is an important thing."
Ousted and the Whitecaps' other regulars saw some of that fight from the sidelines on Wednesday as Vancouver's kids battled a Toronto roster that boasted high-priced talent like Jermain Defoe and Michael Bradley.
"The senior players were there and rooted them on and tried to support them as best as possible," said Ousted. "The young guys did brilliantly. It was a chance for them to show the coaches what they can do and they did really well."
The Crew (3-3-3) won their first three games of the season but have failed to record a victory in the last six, including a 1-0 road loss to the Houston Dynamo on Wednesday.
"They are a little bit of a wounded animal. They're a good team and teams like that will do anything to get back to winning ways," said Ousted. "We're going to their place, we're going away from home and they probably are going to come out and give all they can to get the win. We need to be ready for both a battle and a soccer match.
"The start of the game will probably be a battle and be about finding the edge. After that we can hopefully get our game going and keep the ball and get chances."
Columbus, meanwhile, will be hoping to get back in the win column for the first time since March 29.
"We'll be coming home, so we'll have a little more energy, hopefully, that we're playing in front of our home fans," Crew midfielder Ethan Finlay told the club's official website. "(The Whitecaps) are a really good team ... they're a team that you have to watch for, they have a lot of pieces going forward, and it will be a tough test."
One of those pieces in Vancouver's attack is Pedro Morales, who has three goals and two assists in six games this season, including two in last weekend's 3-2 home victory over the San Jose Earthquakes. The Chilean is one of the pieces Robinson brought in after Sanvezzo's departure and his presence in midfield has been a big part of the Whitecaps' early success as the team looks to return to the post-season after missing out in 2013.
On the other side, Columbus boasts the equally dangerous Federico Higuain, a striker who has four goals and two assists so far in this campaign.
"He's a special player," Robinson said of the Argentine. "I've got one in Pedro Morales. He makes things happen in games.
"It's going to be interesting. There's two playmaking players (who are) going to be on the field on Saturday and whichever one probably has the biggest influence will win the game."
Notes: Vancouver is 2-2-0 all-time against Columbus, including a 2-1 home victory last season. ... Robinson said he was pleased with striker Omar Salgado's performance on Wednesday. The 20-year-old started the season with the second-tier Charleston Battery, but was recalled after the Whitecaps parted ways with Kenny Miller. And with Darren Mattocks out injured, Robinson said the first overall pick in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft will remain with Vancouver for the foreseeable future. ... The second leg of the Amway Canadian Championship tie between Toronto and Vancouver goes Wednesday at B.C. Place. The winner of the two-game, total-goals series will meet either the Montreal Impact or FC Edmonton in the final.