NEWS
04/26/2016 16:59 EDT | Updated 04/27/2017 01:12 EDT

Whitecaps prioritizing Sporting K.C. match with another long flight looming

VANCOUVER — With another long flight on the docket, Vancouver Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson is getting his priorities straight.

The Major League Soccer club hosts Western Conference rivals Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday night, and Robinson admitted his primary focus is to get a result in that game with a trek across the continent looming ahead of Saturday's match at New York City FC.

"Every conference game is very important," said Robinson. "The league is very tight."

The Whitecaps — who suffered an embarrassing 4-0 loss at D.C. United earlier this month in their only trip to the East Coast this season — finished second in last year's West standings, just six points up on the seventh-place San Jose Earthquakes.

The Portland Timbers qualified for the playoffs on the last day of the regular schedule before going on an incredible run to win the 2015 MLS Cup, something Robinson pointed to when explaining his rationale heading into Wednesday.

"One or two defeats and you're at the bottom and everyone says it's a crisis, and one or two wins you're at the top and everyone says you've got off to an unbelievable start," said Robinson. "The league's going to be like that all the way to the end like it was last year when San Jose missed out and Portland got in."

After getting shut out in three straight games, including back-to-back losses, Vancouver (3-4-1) picked up a much-needed 3-0 home victory against FC Dallas over the weekend to silence some of the criticism regarding the club's previously toothless attack.

"The guys are a group that stick together through thick and thin," said Robinson. "We've got off to an OK start. Confidence levels towards the end of the game on Saturday were flowing."

The Whitecaps scored from open play against Dallas for the first time this season, but an even bigger story was the performance of veteran goalkeeper David Ousted.

The Dane registered his third clean sheet of 2016 after making a couple spectacular stops, with his best coming on a left-handed swipe to deny Michael Barrios early in the second half.

"Some match-winning saves there for us," said Robinson. "I played it down a little bit on the weekend because his job is to save goals. I didn't really realize how good they were until I saw them a second time."

Whitecaps defender Jordan Harvey, who scored his second goal of the campaign, had a front-row seat for Ousted's exploits.

"It's a bit of a luxury to have Dave back there," said Harvey. "He bails us out quite bit. That's why he's a leader on this team."

Like Vancouver, Kansas City (4-4-0) is in a stretch of three games in eight days and has a quick turnaround for the match at B.C. Place Stadium. Sporting won three straight to open the season, including a 2-1 home victory over 10-man Vancouver on March 12, but has dropped its last three, with Sunday's 1-0 loss at San Jose the latest setback.

"It's important for us to make sure right out of the gate that we're high-tempo," said Whitecaps defender Tim Parker. "If we let them catch their breath and get into the game, then we're going to have some trouble."

Robinson said that Vancouver captain Pedro Morales, who has missed the last three games with a hip injury, will be available on Wednesday.

The play-making midfielder who pulls the strings for the Whitecaps with pinpoint passing, leads the club with four goals this season, all from the penalty spot.

But he missed significant time last season with a series of leg injuries, something Vancouver is keen to avoid moving forward.

"There was a temptation to throw him in (against Dallas)," said Robinson. "It's important I look after Pedro. Past history suggests we have to look after him and be careful with him.

"He's raring to go. He's looking sharp, he's looking good."

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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press