VANCOUVER — Carl Robinson didn't like what he saw.
The head coach of the Vancouver Whitecaps gathered his players at the centre circle of their practice field this week and showed some uncharacteristic emotion for a training session.
The message was there needed to be better intensity and focus. At that moment he was talking about a specific drill, but it could have been a comment on Vancouver's season up to now.
The Whitecaps sit a pedestrian 3-5-2 nearly a third of the way through the Major League Soccer schedule, not where a team that finished second in the Western Conference in 2015 expected to find itself.
"You have to put the intensity up in training," Robinson said afterwards. "You can't just turn up on game day and expect it to be good."
Vancouver goalkeeper David Ousted also wasn't happy, blurting out expletives directed at himself or teammates on at least three occasions during a subsequent scrimmage.
"It's time to step up," he told reporters. "It's accountability, which I will be happy to bring to myself, but also to the team."
Even if they were flying high, the Whitecaps wouldn't need any extra motivation for Saturday's game against the Portland Timbers (3-3-3) at B.C. Place Stadium.
Portland is one of Vancouver's fiercest rivals, but also the team that bounced the Whitecaps from last season's playoffs before going on to win the MLS Cup.
Vancouver earned a scoreless road draw to open that series with the Timbers before a disappointing 2-0 defeat in return leg.
"They knocked us out in our own backyard, which is never nice," said Robinson. "It's a massive game, make no doubt about it."
The Whitecaps have just one victory over their last six outings overall, including a 3-2 loss at New York City FC last weekend where a couple of critical mental mistakes cost them at least a point.
"We've played well in patches, we've played not so well in patches, but we've made fundamental errors (as) individuals at wrong times," said Robinson. "It's had an knock-on effect on the team.
"You can put all the work in you want under the sun, but if you make a mistake in the box then it's going to cost you, and that's what's happened."
Vancouver defender Tim Parker said it's a case of the players putting together a complete, 90-minute effort.
"We have our moments," he said. "We've played some great soccer at times. It's just fine-tuning the game."
While there has been plenty of talk early on about the Whitecaps lack of scoring — they have 12 goals in 10 games — an inability to keep the ball out of their net has been equally concerning.
Vancouver allowed just 36 goals in 34 matches last season, but has surrendered 15 through 10 games in 2016.
"Look at the goals we've given away across the board," said Robinson. "We need to be tighter, we need to be tougher, we need to be stronger, and we need to be better."
Robinson simply wants more from his squad and is hoping a visit from the team that ended their hopes last season brings the Whitecaps up a level.
"Derby games are not about all the quality in the world," he said. "It's about rolling your sleeves up and it's about fighting. If you do that and come out on top of your battles then the quality takes care of itself.
"That's what we've got to get back to."
Notes: Vancouver winger Kekuta Manneh will miss Saturday's game after being handed a one-game suspension for a challenge against New York City. ... Portland striker Fanendo Adi is tied for the scoring lead in MLS with seven goals.
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