VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Whitecaps feel pretty good about how things have gone so far in 2017 — when they have a full complement of players on the pitch.
Vancouver is without a victory through its first three games of the Major League Soccer season, but has lost its last two after seeing players sent off in both matches.
Veteran goalkeeper David Ousted was shown a red card for fouling an opponent outside the penalty area with his team up 2-0 midway through the first half in San Jose on March 11 before the Earthquakes eventually came back to win 3-2.
Then newly acquired midfielder Brek Shea swore at the referee to reduce the Whitecaps to 10 men the following weekend just as they seemed to be finding their groove with 20 minutes to go in a scoreless game at home against Toronto FC.
The ejection proved to again be the turning point in a 2-0 defeat, a result that dropped Vancouver to 0-2-1 in MLS despite having not allowed a goal against while at full strength.
"There's definitely things to build on," said defender Sheanon Williams. "We've just got to keep bodies on the field."
As in years past, scoring goals has also been an issue for the Whitecaps, with the only two so far coming in that loss to San Jose. Freshly minted designated player Fredy Montero has yet to connect in the league, too often marooned on an island at the top of the formation as the lone striker.
"The league is very funny," said head coach Carl Robinson. "You go through periods where you don't win. It's important you remain calm and it's important you stick to your beliefs."
After a week off because of an international break, Vancouver opens a tough stretch of three games in eight days on Saturday at home against the Los Angeles Galaxy (1-2-0) in MLS play.
The Whitecaps will then look to turn around a 2-0 deficit against Mexican giants Tigres UANL in the second leg of their CONCACAF Champions League semifinal on Wednesday at B.C. Place Stadium before resuming the regular season at Real Salt Lake on April 8.
"At this football club we want to be involved in these defining moments and big statements," said Robinson. "We get none more so than the L.A. Galaxy."
The Whitecaps hope to have defender Kendall Waston and midfielder Christian Bolanos available after both took part in World Cup qualifying for Costa Rica.
Bolanos struggled with a knee injury early in the year, but is back in form and made a real difference in the middle of the park when he came on at halftime against Toronto.
"Bola's a big player for us," said Robinson. "We made the decision to part with Pedro (Morales). We believed Bola could step up and be that key guy."
While the Galaxy look different this season after star striker Robbie Keane moved on, they still have a number of top-class players, including strikers Giovani dos Santos and Gyasi Zardes, as well as midfielders Jermaine Jones and Romain Alessandrini.
But Sebastian Lletget, a midfielder who has played every minute for L.A., suffered a foot injury that requires surgery while with the U.S. national team and will be out four to six months.
"Any time you play L.A. it's a big challenge," said Williams. "Definitely one of the teams you always want to play well against and have a good showing.
"Hopefully we'll take care of business at home and play the game with 11 men."
Notes: Vancouver traded winger Kekuta Manneh to the Columbus Crew on Friday for midfielder Tony Tchani and US$300,000 in allocation money. ... Whitecaps defender Sam Adekugbe, on loan to Engish Championship side Brighton until June, is back in Vancouver to have an unspecified injury looked at by the club's medical staff.
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press