Martin Rennie has finally rediscovered his office at B.C. Place Stadium.
Now his team needs to recapture its success on the field.
Rennie’s Vancouver Whitecaps (2-2-1) play host to Real Salt Lake (2-3-1) under the dome on Saturday in their first home game since March 9.
“It’s five weeks since we last played here, so it’s a long time,” the Whitecaps’ coach said. “I had to remind myself where my office was this morning, but it’s nice to be back, and I’m sure everybody’s excited about the game.
“I’m sure the players will be — just like the fans will be, too.”
The Whitecaps did not give their faithful followers much to cheer about in three road games since they last saw each other in person. Rennie’s crew only managed a point from a draw last weekend in San Jose after losing to Houston and Chivas USA.
The road struggles contrasted with strong home efforts in a season-opening win over Toronto and a well-earned victory over Columbus a week later.
“We’re pleased to be home,” said Vancouver defender Andy O’Brien. “We’ve had a long stint away, and we’ll be looking to continue the recent form that we’ve had at home.”
In the first two home games, Vancouver dominated much of the time with a possession-oriented style that saw opponents struggle to get the ball onto the Whitecaps’ side of half. But the dominance disappeared on the road, where the Whitecaps have struggled since entering Major League Soccer in 2011.
As a result, home games have become increasingly important.
“If you want to achieve within the season, the home results have got to be good,” said O’Brien. “We haven’t picked up as many as we would have liked to when we’ve been away from home, so it puts a little more emphasis on the home games.”
The Whitecaps had limited bonding time on the road because they came home in weeks between games, but goalkeeper Joe Cannon said last weekend’s draw in San Jose, when the Whitecaps overcame a 1-0 deficit, helped build some unity.
“I think the road games especially help when things like in San Jose happen, when you only do it by yourselves and you’re grind out a tough result,” said Cannon. “When you can get that result, it builds confidence for the rest of the year and for what you’re trying to accomplish.
“And that’s what we’re hoping last week did. To come back home, hopefully, we’ll be on our front foot more this time around. Salt Lake’s bringing a good team.”
Vancouver and Salt Lake are tied for fifth place in the Western Conference, battling early for one of five available playoff berths. Like the Whitecaps, RSL has struggled on the road (1-3-1) after making a number off-season changes.
But Rennie is still expecting a strong showing from the visitors, who lost their last game to Colorado by a 1-0 count to the Rapids.
“They’ve been one of the best teams for a number of years now, and they’ll be a strong opponent — no doubt about that,” said Rennie.
Usually, there is no doubt about speedy striker Darren Mattocks playing a prominent role for Vancouver, either. But he watched the game in San Jose from the bench with other unused reserves.
Rennie downplayed the benching of Mattocks and the decision to deploy usual starting midfielder Gershon Koffie. Mattocks and Koffie were replaced in the starting 11 by rookie Corey Hertzog and third-year Canadian midfielder Russell Teibert, respectively.
“This is the last time I’m going to go over it,” said Rennie. “But, really, it was (because) other guys had been doing well, so they get a chance — not because other people are doing badly.”
Rennie said Mattocks has looked good in training this week, and his chances of starting are “decent.” Mattocks, who has a goal and an assist, indicated the sit-down has not provided him with any extra motivation.
“I’m always in the one frame of mind mentally now,” he said. “Even if I’m on the bench, it doesn’t really matter now.”
Notes: Rennie said striker Kenny Miller, who missed last weekend’s game in San Jose with a strained hamstring, will be a game-time decision. ... Whitecaps captain Jay DeMerit, recuperating from a torn Achilles tendon expected to keep him out six to eight months, showed good mobility Friday as he appeared at practice in soccer clothing and a plastic walking cast. It was a much different scene from March 9, when he struggled to get around with crutches. ... Vancouver and Real Salt Lake are 2-2-1 against each other in five all-time MLS meetings.
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