Playing their final match in the month of August, Vancouver Whitecaps FC (4W-13L-9D) left it late to defeat Eastern Conference side Houston Dynamo (8W-8L-11D) 1-0 in Major League Soccer on Saturday afternoon.
A late strike by 'Budweiser Man of the Match' Shea Salinas gave Whitecaps FC a morale-boosting victory and ended Vancouver's two-match losing streak. It was the Blue and White's fourth league win on Bell Pitch at Empire Field this season and well merited from the home side, who had several excellent chances to make the breakthrough during the weekend contest. The win was also the perfect tonic for the 'Caps after disappointing away defeats to D.C. United and Portland Timbers, with Vancouver now able to head into an extended two-week break in fine spirits.
Defeat for Houston, meanwhile, ends the Dynamo's five-match unbeaten run in MLS, with the Texas outfit still searching for their first league win on the road this season. Saturday's loss sees Houston's away record extend to 0W-5L-8D for the 2011 campaign.
"For us, we were looking to put together a 90-minute performance," said Whitecaps FC head coach Tom Soehn. "We felt like we have had lapses in our games at crucial times, and we want to establish our home ground and make sure teams know when they come here, it will be difficult. Houston is a good team, they have a lot of targets, especially on set-pieces. I thought we did a good job in shoring those things up. In the end, a 1-0 result is telling in that we can keep them out of our net and win some games, too."
Soehn made three changes from the starting XI that faced Portland last weekend. Two of those changes came in the backline, with Jonathan Leathers returning to right fullback in place of youngster Jeb Brovsky, while Alain Rochat partnered captain Jay DeMerit in the centre of Vancouver's defence, as he replaced Michael Boxall. The third change came in attack, as Mustapha Jarju replaced the suspended Camilo. Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear, meanwhile, played Canadian international Andre Hainault at centre back.
A gorgeous summer's day greeted a crowd of 20,226 on the Pacific National Exhibition grounds in East Vancouver, and after the disappointments of the past couple of weeks, Whitecaps FC persevered to triumph in an action-packed MLS contest, despite leaving it late to claim all three points.
As fans basked in the beautiful weather, the two sides did their part by providing an entertaining first half of action, with Whitecaps FC and the Dynamo creating chances to break the deadlock before the break.
Vancouver had the first opportunity of the game on nine minutes. Davide Chiumiento struck a curling free kick over the Houston wall before Dynamo goalkeeper Tally Hall knocked the strike against the inside of his own post before Hainault heroically cleared the loose ball off the visitors' goal line, with Hall claiming possession of the ball in the end. Houston's response was just as dramatic, as Adam Moffat struck the 'Caps crossbar with a fierce strike from about 25 yards out before Whitecaps FC goalkeeper Joe Cannon needed to save from talented Dynamo midfielder Brad Davis on 13 minutes.
Davis is currently the assist leader in MLS, but he seemed determined to find the scoresheet on Saturday after forcing Cannon into a couple more saves before halftime. The best of those chances came on 24 minutes when his deflected shot was well saved by the legs of Cannon for a Houston corner. At the other end, Whitecaps FC's two strikers tried their best to break through. However, Jarju could not redirect his header from an Eric Hassli cross before the big Frenchman himself curled a shot just wide of the far post on 32 minutes.
The 'Caps created two more opportunities before halftime. From another Chiumiento free kick on 41 minutes, Jarju saw his header well saved by Hall before Hassli was off-target again with a strike after Gershon Koffie fed the Whitecaps FC front man on the break two minutes later. Then in the three minutes of time added on at the end of the half, Hainault and Salinas each missed good chances for their respective clubs, with the Vancouver winger having entered the action for John Thorrington just past the half-hour mark.
With the game in the balance to start the second half, Whitecaps FC came out brightly and tested Hall with early chances. The Houston number one first tipped Jarju's rising shot over his own crossbar for a Vancouver corner just after the restart before the Dynamo shot-stopper did brilliantly to deny Hassli from close range on 53 minutes. Later in the half, Jarju tried an ambitious effort to beat Hall, but his shot from just inside the Houston half missed the target.
One of Houston's main attacking threats in recent weeks has been the experienced Brian Ching. On Saturday, the Dynamo captain had two fine opportunities for the visitors, but after Cannon saved the Houston striker's header on 72 minutes, the Hawaiian native could only redirect Davis' ensuing corner wide of the target a minute later.
While Salinas' introduction for Thorrington was one key moment in the match, the substitution of Long Tan for Chiumiento on 75 minutes was another decisive move by Soehn, as the young striker played a crucial role in Vancouver's match-winning goal on 86 minutes. The two 'Caps substitutes combined to create the goalscoring move down the left flank, with Tan doing ever so well to turn his Houston marker Hunter Freeman before feeding a streaking Salinas into the Dynamo box. As the winger closed in on Hall, Salinas decisively slotted his right-footed strike into the far corner of the net for his first Whitecaps FC goal and fourth of his MLS career.
Salinas' strike had the Empire crowd in a buzz for the final stages, and the home side nearly sealed the win with a second goal, but both Hassli and substitute Brovsky missed the target with close-range efforts. There was one final scare for Vancouver past the three minutes of time added on, but Cannon was able to deal with Houston's final chance, as he stopped a Davis free kick with a relative ease.
The final whistle was sheer delight for Whitecaps FC, who now head into a two-week break with renewed confidence for the remaining matches to come this season. The 'Caps will return to MLS action on Saturday, September 10, when they visit New York Red Bulls in Harrison, New Jersey. Houston will also have two weeks off from league action before visiting Eastern Conference rivals Sporting Kansas City on Saturday, September 10.
86' - VAN - Shea Salinas (Long Tan)
Shots: Vancouver 12 - Houston 17
Shots on Goal: Vancouver 5 - Houston 6
Saves: Vancouver 6 - Houston 4
Fouls: Vancouver 11 - Houston 13
Offsides: Vancouver 2 - Houston 2
Corners: Vancouver 3 - Houston 7
57' - VAN - Davide Chiumiento
89' - HOU - Bobby Boswell
Vancouver Whitecaps FC
1.Joe Cannon; 26.Jordan Harvey, 4.Alain Rochat, 6.Jay DeMerit, 25.Jonathan Leathers; 11.John Thorrington (22.Shea Salinas 33'), 28.Gershon Koffie, 33.Peter Vagenas, 20.Davide Chiumiento (23.Long Tan 75'); 29.Eric Hassli, 7.Mustapha Jarju (12.Jeb Brovsky 85')
Subs not used: 18.Jay Nolly, 2.Michael Boxall, 15.Philippe Davies, 17.Omar Salgado
1.Tally Hall; 21.Hunter Freeman, 32.Bobby Boswell, 31.Andre Hainault, 26.Corey Ashe; 7.Colin Clark (10.Je-Vaughn Watson 67'), 16.Adam Moffat, 20.Geoff Cameron, 11.Brad Davis; 25.Brian Ching (15.Cam Weaver 85'), 29.Carlo Costly (3.Calen Carr 67')
Subs not used: 24.Tyler Deric, 2.Eddie Robinson, 4.Jermaine Taylor, 19.Alex Dixon
Budweiser Man of the Match: Shea Salinas