VANCOUVER, BC –Kendall Waston had the ideal send-off before joining up with his Costa Rican teammates for two big World Cup qualifiers next week. He scored a first-half brace to set Vancouver Whitecaps FC on their way to a 3-1 come-from-behind victory over Atlanta United FC at BC Place on Saturday afternoon.
Waston put in a Budweiser Man of the Match performance for the 'Caps, as Vancouver overcame going behind to an early Greg Garza strike, with the 'Caps captain scoring twice before halftime to fire the home side ahead.
The centre back also played a crucial part in Fredy Montero's third for the 'Caps and had a goal-line clearance in one of his best-ever outings in a Whitecaps FC jersey.
“Kendall's been absolutely excellent since the start of the season,” Whitecaps FC head coach Carl Robinson told reporters after the game. “He's been very mature. He's 29 years of age and with the responsibility he's taken on board from being captain, I think he's grown into that role. He's been a monster for us.”
“You might get sidetracked because he scores two goals, but there's other games where he's been phenomenal for us,” Robinson added. “I wouldn't want any other player when the ball's coming into the box, especially when you're defending a lead. Time and time again today he showed how crucial he is for us.”
The control on Waston's first finish in particular is not what you expect from a 6-foot-5 defender, more used to heading clearances than deft footwork. Of the nine MLS goals he's now scored in his four seasons in the league, that was his first from his foot, showing some of the skills that previously saw him playing up front for Saprissa when called upon.
“I'd prefer it if he heads it in, to be honest,” deadpanned Robinson. “I thought he waited too long, but it was a good goal. The second phase came in and he controlled it well. If you ask him, he'll tell you that he has played centre forward in Costa Rica prior to coming [to MLS]. He won't be playing centre forward here.”
But the play drew both surprise and admiration from the 'Caps other goalscorer.
“Yeah [surprise], for sure, especially coming from that big body,” Montero joked after the match. “Doing one-touch, two-touch to put the ball and then finish it. That was a good move there, and we're proud that that gave us motivation to come back and keep fighting for the game, keep fighting for the second goal. And he got that one too.”
The goals were Waston's first of the year, in a season which has seen the 'Caps captain return to his best on the defensive side, and they once again put in a solid defensive showing to keep a dangerous Atlanta attack at bay after going behind to that early strike.
“They scored the first goal but we knew if we kept playing our same style, we were confident at some stage of the game we could come back,” Waston said. “We were practicing very hard during the week all the set pieces and transition in the game. We felt very proud of that. What the coaches and staff told us to do, won us the game.”
He had a pretty big part in it, too.
Atlanta head coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino, a high-profile manager who previously coached FC Barcelona and the Argentine national team, said his team “couldn’t control Waston” and that Vancouver’s skipper was “the difference in the game.”
“There aren’t many players like Waston in the league,” Martino added.
No, there certainly are not.
- with files from Farhan Devji