BY MARC WEBER
Clad in his bold new all-red uniform, Jay Nolly made a pair of devilish saves to secure the Whitecaps their first win of the season on Saturday night.
Vancouver blanked the Portland Timbers 1-0 in front of 5,102 fans at Swangard Stadium, earning three points for the first time in four tries (1-1-2).
Yes, it's early in this 30-game schedule. But expectations are high after a USL-1 championship, and perhaps even higher given Vancouver's successful Major League Soccer bid for 2011.
There's also the matter of a young, unfamiliar team gaining confidence in itself. Half the roster has turned over since last season.
"Tonight was a big night for us," said Nolly, who kept it 0-0 early in the second half, then made his save of the night off a hard Johan Claesson strike in the 68th to preserve a 1-0 lead.
"I think it was just a win that we needed. We left some points out there on the road.
"I felt real good tonight. Everything was going our way. The balls found our defenders when we needed them to. They found my hands when they needed to."
And Martin Nash found the back of the net when he needed to.
In danger of a second straight 0-0 tie on home turf, a corner kick popped out to the captain and he ripped the ball past Steve Cronin from about 23 yards. It was strikingly similar to his home winner against Portland last season.
"I don't score that many, but they're usually nice," he admitted. "The ball was so high in the air it was more making sure I got contact on it."
After a tame, tentative first 20 minutes the game was wide open for the rest of the first half. Whitecaps defender Marco Reda almost scored at both ends in the opening 45 — his diving header clearance nearly picking the corner past Nolly, and his shot the other way stopped on the line, controversially, by Cronin.
Reda joked that Nolly had the gaffe covered. The way the keeper was moving, Reda might have been right.
"Playing at home, it was a huge win for us," Reda said. "You can only say 'It's a long season‚' so many times. Every team in the league is winning and we didn't want to fall too far behind."
On top of league concerns, there's also an urgency to find a decent form before Nutrilite Canadian championship play opens May 6 at Toronto FC. Last season, Vancouver was out of the CONCACAF Champions League qualifier series seemingly before it started.
Nolly couldn't wear his red threads for the Caps home opener because it clashed with Charleston's colours. He was already thinking ahead, though, to the encounter with Toronto FC.
"I tried to order yellow but they can't find yellow shorts," he said. "I'm going to try to go with this for the rest of the season. Hopefully Toronto doesn't wear red."
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