After a pair of poor performances, Whitecaps FC rebounded with a Cascadia Cup derby win over high-flying Seattle Sounders FC.
After two poor performances versus Montreal Impact and Colorado Rapids, the Whitecaps looked a determined outfit against the Sounders, as an early Sebastian Fernandez strike was all the 'Caps needed to send a sold-out crowd of 22,500 home happy from BC Place on Saturday night.
"I think any game you play against Seattle is always tough and physical," Whitecaps FC head coach Carl Robinson said after the 1-0 win. "I think we’ve had two games against them now where it’s draining. I said to the players that they must be absolutely exhausted because I am and I haven’t even won.
"I think the two halves were totally different. I thought first half, we were excellent in possession. Our passing and movement is what we’ve been accustomed to, what I’ve been accustomed to see them doing in training and the first 10 to 12 games of the season. The second half was just about rolling your sleeves up -- grit, desire, and heart."
Playing without experienced centre back Andy O'Brien, who was sidelined with a hip injury, the Whitecaps defended stoutly as a team in earning a clean sheet for the second straight home match. Robinson singled out his centre back pairing of Carlyle Mitchell and Johnny Leveron for particular praise.
"I thought they were fabulous today," said the former Wales international. "It's not easy, as we're missing obviously Andy and Jay (DeMerit), and they've been great for us during this early run of the season. Mitchell has only played two or three games, while Johnny has only played five or six, so it was a great challenge for them. Playing against Kenny Cooper and Chad Barrett, it's a very physical battle. I knew they'd cope physically with them, but I wanted the concentration levels to be there because I don't think they were there on Saturday against Colorado."
Saturday's win saw several 'Caps players look back at their best. Among them was playmaker Pedro Morales, who again caught the eye of the home fans with his range of quality passing and set-pieces.
“I think the team played very good today," Morales told reporters. "(It was) a good game against a difficult team, but I think that today the team (was) very good. I am happy. The guys are very happy for today and for the win in a very important game.”
It was also an improved performance from match winner Fernandez, who added to his impressive MLS goal collection by striking home from long range for the third time this season.
"Pedro (Morales) put a good ball to me. I turned with the ball and, fortunately, there was space," said the diminutive Uruguayan. "I practice this all the time, so I just took the opportunity and went to shoot."
The derby result not only ended Vancouver's three-match winless run and halt Western Conference leaders Seattle's five-game unbeaten streak, it puts the 'Caps in a strong position to retain the fan-based Cascadia Cup versus the Sounders and Portland Timbers. With in-form Chivas USA coming to BC Place next Saturday, Vancouver intend to be upwardly mobile during this busy month of July.
"We’ll keep the momentum going from this game. It’s great to win 1-0 against the best team in the league," said 'Caps midfielder Gershon Koffie. "We don’t have to win 3-0 or 4-0, but to keep the lead and clean sheet is important. Sometimes you win not by playing the best game, but by getting the points. That’s what we did tonight."