Kenny Miller made good on a pressure packed do-over to keep the Vancouver Whitecaps unbeaten.
Miller’s goal on a penalty kick in the 58th minute gave the Whitecaps a 2-1 victory over the Houston Dynamo on Saturday.
He had to re-take the spot kick, after being successful on the first one, because teammate Darren Mattocks was still in the 18-yard box when Miller put the ball into the net.
“It was a little tougher when you’ve scored the first one, and it’s easy after a miss,” said Miller. “But sometimes that happens. It was a little bit of encroachment there. Sometimes, the referees don’t make you take it again. But I was fortunate enough to put it in.”
The penalty kick was awarded after Houston defender Kofi Sarkodie was called for a hand ball in the box in the 56th minute.
The Whitecaps improved their record to 2-0-2 in the young season before a sellout crowd of 21,000 at B.C. Place Stadium. The Dynamo (2-1-0) suffered their first loss.
“I don’t think you could ask for much more (to start the season),” said Miller.
He scored what proved to be the winning goal as he put the hosts ahead 2-0 with his spot kick, rolling a shot into the right corner of the net. He had put his first penalty-kick attempt over Houston goalkeeper Tally Hall.
“(Miller), obviously, has got a cool head (to score on) the second penalty,” said Vancouver rookie head coach Carl Robinson. “The first (penalty kick) was driving me mad. I just prayed that he’d put it in, and he did. He’s a very clever player and a very cool character, so I’m delighted for (Miller) but delighted for all the guys.”
Jordan Harvey, in the 14th minute, also scored for the Whitecaps while Ricardo Clark, in the 75th, was the lone Houston marksman.
“I think we got the result we deserved,” said Robinson. “But we showed a lot of heart and character in today’s performance.”
The Whitecaps effectively negated Dynamo striker Will Bruin, who had shared the MLS scoring lead after netting three goals in his club’s first two games to start the season.
“I thought we did okay. We just came out on the wrong end of the result,” said Houston coach Dominic Kinnear.
Harvey, a left back, gave the Whitecaps a 1-0 lead as he bounced Andy O’Brien’s header past Hall.
The assist was the first point in MLS for O’Brien, a central defender, who joined the Whitecaps midway through the 2012 season. The play originated off a long cross from the left flank by Pedro Morales.
“I like to think I can contribute, not just with assists and things like that,” said O’Brien. “But I’m pleased that I could contribute on the goal.”
After assisting on the goal, O’Brien made several timely defensive plays with some key plays and a blocked cross that he took in the groin. He lay on the ground briefly but continued to play well after.
Houston started with a charge and forced Whitecaps goalkeeper David Ousted to knock a Giles Barnes header over the crossbar in the first minute. But that was the only attempt Houston put on net in the first half. Afterwards, aside from getting back-to-back corner kicks in the eighth minute — the second of which Ousted leaped out to catch — the Dynamo rarely penetrated a staunch Whitecaps defence.
On the other hand, Hall was forced to make three saves in the first half, including two on Morales. The second stop on Morales came in stoppage time and prevented the Whitecaps from going into halftime with a bigger lead and considerable confidence.
The Dynamo again attempted to get off to a strong start in the second half, but the Caps held them off fairly easily as Robinson switched to a diamond-shaped midfield that he had not used previously.
“The system that we played today gave us more options when we had the ball,” said O’Brien. “It exposed the channel areas for (Mattocks) to run into, and he’s not the guy that you want to be chasing with the ball a as a defender.”
Vancouver’s penalty kick was awarded after Mattocks tried to deke Sarkodie a few yards inside the Houston box. Sarkodie fell and swept his arm out, getting a hand on the ball.
Clark pulled the Dynamo within a goal as he headed home a Brad Davis free kick.
But the Whitecaps managed to hold Houston off the scoreboard the rest of the way as Robinson made substitutions to keep his attackers fresh and the defenders and midfielders remained solid in their play.
“We’re going to concede goals, but it’s about how you bounce back and we didn’t look (like we were) under any pressure,” said Robinson. “They pushed time after time, and they’re a big, physical team, but while they were putting bigger players on, I was putting smaller players on.”
Morales, a 28-year-old Chilean midfielder who is in his first season with the Whitecaps, continued to draw rave reviews from his coach and teammates for his vision and passing ability. He now has a goal and two assists in his first four MLS career games.
“He’s a joy to watch, he really is, and I think he’s a joy to play with as well,” said Robinson. “He just gives us a different dimension to our team.”
Notes: The Whitecaps honoured retired defender Y.P. Lee before the game. The former Korean international was presented with a photo of himself and his two children, taken prior to the final game of his career last season. Lee continues to live in Vancouver and works with the Whitecaps business operations while pursuing his education. a The game marked a rare time when a female official, Felisha Mariscal of Chula Vista., Calif., served as an assistant referee in an MLS contest. Mariscal’s brothers Apolinar (Polo) and Eduardo, who are twins, are also soccer officials. a Vancouver captain Jay DeMerit played the whole game a week after Robinson kept him at home to rest while the Caps earned a draw in Philadelphia. a Vancouver midfielder Gershon Koffie was solid in place of the injured Nigel Reo-Coker (concussion.)