It’s early yet, but the Vancouver Whitecaps are showing signs that they will be more of an attacking team this season.
Kenny Miller scored two goals as the Whitecaps opened the 2014 Major League Soccer campaign with a 4-1 victory over the New York Red Bulls on Saturday before a sellout crowd of 21,000 at B.C. Place Stadium.
“We’re absolutely delighted with the way we’ve played,” said Miller. “A lot of the things that we worked on in the pre-season really came into fruition today.”
The Whitecaps had been concerned with how their offence would shape up after losing 2013 MLS scoring leader Camilo Sanvezzo to a Mexican League team this off-season.
Miller scored on a penalty-kick in the 34th minute and a breakaway in the 70th while second-half substitute Pedro Morales had a goal and an assist. Sebastian Fernandez also scored for the Whitecaps, who missed the playoffs in 2013.
Bradley Wright-Phillips scored for New York with only two minutes left in the game. The Red Bulls placed first overall in the regular season last year but were ousted early in the playoffs.
Carl Robinson, who pledged during the pre-season to put more offence in Vancouver’s game, posted his first regular-season win as Vancouver’s head coach following two years as an assistant to Martin Rennie.
“I think it was written in the stars, the way the first game came out, and it was my old team, things like that,” said Robinson, a former Red Bulls player and assistant coach. “But it’s just the beginning.”
Despite starting eight returnees, Robinson succeeded in his quest to create more scoring opportunities from mid-field as new midfielders Fernandez and Morales also hit the scoresheet.
Vancouver’s midfield play has been the subject of intense criticism the past two seasons. But the Whitecaps controlled play in the middle of the pitch for most of the game, generating several chances in the first half that were missed or stopped by New York goalkeeper Luis Robles, who kept the score lower than it could have been.
Vancouver had 10 shots on target compared to New York’s four. The Whitecaps put six shots on target in the first half.
“It’s what the boss (Robinson) wants,” said Miller. “He wants them to be up against it. He wants us (forwards) to be pressing from the front and working hard.”
The Whitecaps remained unbeaten in five all-time meetings with the Red Bulls, who only put four shots on target in the game. The Red Bulls showed signs of fatigue in the second half after a long travel day from the East Coast on Friday.
But defender Richard Eckersley, who made his regular-season debut along with fellow fullback Bobby Convey after an off-season trade from Toronto, said the long trip was not a factor.
“We can’t use excuses,” said Eckersley. “We got well beaten today.”
Miller opened the scoring on a penalty-kick in the 34th minute as he sent a shot into one corner while Robles went the other way. The spot kick was awarded after Eckersley was called for a hand-ball in New York’s box off a Matias Laba shot.
Fernandez, a 24-year-old Montevideo, Uruguay native, who played with Peru’s First Division champion Universitario de Deportes last season, gave the Whitecaps a 2-0 lead early in the second half. He fired a shot from about 25 yards out into the top right corner of the net in the 49th minute.
“It was just a good strike,” said Eckersley, who was marking the Whitecap closely on the play. “What can you do?”
Robles got his hand on the shot, but could not stop the ball from going in.
Vancouver went ahead 3-0 as Morales sent Miller a long lead ball from deep in Vancouver territory. Miller ran onto it well beyond defenders and lobbed a bouncing ball over a helpless Robles.
“I think we’ve seen, with (Morales) coming on, his vision — his awareness in what’s going on,” said Miller. “There were a couple little flips out of the corner. That’s not by chance. He knows there’s a guy in space and, obviously, that pass on my second goal was a sublime pass. But he’s finished as well.
“We’ve seen flashes of him playing (25) minutes, but I’m really excited about, hopefully, playing alongside him a lot more,” said Miller.
Morales, a 28-year-old Chilean who played in Spain’s La Liga the past two seasons, put the Whitecaps ahead 4-0 in the 89th minute as he fired in Nigel Reo-Coker’s rolling pass from the right flank from outside the New York box.
The only disappointed Whitecap, albeit slightly, was goalkeeper David Ousted, who had a quiet second half before Wright-Phillips spoiled his shutout bid. Ousted, who robbed Peguy Luyindula in the 12th minute, deflecting a hard shot off a goalpost and out of play, said the game was one of his easiest since he joined Vancouver midway through 2013.
“Too bad about the (missed) clean sheet,” he said. “We wanted a clean shot and I thought we deserved one.”
But Ousted was still pleased with Vancouver’s offence and a steady defensive effort against a New York lineup that included star Australian striker Tim Cahill.
“It was one of those games where I thought we were in control,” he said.
Notes: The Red Bulls will host their home opener next Saturday against Colorado, while the Whitecaps visit Chivas U.S.A. in the Los Angeles suburb of Carson, Calif., on Sunday. ... The Whitecaps have won all four of their MLS season openers. a Ex-English Premier League star Thierry Henry, who does not like playing on artificial turf, did not make the road trip with the Red Bulls. a Ousted’s high punt in added time got caught up in the B.C. flag hanging from the bottom of the giant scoreboard at midfield. a The game was officiated by replacement officials as MLS regulars were locked out due to a labour dispute.