CARSON, Calif. — The Vancouver Whitecaps had never won a Major League Soccer road game. Jay DeMerit had never scored an MLS goal. Sitting atop the standings more than one game into the schedule? Unheard of.
That all changed on Saturday.
It was a night of firsts for the Whitecaps, who used impeccable defending, a smart game plan and a terrific set-piece goal from DeMerit to pull out a 1-0 triumph over Chivas USA.
The sense of relief at getting the first away win in franchise history was clear for the Whitecaps, who went 0-12-5 on the road in their inaugural season.
“It’s a huge monkey off our back,” said DeMerit, who scored on a 68th-minute header from Camilo’s corner kick. “A lot’s been said about that in our preseason and the lead-up to this first away game. To get it out of the way right away is such a good thing for us as a group so we can just concentrate again on what our job is week in and week out.
“We don’t have that pressure on us anymore, and now we can go away from home and try to get clean sheets and wins.”
Vancouver was superb defensively, sitting back and absorbing, never letting Chivas turn its superior possession into chances.
Goalkeeper Joe Cannon came up with one big save — stretching to tip a 20-yard shot by rookie Casey Townsend over the crossbar — before departing just before halftime with a bruised quadriceps in his left leg.
Brad Knighton came on, solved some tricky situations near the end, and Vancouver accomplished another first: back-to-back shutouts.
“Those things are all pleasing and important to the team,” Whitecaps coach Martin Rennie said. “It’s up to us to make our own record and to build a winning environment, like we’ve always talked about, and this is only a first or second step along the way. But it’s three points, and three points builds confidence, winning on the road builds unity. You can’t get that without hard work, and that’s what the guys have given us tonight.”
The match, played in front of a rain-soaked Home Depot Center crowd announced as just 7,723, offered some decent play but few chances. Vancouver put just two shots on target — the first a left-footed Lee Young-Pyo drive that Goats goalkeeper Dan Kennedy parried just before DeMerit’s goal — and struggled to get Eric Hassli and especially Sebastien Le Toux involved.
Chivas, which conceded a stoppage-time goal to lose their opener last weekend at home against Houston, was superb defensively. Its organization limited the Whitecaps’ penetration and individual efforts, erasing opportunities when the Whitecaps did get into the box.
“It’s just disappointing,” said Chivas left back Ante Jazic, a Canadian international from Halifax. “I think Vancouver was certainly beatable. What did they have, one shot on net aside from the goal, and from distance? If you give up one shot on goal, you should win the game. … Give credit to Vancouver. They definitely battled. But I though they were there to be taken tonight, for sure.”
The game changed with an extended attack in the 67th minute. After Kennedy knocked down Lee’s shot, Le Toux collected the rebound and played it back to Lee, whose chip nearly found Hassli in the goalmouth. James Riley headed it out for a corner kick, and Chivas midfielder Oswaldo Minda slipped as Camilo’s ball sailed into the middle. DeMerit’s powerful header bounced into the net.
“I’m so happy for the guys,” said Cannon, who likely will be out a week or so. “Once Jay put that in, I think everyone knew what we were going to do for the rest of the game: just bunker in and force them to play wide and try to get another on on the counter.”
The Whitecaps escaped a late possible penalty kick after Alain Rochat wrestled Nick LaBrocca to the ground, and a Minda header that skipped past the right post in stoppage time.
“It’s nice to win any game, and obviously it’s great to win on the road at any time,” said Rennie, whose team is even on six points with Real Salt Lake atop the Western Conference. “I think it’s probably got more significance for us just because in the past in MLS the Whitecaps haven’t won on the road. There’s thing we can always improve upon, but it was a professional performance, a very hard-working performance, and it’s always nice to win.”