VANCOUVER—In English at least, Matias Laba speaks so softly that you’d be forgiven if you sometimes missed what he said.
But on Saturday, after the Vancouver Whitecaps earned a 4–2 win over the powerhouse L.A. Galaxy, the Argentine’s message was unmistakable.
“That three points is very important for us to make more confidence,” he said.
If his team’s confidence had been shaken—and Laba’s own, too—it’s easy to see why. The Whitecaps entered the match winless in their Major League Soccer campaign. Laba, for his part, had an off year in 2016, and his resurgence this year is critical to Vancouver’s chances of a bounce back after missing out on the playoffs last year.
The returns on Saturday night were promising: Laba scored twice—the defensive midfielder had previously tallied just one goal for the Whitecaps since joining the club in 2014—and Vancouver fought back after giving up an early lead.
Vancouver was pressing hard from the start. Cristian Techera—who, like Laba, is looking for a turnaround of sorts this season—nearly gave the team an early lead in the eighth minute, weaving through the penalty area before being denied at point-blank range by Galaxy goalkeeper Clement Diop.
“The Bug” eventually came through, scoring his first goal of the season—and Vancouver’s first MLS goal at home this year—in the 19th minute. Whitecaps right fullback Sheanon Williams launched a perfectly placed ball forward to a driving Techera, who kept his body between the ball and Diop—the L.A. ’keeper had aggressively left the penalty area in pursuit—before delivering the ball into an empty net.
But the Whitecaps’ lead was short-lived: Seven minutes later, the Galaxy’s Romain Alessandrini snuck a shot past Jordan Harvey that was initially saved by David Ousted. The ball took a pair of awkward bounces, first off the post and then off Ousted’s head, floating just past the goal line.
Four minutes later, Alessandrini found the back of the net in definitive fashion, leaving Ousted without the opportunity even to attempt a stop. The Galaxy, held without a first-half MLS goal in the 2017 season prior to Saturday, now had two—and a 2–1 advantage over Vancouver.
Late in the first half, Diop continued his adventures outside the penalty area, this time charging forward and tackling Erik Hurtado. Hurtado struggled to do more than hobble through the final moments of the half and seemed to be favouring his left leg. He was subbed off immediately to start the second half.
After a slow start to the second half, the Whitecaps were able to regain their early energy, leading to a pair of goals in the 66th and 67th minutes. The first came courtesy of Fredy Montero—his first MLS goal for Vancouver.
“I just came in and tried to do my job, what the coach told me to do,” Montero said.
Montero earned an assist one minute later, sending an innocuous-looking ball to Laba, who scored from outside the penalty area despite five L.A. players positioned within the box. His second goal sealed the game for the Whitecaps 20 minutes later.
“We gave the game away,” said Galaxy coach Curt Onalfo afterwards, adding that he felt his team had controlled the game early on but had “gifted” the ’Caps the tying and winning goals.
Still, Onalfo did give Vancouver some credit—even if he felt his team had “pissed away” the points up for grabs.
“Good teams are going to punish you when you make errors like that,” he said.
Errors or not, Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson was certain that his team had earned their three points.
“I think we deserved it,” he said. “I thought we played very well. I thought from the first whistle we set out to play with intent on the front foot, and I thought we were very unlucky in the first half to be 2–1 down.”
Despite conceding two “silly goals” in the first half, Robinson seemed pleased.
“I said to ’em at half time, ‘Just keep doing the same thing, get into the same areas, keep believing, and show passion,’” he said. “And they did. We got our reward.”
The reward, according to Laba, was a product of the hard work the team has been putting in.
If the Whitecaps are going to build momentum off their win, players such as Laba and Techera will need to continue to excel. For now, at least, the ’Caps have that first win under their belt, which means they can relax, if only a little.
“We’re very happy,” Montero said. “We were looking for this victory at home, and today we had the opportunity to celebrate.”