VANCOUVER—Kianz Froese’s first half goal lifted the Vancouver Whitecaps to a 1-0 win over Honduran champions Club Deportivo Olimpia at BC Place on Wednesday in CONCACAF Champions League action.
The breakthrough came in the 42nd minute. Nicolas Mezquida hit the killer pass, sending Darren Mattocks in on a breakaway. The Jamaican lost control of the ball as it bounced off his heel, but Froese was the first to react, beating Olimpia goalkeeper Noel Valladeres to the loose ball and lofting his shot home.
“When you’re able to score a goal in a competition like this, it’s always a great feeling,” Froese said. “I’ve played quite a few games (this season) and I wasn’t expecting to play as much, so I’m happy with how the year has went and the minutes I’ve gotten. It’s been enjoyable and I feel like I’ve gotten better as a player.”
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When asked about Froese’s performance, coach Carl Robinson told reporters he’s been pushing the young Winnipeg native to get more involved in games—something that seemed to pay off in this match, even beyond the goal.
“I think Kianz played 45 minutes against Colorado last game (in MLS) and made a difference when he came on, and he needs to do that,” Robinson said. “I did challenge him to be more proactive rather than reactive, and I think he took that on board, but it was a good shift for him today.”
This was Vancouver’s first win in the continental competition. With the victory, the Whitecaps are now 1-0-1 in this competition, and now sit joint leaders at the top of Group F with the Seattle Sounders on four points.
“It was exactly the way I thought it would play out,” Robinson admitted. “I thought it was a very tough game for us. We knew that. They’re a fantastic team. They’ve got some top, top players in their team, and we knew it’d be a test for us. We managed to get our noses in front in the first half and I think we played very, very well.
“Obviously they huffed and puffed in the second half, but we defended brilliantly. Tactically, the boys were fantastic today against a very good team.”
Robinson fielded what was essentially a “B” team with the exception of centre back Kendall Waston and midfielder Matias Laba.
“I thought (Olimpia) were good,” striker Robert Earnshaw said. “I thought they made it very, very difficult. A lot of energy, very physical, and that’s what we had to compete with. As long as we made them pay with our quality, that was the aim. But considering all the changes and everything like this, I thought we came out and played very, very good.”
The Whitecaps had the first chance of the game in the ninth minute, as Mezquida sent a dangerous ball across the box to Earnshaw, but the Welshman couldn’t connect with his attempted bicycle kick. Moments later, Ever Alvarado came even closer for the visitors, getting on the end of a free kick from Oscar Sales, sending his header off the crossbar and out of play.
Mattocks had a chance to score just before the end of the first half, finding himself alone on a tight angle in the penalty area, but he blasted well over the target from close range when he should have done better.
Once again Mattocks generated an opportunity but failed with his final ball early in the second half, streaking down the left wing on a counterattack, beating his man easily. But on a two-on-one with Earnshaw, the forward’s weak pass across goal was easily snagged up by Valladeres.
Play was stopped moments later following a collision involving Romell Quioto and Whitecaps goalkeeper Paolo Tornaghi. The Italian went up for a 50-50 ball with the forward but Quioto got the brunt of the impact and was forced to leave the match due to injury.
The visitors had another chance to equalize in the 78th minute, as Alberth Elis missed from a prime position in the area. The play was generated from a cross from substitute Michael Chirinos from the right. Two minutes later, Chirinos had a chance of his own in the area, only to see his shot take a deflection before Tornaghi got down well to gather and ensure no rebound squirted out.
The Whitecaps came agonizingly close to finding an insurance goal in the final minute of regulation, as Earnshaw fired a ball off Valladeres’ face on a breakaway, before Marco Bustos’ shot wide of goal on the rebound attempt.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Earnshaw said. “I thought I did everything right. I thought it was actually a good save. You always replay it back, what could you have done different, but I’d probably do the same thing again. I thought it was a good save.”
The win was not without a cost, however; Flores, Mattocks and Mezquida were forced to leave the game due to injury for the Whitecaps.
The Whitecaps are back in Champions League action next Wednesday when they travel down the I-5 to face the Sounders at CenturyLink Field. Before that they host Settle on Saturday at BC Place in Major League Soccer play.