Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson envisioned nights like Saturday when he signed Fredy Montero and Yordy Reyna over the winter.
It just took longer than expected to get Vancouver’s dynamic duo clicking together on the same field.
Montero cooly slotted home a penalty in the first half before Reyna struck with a stunning shot from distance 15 minutes later as the Whitecaps defeated the Houston Dynamo 2-1.
“That’s the reason I brought them in,” said Robinson. “It’s nice when it works.”
Montero joined Vancouver from his club in China on a year-long loan and made his 19th start, but Reyna, who signed on from FC Red Bull Salzburg, broke his foot in pre-season and only returned to action on July 1.
“We are more focused on helping the team than trying to reach individual goals,” said Montero. “We’re happy to contribute.”
The Columbian striker has looked marooned at times at the top of the Whitecaps’ formation, but seems to already have good chemistry working with Reyna set up just behind him in the formation.
“If I can hold the ball long enough for him to come support me, then that’s good for the team,” said Montero. “We have different kinds of players that can go one-on-one, who can shoot on goal.”
Montero converted his penalty in the 17th minute after Reyna was fouled by Boniek Garcia, sending Houston goalkeeper Tyler Deric the wrong way with a shot that kissed the right post for his 10th goal of the campaign.
Montero then turned provider for Reyna, who grabbed the ball outside the Dynamo box and curled an incredible right-foot effort from 20 yards out for his second that a leaping Deric could only watch fly into the top corner.
“We had him in pre-season so we got a little glimpse of it,” Whitecaps midfielder Andrew Jacobson said of Reyna. “We got to see it and then it got taken away. Now he’s really starting to come into his own.”
Reyna was everywhere on this night, terrorizing Houston defenders at will, and getting fouled plenty of times in the process.
“I hope he gets the protection that other players like him get,” said Robinson. “He’s like a rash. He’s all over the place.”
Houston got one back in the 51st minute when Mauro Manotas played a chipped pass into Romell Quioto, who in turn tapped the ball over Vancouver goalkeeper David Ousted for his fifth.
Manotas then blasted a shot just over the crossbar in the 88th minute, but Vancouver held on for the three points in a scrappy affair that saw the teams get shown four yellow cards apiece.
“They had the ball, but they huffed and puffed,” said Robinson. “We didn’t give them too many clear-cut chances.”
The Whitecaps (10-9-4), who moved into the sixth and final playoff spot in Major League Soccer’s Western Conference after Real Salt Lake could only draw the Philadelphia Union 2-2, started a stretch of six in seven at B.C. Place Stadium that will be crucial to their post-season aspirations.
Saturday also marked the first of three matches in eight days for Vancouver, which hosts the Seattle Sounders on Wednesday before travelling across the continent to play Orlando City SC next weekend.
The Dynamo (10-8-7) entered with three wins and three draws over their last six outings to sit in a four-way tie atop the crowded West, but dropped back into a three-way tie for second after falling to 1-8-4 on the road.
No doubt with an eye towards Wednesday’s game at FC Dallas, Houston head coach Wilmer Cabrera left Erick Torres, who has 12 goals on the year, fellow striker Vincente Sanchez and midfielder Ricardo Clark at home.
The Whitecaps were coming off a 1-1-1 road trip that culminated in a 1-0 defeat to the New England Revolution last weekend where they lost midfielder Matias Laba for the season after the Argentine tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
A bulldog in the centre of the park, Laba has been relied on to break up opponents’ attacking moves and provide cover for Vancouver’s backline since arriving in 2014.
His spot was taken in Saturday’s starting lineup by Jacobson in Robinson’s familiar 4-2-3-1 formation alongside Tony Tchani. But Aly Ghazal, an Egyptian international who has played in Portugal and China, signed last week and looks like a more obvious long-term solution.
“It’s a massive loss for us,” Robinson said of Laba’s injury. “He’s been arguably as good as any player for us over three-plus years. It’s heartbreaking.
“We know what we need to do this year, and we want to do it for Mati as well.”