VANCOUVER - Carl Robinson knows it won’t always be like this.
The first-year Vancouver Whitecaps’ head coach — who was Plan B or Plan C in the Caps’ off-season search for a new gaffer — has guided his Major League Soccer squad to two wins and two draws in the first four games this season.
The Caps, one of just four undefeated teams in MLS, are tied for second place in the Western Conference and have equalled their best start to a season after four games. Former head coach Martin Rennie’s 2012 Whitecaps began with the same record.
“I’m sure I’ll have tough times here and I’ll be sitting here after defeats trying to be positive and things like that,” Robinson said after the Whitecaps defeated the Houston Dynamo 2-1 Saturday at BC Place Stadium. “But most importantly, I’ll back those boys in there if they perform like that week in and week out.”
If Chilean attacking midfielder Pedro Morales plays like he did against the Dynamo week in and week out, the Whitecaps will gladly pay him the several hundred thousand dollars a year or more that he’s earning as the sixth designated player in club history.
He was an easy choice as man of the match as he directed the Caps’ attack from the top of a diamond midfield formation.
Morales set up the first goal with a long cross into the Houston box that was headed by Andy O’Brien and put into the net by an opportunistic Jordan Harvey, who scored four times last year in his evolution as a goal-scoring defender.
Morales also created a great early chance by speedy forward Darren Mattocks and never hesitated to make a long-range diagonal pass if that seemed like the play to make.
“He’s a joy to watch, isn’t he?” Robinson asked. “He really is and I think he’s a joy to play with as well ... It just gives us a different dimension in our team and when he’s on the field, we play a little bit more.”
Whitecaps’ goalkeeper David Ousted was staggered to see a 60-yard on-the-ground Morales pass find its mark.
“It was amazing,” he said. “He’s excellent on the ball. We need to develop our plays so we can get him on the ball and get him to make the passes. With that said, the guys in front of him did an awesome job getting in the corridors and getting the ball.”
Morales said he sees plays develop in his mind.
“I try and make the pass but I’m under a little bit of pressure sometimes and it doesn’t work at times,” he said through an interpreter. “Whenever I receive the ball, I like to keep my head up. I look for my teammates and see who’s available.”
Six-foot-4, 210-pound Houston centre back David Horst seemed to give Morales a stern, finger-pointing, welcome-to-MLS lecture after he drove an elbow into the ribs of Morales in the second half, forcing the Chilean to drop to the turf in obvious pain. But Morales recovered from the collision and carried on, seemingly wiser for experiencing the league’s intense physical play.
Morales has one goal and two assists in four appearances this season and seems like a sure bet to beat the club’s single-season record of nine assists, set by Davide Chiumiento in 2011 and equalled by Russell Teibert last year.
Robinson will be pleased to hear Morales and his wife and young child are settling into Vancouver well after arriving here less than a month ago.
“I think it’s really important to kind of be at peace and just be comfortable outside of the field as well,” Morales said. “It’s really important that we can concentrate and just play.”
Mattocks ran miles in playing a strong game but missed two or three terrific chances to score his first goal of the season. His dangerous second-half run into the Dynamo box led to the penalty kick — converted by Kenny Miller — that proved to be the winning goal.
Mattocks insisted he’s not fretting over his missed scoring chances this season.
“The club is moving in the right direction and that’s key,” he said. “It’s not about Darren getting chances. It’s about winning as a club and moving in the right direction ... If I miss two or three chances, Darren is going to come right back again.”
The Whitecaps spent a lot of time practising defending against set pieces last week as the Dynamo are strong on dead balls delivered by U.S. international midfielder Brad Davis.
Houston’s lone goal came on a set piece when Ricardo Clark beat Caps’ defender Steven Beitashour to the ball but Robinson took it in stride, noting his squad successfully defended nine corners and several free kicks.
“It’s not ideal but the effort and determination (was there),” he said. “We must have defended corner after corner after free kick so that’s a positive and I’ll take it for that. So I’m not too disappointed.”
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