A sense of relief fell over the Vancouver Whitecaps players after the final whistle blew on their 1-0 win over LAFC on Wednesday.
The victory was the first of the Marc dos Santos era, and it came after a frustrating start to the 2019 campaign.
“It’s not about me, it’s about the Vancouver Whitecaps and it’s big because for the people that go to training, and follow the team closely, you know that players were frustrated but never had their head down, never negative,” Dos Santos said.
After losing their first three games, the Whitecaps displayed some progress in draws with Seattle and Chicago, but the first win eluded them until Wednesday.
“We stayed the process and a lot of times we did a lot of things well and we only got out of games with a tie or with a loss and tonight’s win is important now because it has pair of, all the work, all the consistency of the players in training,” Dos Santos said.
The victory was a bit unexpected given the early form of the Whitecaps and how well LAFC was playing going into BC Place.
The back line headlined by Doneil Henry wasn’t intimidated much by the duo of MLS goals and assists leader Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi.
Despite a late push from the LAFC attack in the final 15 minutes, the Whitecaps remained organized to send the Black and Gold home with their first loss of 2019.
“I feel like as a unit we defend really well as a back five,” Henry said. “Individually, a team like this can kill you. They have quality and if they can isolate players one-on-one, or get guys in free space, that’s where the beat you.”
“As a unit we always know where each other are and we know how to defend as a collective unit,” Henry said. “So I think that’s where we find real success.”
LAFC got off 14 shots on Wednesday night, but only three of them reached Maxime Crepeau in net.
By limiting LAFC’s shots on target and taking advantage of a slow start by Bob Bradley’s men, the Whitecaps were able to snatch the lead in the first half through a goal by Hwang In-Beom.
The goal was the first of the South Korean’s MLS career, and it helped ease some of the pressure he was feeling to score as one of the club’s high-profile offseason signings.
“It’s going to be a lie if I say I did not have any pressure on me,” Hwang said. “I know I’m an international player and also a DP for the team, so I did have a little bit of pressure.”
While the midfielder was feeling some pressure, a conversation between the South Korean and the Whitecaps coaching staff helped ease some of that going into Wednesday.
“Yesterday Marc wanted to have a chat with me,” Hwang said. “He said that the team and the coaching staff, the entire team, we don’t want you to feel pressure.”
“So what Marc told me was you are not a finished player, you are a developing player, so even if you’re an international and even if you’re a DP for the team, you’re not Wayne Rooney, you’re not Zlatan,” Hwang said. “What Marc told me was that I want you to be Inbeom on the team. So that really helped me to set the mindset.”
Although Wednesday’s win was a huge step forward for the Whitecaps, it will only mean something if it parlays into a result against Orlando City on Saturday.
“It’s important to realize we got a win,” Dos Santos said. “We didn’t win any trophy, we didn’t win anything. We got a win, and even if it’s positive, it’s a good step, but we need to continue to build on that.”