Vancouver Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson asked Kianz Froese to up his game, and the Canadian midfielder delivered.
Froese scored in the first half Wednesday as the Whitecaps defeated C.D. Olimpia 1-0 to secure the club’s first-ever victory in CONCACAF Champions League play.
The 19-year-old poked a shot home in the 42nd minute that Olimpia goalkeeper Noel Valladeres could only get a piece of before it looped up and over a helpless defender scrambling back to the goal line.
“When you’re able to score in a competition like this it’s always a great feeling,” said Froese. “To help the team win a game like this is the best.”
Vancouver’s Darren Mattocks looked certain to score seconds earlier, but the ball got caught up in his feet before Froese was there to pounce.
“I did challenge (Froese) to be more proactive rather than reactive, and I think he took that on board,” said Robinson. “It was a good shift for him today.”
Sitting first overall in Major League Soccer with a home match against the Seattle Sounders set for Saturday, the Whitecaps went with a mostly inexperienced lineup that included just two regulars — defender Kendall Waston and midfielder Matias Laba.
The only other veteran on the pitch for Vancouver was Robert Earnshaw, who played his first full 90 minutes of the season and had a hard time understanding how Froese’s effort made it over the line.
“Just after the goal I said ‘Explain to me how that’s gone in?'” Earnshaw joked. “He’ll take it. He was in the right place, right time and credit to him. It was good learning for him.”
Wednesday’s victory over the Honduran side moves the Whitecaps (1-0-1) into a tie on points with the Sounders (1-1-1) atop Group F and sets up a crucial match between the clubs — the second in five days — next week at CenturyLink Field. The Whitecaps, who drew Seattle 1-1 at home to open their first foray into the competition, round out group play against Olimpia(1-2-0) on Oct. 22 in Tegucigalpa.
The winner of each of the eight three-team groups advances to next year’s knockout stage, which is part of qualifying for the 2016 FIFA Club World Cup.
“It was a very tough game for us,” said Robinson. “They’ve got some top players in their team and we knew it would be a test for us, but we managed to get our noses in front in the first half.
“We huffed and puffed in the second half, but we defended brilliantly.”
Content to kill time off at almost every opportunity when the score was tied, Olimpia came out with renewed vigour after the break.
Roger Rojas blasted a shot over the bar in the 78th minute before Whitecaps ‘keeper Paolo Tornaghi gobbled up an effort from Michael Chirinos moments later.
With Olimpia pressing, Earnshaw nearly sealed it in the 90th minute, but his shot hit Valladeres in the face, and Marco Bustos’ follow up flashed wide.
“We didn’t want to give them anything for free,” said Robinson. “If any team is going to come here and beat us they’re going to have to earn it. The concentration levels have got to be spot on and they were today.”
Notes: Vancouver has already qualified for the 2016 Champions League after winning the Amway Canadian Championship last month. … Laba is suspended for Saturday’s league match. … Wednesday’s attendance was 15,491.
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected version of an earlier story. The soccer team from Honduras is spelled Olimpia, not Olympia.