VANCOUVER — Four minutes was all it took for the Vancouver Whitecaps to turn a frustrating night into a comfortable victory.
Octavio Rivero and Cristian Techera scored in the second half Wednesday as Vancouver overcame a sluggish performance to defeat the Colorado Rapids 2-0.
What had been a dull affair finally got an injection of excitement in the 73rd minute when Rivero headed home his 10th goal of the season off a lovely ball over the top from Techera before the pint-sized midfielder buried his sixth of the campaign in the 77th to seal it.
“You can play all the pretty football you want — all the exciting stuff — the quick transitions, get bums off seats and you get three points,” said Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson. “(Or) you can play with not much quality and have a moment of magic and get three points. So we’ll take the three points.”
The win moves the Whitecaps (15-10-3) into top spot in Major League Soccer with 48 points, two ahead of the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Colorado (8-10-9), which came in having won three straight, is fighting for its playoff life in the Western Conference and already had two victories over Vancouver in Commerce City, Colo., earlier this season.
“It was always going to be a banana skin for us, but the guys showed great character to keep going,” said Robinson. “When you’ve got quality in your team, like we have, you can change a game in a moment and that’s certainly what happened.”
Both from Uruguay, Rivero and Techera have been instrumental in the Whitecaps’ attack as they continue to churn towards their first home playoff date since joining MLS with six league matches left in the regular season.
“Me and Octavio, we get along pretty well,” Techera said through a Spanish interpreter. “It’s nice we have that same understanding (on the pitch).”
Prior to the breakthrough in the second half, it looked like the Rapids might at least get a point out of the game. Both teams were coming off 10-day breaks and neither generated much going forward, with Vancouver noticeably lacking a sense of urgency early on and Colorado content to sit back.
“From the first five minutes they took about 10 seconds every time to take a throw in,” said Robinson. “You do that away from home.”
The Whitecaps were without midfielder Matias Laba and defender Kendall Waston after both were sent off in Vancouver’s 2-0 road loss to the Houston Dynamo on Aug. 29, while striker Darren Mattocks (Jamaica), Russell Teibert (Canada) and Sam Adekugbe (Canada) were all away on international duty.
Pa-Modou Kah returned to the lineup after suffering a facial fracture last month, partnering with rookie Tim Parker in the centre of defence, while captain Pedro Morales dropped deeper in the Whitecaps’ five-man midfield to take up Laba’s spot.
Morales was subbed off with a tight right hamstring at halftime — Robinson didn’t sound overly concerned afterwards — with Kianz Froese taking his place.
The Whitecaps came out with more intent after the break, with Rivero rising to meet a Jordan Harvey cross in the 55th minute before Kekuta Manneh sent another shot just wide moments later.
The Rapids’ only real opportunity came two minutes before Rivero gave the Whitecaps the lead when substitute Kevin Doyle’s header was stopped and held on the line by Vancouver goalkeeper David Ousted.
“We didn’t click attacking-wise (until the goals), but we certainly defended very well. Maybe a year or two ago we might have lost that game 1-0,” said Robinson. “When you don’t play well and you can win it’s always a good sign.”
Notes: The Whitecaps’ next game is a home date against Honduran side CD Olympia in CONCACAF Champions League play next Wednesday. … The Rapids hosts D.C. United in MLS on Saturday.
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press