VANCOUVER â€” Moments after the Vancouver Whitecaps manufactured a crucial equalizer on Saturday night, Matias Laba found himself in a threatening position just outside the penalty area.
Arms raised, the midfielder not known for his finishing pleaded for the ball.
When Laba got it, he made no mistake.
The Argentine scored the winner one minute after Fredy Montero tied the game as the Whitecaps struck three times in second half to fight back from a 2-1 deficit and beat the Los Angeles Galaxy 4-2 for their first win of the Major League Soccer season.
Laba added another goal late for Vancouver (1-2-1), while Cristian Techera also scored for the relieved hosts.
“I’m happy for him,” Montero said of Laba, who came in with just two MLS goals in 112 career appearances. “He’s one of those guys who runs 200 per cent every single game.
“You always want to match him.”
A designated player on loan from a club in China, Montero subbed on at halftime with the Whitecaps down 2-1 and picked up his first MLS goal for Vancouver in the 66th minute when he tapped a rebound home off Techera’s initial shot.
“I just tried to come in and do my job,” said Montero, who was dealing with a hamstring injury leading into Saturday.
Fans at B.C. Place Stadium were still buzzing when Techera intercepted an errant Galaxy pass before finding Montero. He in turn quickly fed Laba, who blasted his first past Galaxy ‘keeper Clement Diop to send the crowd into a frenzy.
Vancouver then put it away in the 87th minute when Laba headed home off Montero’s rebound.
“That shows the hard work,” Laba said of his team’s performance, adding it was the first headed goal of his career.
Whitecaps midfielder Tony Tchani, acquired in a trade with the Columbus Crew for Kekuta Manneh and US$300,000 in allocation money on Thursday, subbed on in the 64th minute just prior to Vancouver’s breakthrough, allowing Laba to push further forward.
“Belief, energy, passion … that group in there has got it,” said Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson. “We just need to do it more consistently.”
Romain Alessandrini replied for Los Angeles (1-3-0) and also took the shot on the Galaxy’s opener that hit the post and bounced off the head of Whitecaps ‘keeper David Ousted before dribbling over the line for an own goal.
“Credit to Vancouver, their will to win,” said Galaxy head coach Curt Onalfo. “But it was a game we gave away.”
Having not scored a goal through their first two home games, the Whitecaps came out on the front foot, with Techera getting his first of the year in the 19th minute.
Vancouver broke quickly after a Los Angeles set piece, with Sheanon Williams playing a long clearance up to the pint-sized winger.
Diop rushed off his line to try and cut him off at the pass, but couldn’t get there before Techera corralled the ball and deposited it into the empty net.
Onalfo declined to comment on the performance of his ‘keeper after a tough night overall.
“I’m not going to assess my player to the world,” said the coach.
Los Angeles got back to level terms in the 26th minute when Alessandrini cut inside Jordan Harvey and blasted a shot off the post that caromed in off Ousted.
The Galaxy grabbed the lead in the 30th when a completely unmarked Alessandrini â€” Harvey was at fault again â€” made a late run into the box and ripped a shot past Ousted for his first in goal in MLS.
Los Angeles had a couple of chances early in the second half to put the game away, with Jermaine Jones missing a golden opportunity, but instead let Vancouver hang around.
“I think we deserved it,” said Robinson. “We were very unlucky in the first half to be 2-1 down because the attacking football we played didn’t have the reward. We conceded two silly goals.”
After a week off for the international break, Saturday started a busy stretch for the Whitecaps, who will look to turn around a 2-0 deficit against Mexican giants Tigres UANL in the second leg of their CONCACAF Champions League semifinal Wednesday at B.C. Place.
“We’ve put a lot into the early part of the season with regards to Champions League,” said Robinson. “We’ve had two disappointing (MLS) performances at home, it’s fair to say.
“I said to the guys: ‘There’s no excuse today.'”
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press