VANCOUVER — A youth movement powered the Vancouver Whitecaps to their first win of the Major League Soccer season on Saturday.
Striker Simon Becher scored twice and notched an assist in his first league start as the Whitecaps walloped CF Montreal 5-0, while teammate Ali Ahmed had a goal and a helper.
Ahmed's mom and three brothers flew in from Toronto to watch him make his first MLS start.
“This is years in the making. You work hard, extremely hard, for moments like this," the 22-year-old Canadian midfielder said. "So it's a very special moment because it's something my mom and my dad have been praying I get here. And for this day to happen is very special for me and my family.”
Ahmed and the 23-year-old Becher are both new additions to the 'Caps squad this season, having spent last year with the club's development side, VWFC2.
Playing with a familiar face Saturday was important, Ahmed said.
“Just having (Becher) in front of me helped me a lot because I know where he is most of the time," he said. "We have good chemistry together. So it helped for sure. And it's a dream for the WFC2 boys.”
The young duo did very well in the win, said head coach Vanni Sartini, and their performances show how crucial player development is to the club.
“For me, the most important thing that this organization has done in the last five years is to reinstate the second team," he said. "Without the second team, Ali wouldn't be here, Simon wouldn't be here. And maybe some players that are now in the second team won't be here in the next season and helping the team to be better.”
Brian White and Julian Gressel also scored for the Whitecaps (1-2-3) Saturday and Javain Brown picked up a pair of assists. Goalkeeper Yohei Takaoka did not face a single on-target shot as he earned his first clean sheet for Vancouver.
Jonathan Sirois registered four saves for Montreal (1-4-0).
The visitors ran into trouble early in the first half, losing captain Samuel Piette to an apparent leg injury in the sixth minute, then going down a man in the 23rd minute when Rudy Camacho was sent off with a red card following a pair of bad fouls.
Sartini was quick to refute any notion that his side won because Montreal played much of the game short-handed.
“Nobody says that we won because there were 10 men, because it's not true," he said. "We won because we played much better than them. Stop. And even if there were 12 we would have won.”
Montreal will look at the loss as it tries to right its season, said head coach Hernan Losada.
"It is not a game to forget, it is a game to analyze," he said. "Despite difficult conditions, we lose our captain after six minutes, we play with 10 after 20, that's no excuse.”
Vancouver opened the scoring in the 38th minute when Becher sliced a quick pass to White across the penalty area and the veteran forward popped a shot in past Sirois for his first MLS goal of the year.
Five minutes later, Ahmed dished a short pass to Becher at the top of the six-yard box and the American striker sent a sliding shot into the back of the next for his second goal of the season.
Sirois stopped White's shot in the 45th minute but the rebound popped out to Gressel, who tapped it into the yawning net before the 'keeper could get back in position.
The goal — Gressel's first of the MLS campaign — put Vancouver up 3-0, and the midfielder and his teammates celebrated by leaping over the ad boards to hug and high-five supporters in the stands.
Ahmed gave Vancouver a four-goal cushion in the 48th minute.
White was stripped at the top of the penalty area and the midfielder quickly picked up the ball, then hammered it in for his first MLS goal.
The Whitecaps sealed the score at 5-0 in the 59th minute after Brown ran down the sideline and chipped a ball into the box. Becher got a touch on it, sending a shot into the Montreal net for his second goal of the match and third of the season.
Becher is now the fastest player in league history to score his first four MLS goals, doing so in 87 minutes of playing time
“I think a big part of it is instinct, being a forward for so long, doing so many finishing drills, so many different finishing drills in the box — I basically live in the box," he said. "So I think it's something I pride myself in, my finishing. Every chance, I want to put away.”
The Whitecaps will be back on the field Wednesday when they host reigning MLS Cup champions Los Angeles FC in the CONCACAF quarterfinals. Vancouver will return to league play on April 8 when the Portland Timbers visit B.C. Place. CF Montreal will take on the Revolution in New England the same day.
NOTES: Ahmed is observing Ramadan and broke his fast on the sidelines during an injury stoppage early in the game after the sun went down. … Saturday marked the first time since June 9, 2019 that the Whitecaps scored five goals in an MLS game. That match ended with a 5-2 win over Orlando City SC. … A crowd of 16,046 took in the game at B.C. Place.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 1, 2023.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press