VANCOUVER — It didn’t take Sebastien Le Toux long to make a good first impression with the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Le Toux scored in the fourth minute of his regular-season Whitecaps debut Saturday as Vancouver began its second Major League Soccer campaign on a winning note with a 2-0 victory over the expansion Montreal Impact.
“I can’t dream about a better start,” Le Toux said. “I’m very happy we won. It was most important to me.”
Le Toux, 28, was acquired in an off-season trade from Philadelphia after he recorded 25 goals and 20 assists in the past two seasons with the Union.
Brazilian striker Camilo, nine minutes into the second half, also scored for Vancouver before a sellout crowd of 21,000 at B.C. Place Stadium.
The Whitecaps, who finished last overall in a troubled debut campaign in 2011, got the strong start they were looking for under new coach Martin Rennie against a Montreal expansion team that boasts many MLS veterans.
Vancouver went through two coaches in 2011 and finished last overall with an 18-10 record. Rennie had to wait to coach his first MLS regular season game after he was named as a permanent replacement for interim field boss Tommy Soehn last August but remained with the second-division Carolina RailHawks to finish the season.
“For the first time in a while probably, the Whitecaps were the favourites going into an MLS game, and that brought a little bit of pressure with it,” Rennie said. “But that was something that we handled really well.”
The Whitecaps started seven players who were with the club last season. All but goalkeeper Joe Cannon saw action in last year’s season-opener against Toronto. He was recuperating from a broken leg at the time.
Another player who was with the Whitecaps then, defender Jay Brovsky, suited up for Montreal after he was picked up on waivers in the off-season.
Vancouver had Le Toux, fellow Frenchman Eric Hassli and Camilo playing up front in a 4-3-3 formation that proved effective. Montreal countered with a 4-4-2 alignment that struggled to penetrate Vancouver’s back line.
Le Toux quickly lived up to his reputation as a high scorer. Hassli, whose abilities in the air have been questioned, headed the ball forward and Le Toux then won it off former Italian national team defender Matteo Ferrari and rolled a low shot past Impact goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts.
“If you wrote it up any way you wanted, you would definitely want an early goal, not only in one half but in two halves,” Rennie said. “(The Le Toux goal) definitely settles the nerves, because Montreal started the first few minutes well, and then we caught them on the other end. So it was a welcome goal — and definitely a big part of the win.”
Whitecaps defender Alain Rochat started the play as he sent a long lead ball to Hassli from Vancouver territory.
“The disappointing part is that it happened so quickly into the game,” said Montreal coach Jesse Marsch. “We don’t even give ourselves a chance for the game to settle in, and we’re already down 1-0.”
Rennie said it will still take time for the Whitecaps to build a winning culture, but Saturday’s victory will help the club build confidence and stay calm in difficult situations in the future.
The game renewed a longtime rivalry between Vancouver and Montreal teams dating back to the original North American Soccer League of the 1970s and early 1980s as well as lower-tier leagues in the 1990s and 2000s, along with Canadian championships. Most of Saturday’s competitors were not involved in the more recent contests, but tempers flared anyway.
Two Montreal players, Felipe Martins and Patrice Bernier, were yellow-carded in the first half for a hard tackle and trip, respectively. Vancouver defender Martin Bonjour was also cautioned for a hard foul in the second half.
Aside from some brief difficulties around the 60th minute, the Whitecaps controlled the run of play.
A few seconds before half-time, new Whitecaps midfielder Jun Marques Davidson raced back toward the Vancouver goal and made a sliding interception of a pass from the left flank intended for Sanna Nyassi on a two-on none.
Cannon said newcomer Davidson, an American who played in Japan last season, proved to be an excellent replacement for injured midfield veteran John Thorrington (quadriceps). Although Cannon did not want to single anyone out, he admitted Le Toux impressed him.
“I think he ran more than I have in the last six years of my career,” said Cannon.
Camilo was fleet of foot, too, as he put the Whitecaps ahead 2-0 with a highlight-reel goal in the 54th minute. He took a flick-on from Davide Chiumiento, dribbled through two defenders, eluded another and then curled in a left-footed shot.
But the Whitecaps were careful not to get too excited following the win. Vancouver dominated the 2011 season opener against Toronto before struggling the rest of the season.
“It’s a great three points for us,” said Rennie. “But at the end of the day, that’s all it really is.”
Notes: The Whitecaps have released American defender Bilal Duckett, who was waived after last season but brought back on a tryout in the pre-season. … MLS president Mark Abbott attended the game and talked to reporters at half-time. He favours the idea of Vancouver hosting the MLS all-star game. The league does not plan to expand to another city in Canada in the near future. It is focusing first on adding a second team in New York, said Abbott. … Whitecaps defender Martin Bonjour was yellow-carded for a hard tackle on Nyassi in the second half. … Former popular Whitecap Eddie Sebrango, 38, did not make the trip west for Montreal. … Highly respected ESPN colour commentator Steve Nicol has picked Vancouver to be a surprise team this seaso