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Fernandez leads Whitecaps past Seattle 1-0
By Jim Morris, The Canadian Press
VANCOUVER - The timing was right for the Vancouver Whitecaps to play the best team in the league.
Sebastian Fernandez scored a pretty goal on a booming shot from about 30 yards out as the Whitecaps beat the Seattle Sounders 1-0 in Major League Soccer play Saturday night.
The win restored some shine to a Vancouver team that had looked tarnished in their last two games, including a loss that ended a franchise record eight-game undefeated streak. The Whitecaps also snapped a two-game scoreless streak.
"Any game you play against Seattle is always tough," said Vancouver coach Carl Robinson. "The game came at the right time.
"We haven't performed to our level (the last two games). We haven't been bad but I don't think we've been good. We got back to work this week and refocused on certain things."
Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said Vancouver was the hungrier team.
"Hats off to them," he said. "I thought they played with a lot of passion because of the (past) results that they had and we didn't really match that completely until the second half.
"We were around but we didn't put shots accurately enough on goal. This is a bump in the road. That is all it is."
The Sounders played without several of their best players, including leading goal scorers Clint Dempsey (returning from the World Cup) and Obafemi Martins (injury). Seattle also was missing midfielders Osvaldo Alonso and Gonzalo Pineda who both were suspended due to an accumulation of yellow cards.
Schmid refused to use the missing players as an excuse.
"We had enough quality on the field to get a result and to play," he said.
Vancouver midfielder Gershon Koffie said the Whitecaps still had to beat a good team.
"We don't really think about the players that are missing," he said. "We were all about the three points.
"We got it."
The Whitecaps controlled most of the first half against their Cascadia rivals. They managed to keep possession of the ball and passed with authority. In the second half they buckled down defensively when Seattle began to press.
"The second half was about rolling the sleeves up, grit and desire and heart," said Robinson.
There was a large contingent of Seattle fans among the loud, flag-waving sellout crowd of 22,500 at B.C. Place Stadium.
Fernandez scored in the 12th minute when he took a pass from Pedro Morales and launched a rocket that sailed past the outstretched fingers of Sounders' keeper Stefan Frei.
"Pedro gave a good ball to me," said Fernandez, who scored for the third time this season. "I turned with the ball and there was space.
"It was a good opportunity. I just tried to shoot."
Morales was a thorn in the Sounders' side all night.
In the 19th minute he lofted a free kick from a sharp angle that landed in the box. The ball sat tantalizing for a few seconds but was cleared before a Whitecap could touch it. In extra time of the first half, Morales struck a curling shot that Frei stopped.
"If he doesn't perform, we don't play well," said Robinson. "He went into areas and got the ball.
"His range of passing was excellent. He calmed it down, he slowed it down, he won free kicks."
Morales said the win helped prove the young Whitecaps can keep pace with the best teams in the league.
"It was extremely important," he said through an interpreter. "It was a chance to show our fans what we are capable of.
"If we continue with this attitude we will keep growing as a team."
The loss snapped a three-game win streak for Seattle, who came into the game unbeaten in five matches. Seattle continues to lead the MLS standings with 35 points from a 11-3-3 record.
Vancouver and Seattle tied in the teams' previous meeting in May.
The Whitecaps remain fifth in the Western Conference but climbed to within a point of fourth-place Colorado. Vancouver has 25 points from a 6-3-7 record.
One of the game's prettiest plays came in the 33rd minute when defender Steven Beitashour sent a perfect cross to a charging Erik Hurtado, but the forward sent the shot high and wide.
The Sounders found their legs in the second half. Midfielder Lamar Neagle came close in the 52nd minute, firing a shot that drifted just wide of the Vancouver net.
Seattle's Tristan Bowen, a second-half substitution, banged a shot in the 60th minute that took a dangerous bounce before being gobbled up by Whitecaps' keeper David Ousted.
Notes: Morales wore the captain's armband with Jay DeMerit out with an ankle injury. … Beitashour returned to the Whitecaps lineup for the first time since May 10 after playing for Iran at the World Cup. … Vancouver midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker says the birth of his daughter Scarlet has "completely changed" his life. … The Whitecaps play at home next Saturday against Chivas USA, travel to Toronto for a game July 16, then play in Salt Lake July 19.