VANCOUVER - It was only the fourth win of the season but the Vancouver Whitecaps believe it's an important step in restoring confidence in themselves.
Shea Salinas scored in the 86th minute to give the Whitecaps a 1-0 win over the Houston Dynamo Saturday. The Whitecap players mobbed Salinas after he scored his first goal of the season while a cheering crowd of 20,226 shook the stands at Empire Field.
"It's awesome,'' said Salinas, a 25-year-old from Lubbock, Tex., who the Whitecaps selected in the expansion draft from Philadelphia.
"The three points is not vital but winning is vital. It was nice to get a win. It was good for morale.''
The loss snapped a five-game unbeaten string for the Dynamo. Houston hasn't won a road game all season.
Salinas, who came into the game in the 33rd minute to replace an injured John Thorrington, scored after he took a short pass from midfielder Long Tan. The speedy winger raced toward the Houston net where he beat 'keeper Tally Hall with a low, hard shot.
The goal came as a relief for Salinas, who missed a golden chance near the end of the first half when he fired a ball over top of the Dynamo net.
"Finally,'' he said with a grin.
"This year I've had a lot of chances. I've hit the post a few times. It was nice to finally get a goal.''
There was a collective sigh of relief from the entire team when the final whistle blew.
This was the kind of solid effort the Whitecaps might have squandered earlier in the year. It's the first time since June Vancouver didn't allow a goal.
"It needs to start breeding confidence,'' said captain Jay DeMerit. "That's been our biggest problem this season.
"When the time comes to stand up to be counted we haven't done it as much as we should have. There is enough talent in this dressing room to win games. It's been frustrating because we haven't done it.''
The victory means Vancouver will avoid setting an MLS record for fewest wins in a season. Two teams, Tampa in 2001 and Chivas USA in 2005, have managed just four wins in a season.
"You want to try to avoid that stuff,'' said DeMerit. "You don't want to be in the record books for negative reasons.
"Looking at this squad, you don't want to be associated with that negativity. There's a lot left to play for.''
All four of the Whitecaps wins have come at Empire Field. Vancouver is 0-10-4 on the road.
Vancouver goalkeeper Joe Cannon made a crucial save in the 73rd minute to help persevere the win. Cannon leaped high in the air to get his hand on a header from Houston's Brian Ching, deflecting the ball over the net.
"Luckily it wasn't (headed for) the top corner,'' said Cannon. "It was somewhere I could get it.
"I really can't say enough about the guys. I'm just so happy to be able to be part of this win.''
The Whitecaps improved their record to 4-13-9 but remain last in the Western Conference.
Houston has a record of 8-8-11. They are 0-5-8 on the road.
Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear said his club's road woes don't come because of a lack of effort.
"It's not the play, it's the results,'' said Kinnear. "Even today I thought we carried the game for a good amount of time.
"I'm not saying we are playing great away from home but we're playing well and carrying the game. But sometimes you need to score to win games. We had enough opportunities today to do that but we didn't do it.''
There was a moment of silence before the game for Jack Layton, the NDP leader who died of cancer on Monday.
Midfielder Davide Chiumiento and striker Eric Hassli came close to scoring in the first half.
Chiumiento, who moves like a water bug but has a stinging shot, had the crowd gasping in the eighth minute. Given a free kick from about 18 yards out, he fired a ball over the Houston wall that Hall managed to get a hand on.
The loose ball hit the post, then bounced back onto the field. There was a mad scramble before the Dynamo were able to clear.
Hassli showed his speed and power in the 32nd minute. He gained control of the ball deep in the Houston zone, dribbled around a defender, then boomed a shot that just curled wide of the corner of the net.
The Dynamo, dressed in their bright orange road uniforms, also had their chances.
Cannon had to look sharp in the 25th minute. Davis took a shot that deflected off a teammate. Cannon, who was moving one way to stop the first shot, managed to reverse his motion to get a hand on the ball.
The match got off to a rocky start when the recording of the U.S. national anthem stopped about midway through. The players and crowd shuffled nervously for several seconds of silence before the Canadian anthem suddenly began.
The Whitecaps quickly issued an apology on Twitter, blaming technical difficulties.
Vancouver will play its next two games on the road, Sept. 10 in New York and Sept. 17 at Los Angles.
NOTES: Whitecaps forward Camilo was suspended due to accumulating five yellow cards. ...Defender Alain Rochat returned to the lineup after missing two games with a groin injury. ...Houston defeated Vancouver 3-1 back on April 10.