COLUMBUS, Ohio - Young-Pyo Lee's first Major League Soccer goal proved to be an important one for the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Lee scored off a free kick in the 74th minute to help the Whitecaps beat the Columbus Crew 1-0 on Saturday night for their sixth shutout of the season.
The South Korean defender is a veteran of three World Cups and the top leagues in the Netherlands, Italy, England and Germany. He signed with MLS and joined Vancouver in December.
He has been consistently outstanding since.
“In my opinion he is one of the best players in the league,” Whitecaps coach Martin Rennie said. “He’s a superstar, basically. Everywhere we go fans are following him. He’s an all-star.”
“I can’t imagine what he was like when he was 29 or 30,” added Whitecaps captain Jay DeMerit. “But he doesn’t age. His track record speaks for itself. We’re really lucky to have him here.”
Lee’s goal was an accident. A foul on Eric Hassli by Crew defender Danny O’Rourke set up the restart, during which Lee said he intended to play the ball to the back post to a runner.
But his cross curled less than expected and sailed over the outstretched arms of Crew keeper Andy Gruenebaum.
“My goal was lucky,” Lee said. “I tried for a strong cross but we scored. Anyway, we got three points and we won. I am very happy.
“The most important thing was that we had another clean sheet. Our defensive organization was fantastic again. We need to keep going like this.”
Although he made only two saves, goalkeeper Joe Cannon helped Vancouver (4-2-2) weather a staunch Crew attack with solid positioning and decision-making.
The Whitecaps were aided by a pair of Crew mistakes that cost Columbus (2-4-1) a pair of first-half goals.
A corner-kick goal by Crew defender Josh Williams was waved off in the third minute after referee Hilario Grajeda deemed that Crew defender Chad Marshall fouled DeMerit before the ball found Williams, unmarked, at the back post.
A second Crew goal was negated three minutes later when Eddie Gaven was called offside before he beat Cannon near the right post. It was one of four Crew offside infractions in the first half.
Williams hit the cross bar with a bicycle kick in the 16th minute.
Cannon swatted aside an attempt by Gaven in the 38th and punched away a blast by Crew rookie Aaron Schoenfeld in the 44th.
The Crew had 63 per cent of possession and had several more scoring chances before halftime. Columbus outshot Vancouver 14-9.
“Tonight was one of the first games this season where a couple of things bounced our way,” Rennie said. “I think the Crew can feel a little bit hard done by tonight, that they didn’t get all they would have hoped for from the game.
“But that’s eight games and six clean sheets. That’s a fantastic base for us to build from.”