VANCOUVER - The Vancouver Whitecaps haven't had any difficulty getting up for big games this season, and Sunday's performance against one of the top club's in Major League Soccer was no different.
Darren Mattocks scored for the fourth time in the last five games after Vancouver was gifted an own goal as the Whitecaps defeated Sporting Kansas City 2-0.
"It's good win for us against a very good team," said Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson. "It was a good test for us — a test that we managed to overcome. I believed we could win the game if we did things right."
Vancouver (7-4-11) was on the front foot against the defending MLS champions from the start to hand Kansas City (11-6-6) its first loss in MLS since May 31.
"I think we managed the game," said Mattocks, who saw his penalty saved in the 85th minute. "There's going to be games where we're going to need to win 1-0 on the road or at home.
"We should have got a third or even a fourth (goal) in the second half, but three points, we'll take it."
Vancouver came in just 1-2-6 over its last nine — including four straight ties — and won for the first time since July 5. The Whitecaps were in desperate need of Sunday's victory with all of the teams around them picking up points in the Western Conference standings.
"I watched all the games yesterday and I was pig sick if I was honest," said Robinson. "Every game that I seemed to watch, the result I wanted to go our way didn't go our way, but as I've said all along it's not what other teams do. It's what we do."
David Ousted was rarely tested in Vancouver's goal on the way to picking up his second straight clean sheet as the Whitecaps moved back into a playoff spot.
"It is definitely crunch time right now. We need to keep winning like we did today to keep up," said Ousted, who now has six shutouts on the year. "This was a good start, but the work doesn't stop here. "
The Whitecaps have victories in rivalry games against the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers this season, and added a win over the top team in the Eastern Conference with Sunday's performance at B.C. Place Stadium.
What they need to do now is produce similar results against some of the league's lesser lights, starting next week at Chivas USA.
"We're not actually far away," said Robinson. "I keep saying we're that close but we're that far ... the potential's there, it really is."
The Whitecaps took the lead in the 17th minute on Sunday when Kansas City defender Igor Juliao and goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum got their signals crossed after Vancouver's Pedro Morales lofted a long ball towards goal. Juliao tried to head a pass back towards Gruenebaum, but it instead dribbled over the line for a 1-0 lead.
"It was just a miscommunication between the fullback and the goalkeeper, but we'll take it," said Robinson. "We did get lucky on the first goal but take that out of it (and) I think we thoroughly deserved the victory.
"It was good performance against a top team."
Vancouver doubled the advantage in the 30th minute when Morales and Mattocks pounced on a Kansas City turnover in midfield and broke back the other way. Morales drew a defender towards him before squaring the ball to Mattocks, who made no mistake in slotting a low shot past a helpless Gruenebaum for his sixth of the season.
It could have been 3-0 in first-half stoppage time, but Vancouver's Sebastian Fernandez saw his effort cleared off the line by Kansas City defender Aurelien Collin.
The Whitecaps — who entered play with just six goals in their last eight games — had a few other great chances that also went begging in the opening 45 minutes, including a pair from Mattocks.
"Darren was fantastic for me today. He scored a goal, he missed two or three other chances in the first half and he missed a penalty, but we won," said Robinson. "Darren's a player that I want to grow with. He's got potential to go as far as I believe he can, but it's not going to happen over night."
Sporting sits first in the East and had won five straight road games, one short of the MLS record during the non-shootout era, but were on their heels from the opening whistle as Vancouver controlled the midfield for long stretches.
The visitors replaced Gruenebaum with Jon Kempin in goal to start the second half, and had a good chance in the 46th minute when Jacob Peterson tested Ousted with a stinging shot.
Morales had a half chance from outside the Kansas City area in the 62nd minute before Collin headed wide at the other end a few moments later off a corner kick.
Whitecaps defenders Johnny Leveron and Jordan Harvey almost linked up for another opportunity off a Vancouver corner in the 70th, but Kansas City survived to keep the score at 2-0 before Kempin stopped Mattocks' late penalty.
"The most important thing is we got three points against a very good K.C. team," said Mattocks. "For us to get a clean sheet, hats off to the guys at the back and David in goal. To get three points, two goals, it's a very big achievement for us."
Notes: The game marked Vancouver's first-ever victory over Kansas City in five all-time meetings. ... Morales picked up his ninth assist of the season to tie a club record. ... Vancouver defender Andy O'Brien played his first game since June 25. ... Collin, Matt Besler, Graham Zusi and striker Dom Dwyer all represented Sporting in Wednesday's MLS all-star game against Bayern Munich. ... Kansas City hosts Toronto FC next Saturday. ... Attendance was 20,183.