VANCOUVER — A long, looping ball from Vancouver Whitecaps defender Marcel de Jong landed perfectly onto the delicate boot of Yordy Reyna early in Wednesday's match against Minnesota United.
The attacking midfielder with burnt orange hair that explodes off the top of his head like a volcano proceeded to calmly steer his shot into the back of the net, putting to bed any thought of a letdown against an expansion club playing out the string.
Reyna scored once and helped set up another as Vancouver downed lowly Minnesota 3-0, a result that moved the Whitecaps into first place in Major League Soccer's Western Conference with 44 points.
"It was a very workman-like performance," said Vancouver head coach Carl Robinson. "It was a tricky game because Minnesota are where they are in the table."
Brek Shea also scored while adding an assist on Erik Hurtado's goal for Vancouver (13-9-5), which improved to 7-2-2 over its last 11 games.
The Portland Timbers also sit on 44 points in the West, but the Whitecaps own the tiebreaker with one more win, and have played two fewer games.
"We've just got to keep ticking along," said Robinson. "We're back to work (Thursday)."
Minnesota (7-15-5), which fought back from a 2-0 deficit to tie Vancouver in the first-ever meeting between the clubs back in June, rarely threatened goalkeeper David Ousted, who was forced to make just one save for his sixth shutout of the season.
Playing their second of three matches in eight days, the Whitecaps — who made five changes to the team that beat Real Salt Lake 3-2 at B.C. Place Stadium last Saturday — grabbed the lead on Reyna's fourth goal of the season, and second in as many games, five minutes into Friday.
De Jong's floated pass from near half dropped perfectly between two Minnesota defenders for the hard-charging Reyna, who coolly tapped his shot beyond United 'keeper Bobby Shuttleworth.
"He does things he shouldn't do in wrong areas of the field, but he does exciting things in the top-third of the pitch," said Robinson. "It's a wonderful ball by Marcel, it's a great touch and it's a great finish by a quality player."
Reyna missed the first half of the season with a broken foot, but has paid big dividends since returning to action in early July.
"He's explosive, he's quick, he's skillful, he makes things happen," said Vancouver defender Jake Nerwinski. "We know we can trust him when he gets the ball."
The Whitecaps, who host the Columbus Crew on Saturday, then doubled the advantage in the 31st minute on one of the classic counter-attack goals they have become known for under Robinson.
After the visitors failed to connect on three straight corners, Ousted heaved the ball out to a breaking Reyna. As Minnesota tried to scramble back, the Peruvian fed a pass to Shea down the left, and he in turn fired a cross to the top of the six-yard box that Hurtado chested past Shuttleworth.
The goal was the striker's second of what has been, at times, a frustrating season as he's waited for an opportunity.
"I'll defend Erik until I'm blue in the face," said Robinson. "He gives absolutely everything.
"He gets his reward today from three, four, five, six weeks of hard work in training."
Supporters greeted Hurtado's first goal at home in more than year with chants of "Rufio! Rufio!" — a reference to his hairstyle that resembles that of a character from the 1991 movie "Hook."
"It's been really hard to be patient, but that's being a team player," said Hurtado, who had played just 75 minutes since early July before Friday. "I just had to wait for my chance, and I was fortunate enough to take it."
Despite sitting second last in the West, Minnesota came in 2-2-1 over its last five following an 0-2-3 run, and now has to travel to Montreal to take on the Impact on Saturday.
Reyna was subbed off in the 63rd minute to a rousing ovation from the crowd of 17,368, with Robinson perhaps trying to save his influential attacking midfielder for Saturday.
Bernie Ibini came on for Reyna and nearly got another for Vancouver in the 70th minute on a header off a corner that Shuttleworth got a palm to before the Minnesota 'keeper also thwarted Shea seconds later.
But Shea wouldn't be denied in the 88th minute when he headed a cross from substitute striker Fredy Montero past a helpless Shuttleworth for his fourth.
"(Robinson) made sure we were not looking past this game," said Nerwinski. "We weren't thinking about first place. We just had to buckle down and get this win."
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press