Paolo Tornaghi shines in goal in first regular-season start for Vancouver

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Making his first MLS appearance in 1,177 days, Paolo Tornaghi did not pass up the opportunity for a star turn.

Tornaghi, the longtime backup to Vancouver Whitecaps FC No. 1 goalkeeper David Ousted, started in net for the visitors and turned in six saves – five inside the first 12 minutes – to help the ‘Caps come away with a scoreless draw against the San Jose Earthquakes on Sunday. 

The 28-year-old Italian hadn’t seen action in a regular-season match since July 27, 2013, when he was playing for Chicago behind US international Sean Johnson. It was just Tornaghi’s second shutout in 10 career MLS starts.

“Finally I got my MLS game. It was a while, so I’m happy to be back in action,” Tornaghi said. “I think that it’s important to have self-confidence and remember what you have done in the past. If it’s maybe a long time ago, it doesn’t mean that you can’t do it again. So I was thinking about that and I stepped on the field ready to play.”

With Vancouver and San Jose both out of the Western Conference playoff chase, there was no reason not to reward Tornaghi for his exemplary work as understudy to the indefatigable Ousted, who had started 113 consecutive league matches for the Whitecaps, dating back to Aug. 3, 2013.

“I just felt [Tornaghi] deserved to be given his chance because as a player it’s easy when you’re in the team,” said Vancouver head coach Carl Robinson, who let both Tornaghi and Ousted know about the change early in the week. “When you’re not in the team, keeping the mindset and mentality of being a good teammate is very important. Not just in football, but in normal life. And he does that. He’s not once been to see me about why he’s not playing. So he deserved his chance. And I’m delighted that he got a clean sheet.

“I would say he was surprised, but I think in his mind he probably thought, ‘About bloody time,’” he added.

The shutout was a hard-won accolade; the Quakes peppered Tornaghi with shots early. Among the highlights were a leaping one-handed deflection to keep Cordell Cato’s softly curling shot from nestling inside the far post and a sliding drop to ward off the best chance of the day for San Jose captain Chris Wondolowski, a longtime Vancouver nemesis.

It was a better way to get into the match, Tornaghi said, than waiting until the second half to make a save, as sometimes is the case in the Canadian Cup or CONCACAF Champions League competitions where he has seen action in recent years.

“That is a little bit frustrating in the head,” Tornaghi said of facing such lulls. “When you start having many shots, if you don’t allow anyone to go in it’s a really positive thing.”

Surviving that initial flurry also helped Vancouver come away with their second shutout in their last 11 matches.

“One criticism of us this year, which is being levied to us and rightly so, is we've conceded too many goals,” Robinson said. “Today we stood up. When we defend correctly individually and collectively we can keep clean sheets as we showed today so once we were out of the first 15 minutes we were fine.”