VANCOUVER, B.C. -- It has felt like a long time coming, but after a number of close calls, Vancouver Whitecaps center back Tim Parker finally has his first MLS goal, in his third season in the league.
After scoring for the Whitecaps in the Canadian Championship and the CONCACAF Champions League, Parker needed a league goal to score in the three major competitions that his club can participate in. It finally came in Vancouver's 2-0 home win against Sporting Kansas City on Saturday, with Parker rising to head home a perfectly-flighted free kick from Christian Bolanos to double the Whitecaps lead and secure a vital three points.
"It was a relief," Parker said of his milestone goal. "I've come close a numerous amount of times and I think it's just finally fallen my way. We practiced during the week exposing certain areas of the field.
"I always made a joke that I scored in finals, because that was my record until now. It's just good to get on the scoresheet in general."
Goal aside, Parker has been a rock for the Whitecaps' defense this season. After last year's calamities at the back -- which saw Vancouver go from the team with the best defensive record in the league the season before to one of the worst -- Carl Robinson has worked hard to turn things around.
Parker has been a key part of that improvement and the 'Caps coach sang his praises after Saturday's shutout victory.
"He's been strong. He's been very professional," Robinson said of Parker's season so far. "We talk about it all the time with our young players. You have to be that. You have to have a discipline off the field. He's got that, but his performances on it have been very mature.
"In the first half there were areas that he needs to tidy up and I told him. He responded in the right way. When you have a dig at players ... they go one of two ways and Timmy certainly goes the right way. Another strong performance by him and Kendall [Waston], [the other] defenders and the goalkeeper, but he needs to continue to do it, because he's got aspirations as well."
It has certainly been a marked turnaround for the Whitecaps defense this season. The Kansas City game was their third clean sheet in 2017, and Parker has been delighted with how things have come together, citing both collective and individual improvements.
"Kendall and I have both stepped up our games this year compared to last year," Parker said. "I definitely think I've stepped it up a little bit. Last year was kind of my first full year as a starter and it was kind of a tough year mentally, and just following the consistency level that I need to be in.
"This year I've been figuring out what kind of player I want to be and that consistency thing is what I want to pride myself on. If I have a bad game here and there, that's okay, but week in, week out, I want to do certain things the right way."