VANCOUVER â€” Cristian Techera had already scored in a game earlier this month when he made a crucial play that went largely unnoticed.
Always keen to go forward, the pint-sized Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder â€” Techera stands just five foot two â€” tracked back some 40 yards into his own half to block what could have been a dangerous cross.
The complete performance at both ends of the pitch in that 4-2 defeat of the Los Angeles Galaxy, the Whitecaps’ first victory of the Major League Soccer season, was just one example of how the Uruguayan nicknamed “The Bug” has rediscovered his form in 2017.
“There’s a little bit of fire under Cristian right now,” said Vancouver goalkeeper David Ousted. “He’s playing really well.”
That wasn’t the case last season.
Techera made an immediate impact after joining the Whitecaps on loan from his club in Uruguay in 2015, scoring seven times in 22 games, including 17 starts, while also setting up five other goals.
Vancouver had seen enough to finalize a permanent deal before the 2016 campaign, but Techera showed up at training camp out of shape before a groin inflammation dogged him for a chunk of the year.
A forgettable season for both the player and the club â€” the Whitecaps missed the playoffs after finishing second in the Western Conference in 2015 â€” saw Techera score just twice in 29 MLS appearance, 19 of those starts.
“If you lose focus on your football everything takes a hit as well,” said Vancouver head coach Carl Robinson. “I sat down with him at the end of (2016). I told him he had to come back with certain requirements.
“He met those requirements and he’s getting the rewards.”
Techera, who did manage five goals in the Whitecaps’ CONCACAF Champions League campaign that ended in the semfinals, has been buzzing through the early part of the schedule.
“I feel much better than last season,” Techera said through a Spanish interpreter after practice this week. “I feel strong, I feel confident.
“I’m very happy. We’re playing simple, playing together.”
The 24-year-old could have scored a few more times against the Galaxy, and in his fourth MLS start last Friday at home against Seattle he delivered a pinpoint cross into the Sounders penalty area that striker Fredy Montero buried for the opener of a 2-1 win.
“He has a good left foot,” said Whitecaps midfielder Christian Bolanos. “He’s small, but he can make trouble for the big guys.”
Techera has developed chemistry with Montero, a high-priced designed player brought in on loan from his club in China to help goal-starved Vancouver, and Bolanos, who has controlled things from the middle of the pitch since returning from injury.
“Bug has always had that quality,” said Whitecaps defender Tim Parker. “It’s just getting him to get it in there day in, day out.
“He’s a little guy. He’s shifty, and he’s quick and clever. He’s tough to play against 1-on-1.”
Robinson has needed Techera’s resurgence, especially with a number of long-term injuries hampering some of his other forward-thinking options, as Vancouver (2-3-1) prepares to visit the first-place Portland Timbers (4-2-1) on Saturday.
“Attacking players are always judged on goals and assists,” said Robinson, whose team is set to play four straight on the road. “Last year he did OK, but I didn’t sign Cristian Techera for him to be OK. With any player, when they’re confident and when they’re on they can be electric.
“Cristian certainly is in that mode at the moment.”
Follow @JClipperton_CP on Twitter
Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press