VANCOUVER - The Vancouver Whitecaps were intent on getting a better start to their Major League Soccer season.

Early stumbles muddied the club's campaigns in recent years, and players and coaching staff alike vowed to change that theme in 2024.

So far, so good.

After earning a decisive 4-0 victory over Toronto FC on Saturday, the 'Caps (4-1-1) sat atop the Western Conference standings.

“I think the last years, we didn't start very good. So I think it was maybe a learning process for us,” said midfielder Alessandro Schopf. “So (this year) we wanted to go strong at the start to get as many points as we can get. And it's different now.”

The Whitecaps leapt out to an early lead on Saturday with a goal from Brian White in the sixth minute. Fafa Picault followed with a strike in the 29th, while Ryan Gauld and Ranko Veselinovic each scored late in the second half.

Schopf, Andreas Cubas and Ryan Raposo all tallied an assist.

Whitecaps 'keeper Yohei Takaoka had three saves to record his second clean sheet of the season.

Vancouver has improved on both sides of the ball, said head coach Vanni Sartini.

“I think this year we are even better defensively,” he said. “And the second thing compared to last year, last year we needed 14 chances to score a goal and this year we are much better in the final third.”

The team knows, though, that there's a lot of soccer left to be played, Sartini added.

“This is just the start,” he said. “Harder things are yet to come. And so we need to work work work work.”

Sean Johnson had three saves Saturday in his return to Toronto's lineup after missing four games with a hamstring injury.

Toronto (3-3-1) has suffered a spate of injuries and was without star attacker Lorenzo Insigne (hamstring), fullback Richie Laryea (hamstring), defender Raoul Petretta (thigh) and midfielder Brandon Servania (knee).

The visitors didn't play cohesively, said TFC head coach John Herdman.

“I think we're still developing as a group. Players are coming back and trying to get that cohesion and consistency across the squad,” he said. “We were just loose in that first half.”

Toronto controlled 51.8 per cent of the possession, but it was Vancouver who dominated the offence, outnumbering the visitors 7-3 in on-target shots.

White picked the ball off the foot of midfielder Deybi Flores - a former Whitecap - and sprinted into Toronto territory just minutes in. The American striker unleashed a right-footed shot near the penalty spot, sending the ball into the bottom left corner of the net to give the home side a 1-0 lead in the sixth minute.

The goal was White's second of the season and came after he was forced to sit out last week's 3-2 win over the Portland Timbers due to a concussion.

Vancouver went up 2-0 in the 29th minute when Schopf sent a high pass across the six-yard box and Picault headed it in for his third goal of the year.

The visitors got a prime chance to get on the board after Deandre Kerr was tripped while racing toward the 'Caps net.

Italian attacker Federico Bernardeschi took the ensuing free kick in the 64th minute, sending a ball to the back post where Tyrese Spicer headed it down, only to see the shot blocked by White.

Cubas set up Vancouver's third goal of the night, getting a long ball to Gauld in the midfield.

Chased by a pair of Toronto defenders, the Scottish attacking midfielder sprinted down the field and went one-on-one with Johnson before sending a low left-footed shot in past the 'keeper.

The 81st-minute goal was Gauld's second of the season.

It was tough one for TFC to come back from, Herdman said.

“I've said this to my group, that we're self destructing in big moments. It happened in the previous game and tonight we've done something similar,” the coach said. “If we don't learn from that, we're not going to keep progressing in that Eastern Conference.”

Veselinovic put away his first goal of the season in the 88th minute to give the 'Caps a 4-0 lead.

He's the ninth player to score for Vancouver this year.

“I really feel that this group is special,” Veselinovic said. You don't see often in football that the locker room, all 25, 30 players are on the same page, everybody's good with everybody. … That's really important. And I think big results and big things are built on that.”

The Whitecaps are set to host the L.A. Galaxy next Saturday. Toronto FC will visit Charlotte FC the same day.

NOTES: Toronto defender Nicksoen Gomis returned to the lineup after missing three games with a wrist injury. ... Vancouver defender Bjorn Inge Utvik made his first MLS start. The 'Caps signed the 28-year-old Norwegian in January. ... White's goal was his 41st for the Whitecaps across all competitions, moving him into second place on the club's list of leading goal scorers in the MLS era. Camilo Sanvezzo holds the record with 43 goals. ... A crowd of 24,678 took in the game at BC Place.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 6, 2024.