A makeshift defence and a controversial referee's decision propelled the Vancouver Whitecaps past Major League Soccer's highest-scoring offence.

Pedro Morales buried a penalty kick in the first half Saturday as the Whitecaps defeated the Houston Dynamo 1-0.

The Vancouver captain sent goalkeeper Joe Willis the wrong way in the 23rd minute after Dynamo defender Jalil Anibaba was judged to have fouled Masato Kudo on a cross that the Whitecaps striker was never going to get to.

The call by referee David Gantar left Dynamo head coach Owen Coyle bitterly disappointed after a game his team more or less controlled for the final 65 minutes.

"That's never a penalty in a million years," said Coyle. "Unfortunately for us it's been given."

Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson didn't have a problem with his counterpart's blunt assessment.

"I don't blame him," said Robinson, choosing his words carefully. "It is what it is."

Morales leads MLS with four goals in as many games to start the season, all on penalties. Vancouver's other two goals have also come from dead-ball situations — off a corner and an indirect free kick.

Vancouver (2-2-0) picked up its second victory in as many weeks, while Houston (1-2-1) has dropped two in a row despite hitting a post and a crossbar.

"Pure result," said Whitecaps goalkeeper David Ousted, who earned his first shutout of the season. "Looking at it that way we did tremendously well. Are there things we can clean up? Probably."

The Dynamo came in having scored a league-high 11 goals, but after Saturday have also now conceded eight, putting them in a three-way tie for top spot in that category.

"They scored for fun in the first three games," said Robinson. "We knew it was going to be a difficult game, but fair play to the guys."

One of three MLS games played this weekend during the international window, the Whitecaps were without starting central defenders Kendall Waston (Costa Rica) and Tim Parker (U.S. under-23), while midfielder Christian Bolanos (Costa Rica) and striker Blas Perez (Panama) were also unavailable.

Waston and Parker's absence meant that Pa-Modou Kah, who saw his first action of the season, was partnered alongside Andrew Jacobson, a midfielder acquired in a trade earlier this month capable of playing on the back line.

"I'm very pleased with them today," said Robinson. "We had a couple of players out. I said prior to the game I won't use that as an excuse. We've got a squad for a reason.

"The guys who stepped in did themselves a lot of good."

On the other side, Houston was without midfielder Boniek Garcia (Honduras) and forward Erick Torres (Mexico under-23), while striker Giles Barnes and goalkeeper Tyler Deric missed out with injuries.

"It's hard to sit here having no points given the level of performance we put into the match," said Coyle. "But as we know it can be a very cruel game and that's what's happened tonight."

On the same B.C. Place Stadium pitch where Canada missed some early chances in a 3-0 loss to Mexico in World Cup qualifying just 24 hours earlier, the Whitecaps squandered three or four opportunities prior to their breakthrough.

Kudo, who signed in December from Japanese club Hitachi Kashiwa Reysol, was handed his first start with Vancouver after previously playing 15 minutes as a substitute following an undisclosed injury.

He almost opened his account in the 15th minute when the Whitecaps countered off a Houston corner kick. Kekuta Manneh sprinted down the left before playing a ball to Fraser Aird, who in turn sent Kudo in alone, but he couldn't beat Willis before Jacobson was stopped on the ensuing corner.

"(Kudo) will be disappointed he didn't score," said Robinson. "It was a great bit of link-up play. He usually eats them up in training."

After Morales gave his team the lead on the penalty, the Dynamo perked up and came close in the 33rd minute when Leonel Miranda rattled Ousted's crossbar and Ricardo Clark's follow up was deflected behind for a corner.

Ousted, who had 13 shutouts last season to tie for top spot in MLS, then had to be sharp six minutes later on Andrew Wenger's effort.

Houston didn't really threaten in the second half until Clark hit the base of the post in the 72nd minute and substitute Abdoulie Mansally flashed another shot wide moments later.

Ousted had to make a save on Brazilian defender Alex in the 85th minute, and the wall did its job on a late Dynamo free kick as Vancouver picked up its first home victory of 2016.

"We got a 1-0 win, that's all that's important to me," said Ousted. "It's not always going to be pretty, but if we can win these it's looking good."