Sometimes, it’s just not your day.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC (5W-3L-1D) put forth a valiant effort in front of another sell-out crowd of 21,000 at BC Place, but in the end they could not overcome a first half red card to Matias Laba as they fell 2-1 to D.C. United (4W-1L-2D) on Saturday.
Head coach Carl Robinson made two changes to his starting lineup from last weekend’s win at Real Salt Lake. Captain Pedro Morales returned from a one-match suspension in place of Gershon Koffie and winger Mauro Rosales made his first start since suffering an ankle injury at Chicago Fire on March 14, stepping in for Nicolas Mezquida.
The match got off to a dream start for the home side. Right back Steven Beitashour played striker Octavio Rivero down the wing, and from there the Uruguayan played a smart pass back across the 18-yard box to a trailing Morales. The Chilean made no mistake, calmly targeting the far corner for his first goal of the season and a 1-0 lead.
It wasn’t long before the visitors responded. After a free kick was cleared, Michael Farfan sent a cross back into the box that was headed in by centre back Bobby Boswell to level the match at 1-1 after 10 minutes of play.
The ‘Caps pressed to retake the lead and had several near chances in the first half. Rivero twice got his head on the ball in the box, first from a Morales corner kick, then from a Rosales cross, but neither opportunity quite had the connection to hit the back of the net.
Ben Olsen’s squad had a chance of their own on 38 minutes when a missed back pass was picked up by United striker Fabian Espindola, who was making his first appearance of the season after serving a six-match suspension to start the year. With the ball in the box, Espindola laid it off to a streaking Farfan who tried to chip David Ousted. Fortunately for the ‘Caps, the ball dropped on top of the net.
Things turned for the Blue and White on 42 minutes. With Espindola streaking up field quickly, Laba clipped the Argentine striker and was shown his second yellow card of the match by referee David Gantar, leaving Vancouver down a man.
Though momentum appeared to have swung, Morales came close to giving his team the lead going into halftime. With D.C. United goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra off his line, Morales lofted a long shot from the halfway line that found the target, but Dykstra was able to recover and catch the ball before it went over his head.
Down a man, Robinson made an adjustment to his squad at halftime by bringing on central midfielder Koffie for winger Mattocks.
Both teams were eager to get ahead in the second half, with the match coming to life on 54 minutes. United fired two chances at Ousted, both brilliantly saved. First came on an Espindola breakaway where the Dane got low for the stop, then a Rolfe top corner strike with Ousted showing his agility with a leap to his left. Back the other way, Rosales got on the end of a Morales pass into the box, cut past a defender and fired a shot off the far post. Morales got to the rebound first only to see his shot blocked.
United would be dealt a blow on that play as Dykstra was hurt and forced to leave the match, making way for rookie goalkeeper Travis Worra to make his MLS debut in the 58th minute.
It was hard to tell that the ‘Caps were playing down a man, but that didn’t stop the visitors from taking advantage on 64 minutes. A quick counter ended with the ball fortuitously at the foot of striker Chris Rolfe, giving him just enough space to hammer in a one-time shot for a 2-1 advantage.
Vancouver would not give up, and on 68 minutes they thought they had a chance to get back level. After Rivero battled hard to win the ball in the box, the league-leading goalscorer appeared to be body-checked to the ground, but not enough to warrant a penalty kick.
A pair of final chances to equalize came for the ‘Caps in added time. First, a corner kick from Morales bounced all the way across the six-yard box to Rivero, but his ensuing tight angle shot flew agonizingly past the far post. Then a minute later, after Worra dropped the ball, Sam Adekugbe hit a shot wide of the target.
The final whistle confirmed a 2-1 defeat. In spite of the loss, Whitecaps FC remain in first place in both the Western Conference and the overall MLS standings.
The Blue and White hit the road for their next MLS match as they make their way down to Oregon to battle Cascadia rivals Portland Timbers on Saturday, May 2.
Budweiser Man of the Match: Pedro Morales
Referee: David Gantar
Cautions (Yellow Card)
Ejection (Red Card)