In a battle of fine margins, the Vancouver Whitecaps fell to Real Salt Lake in a 2-1 loss, their second in a row on their current road trip.
Whitecaps’ head coach Vanni Sartini called the match “soft” on the part of his players.
“You pay when you make mistakes,” he said. “And we paid a lot.”
Sartini chose a lineup closer to the one that worked in Toronto earlier in this road trip. A defensive mindset in the midfield was brought by the addition of Alessandro Schöpf. Ranko Veselinović came back into the middle of the back 3 to provide much-needed stability.
The match began in a similar fashion to Vancouver’s match against Toronto earlier in this road trip. Real Salt Lake was pressing high, trying to force errors deep in the Whitecaps’ end.
However, the Whitecaps were content to let RSL run, relying on their ability to move the ball with quick, short passes in order to find an outlet. Vancouver never felt in danger, and the few shots RSL managed were wide of the net.
The Whitecaps grew slowly into the match, building on their dominant possession. After dropping more into the no. 10 position, Ryan Gauld kept looking to unleash Brian White, who had a few runs in behind the defence.
But for all their attempts in open play, the first goal came by way of a corner kick. The Gauld-White duo connected in the 17th minute. White was unmarked at the penalty spot and got a free header to put Gauld’s corner kick into the back of the net and put the visitors up by one early in the match.
It was White’s sixth headed goal this season, tying him for the most in the league with Atlanta United’s Giorgos Giakoumakis.
Real Salt Lake did mount a fightback late in the first half, urged on by their fans. The Whitecaps found themselves hemmed in their defensive third. Yohei Takaoka was forced into three quality saves to keep his team with the one-goal advantage.
RSL did find the tying goal at the beginning of the second half. Cristian Arango went down easily as Andrés Cubas fought to gain possession of the ball. On the ensuing free kick, Brayan Vera caught Takaoka cheating to the far post.
The ball was hit high into the near-post corner. Takaoko was not able to get back in time.
The home side doubled up their tally and took the lead for the first time in the match in the 65th minute. A corner kick for RSL was put out by the Whitecaps but not far enough. Carlos Gomez picked up the ball and put it across the net for Justen Glad who headed it beyond Takaoka.
“It’s impossible to concede these goals if you want to win a playoff game,” the head coach said. “And unfortunately, we did it.”
On the back foot, Vancouver used a few substitutions to add attacking pieces. Ai Ahmed, Junior Hoilett and Simon Becher helped turn the direction of play back in the Whitecaps’ favour, but they found it difficult to get anything past RSL goalkeeper William Yarbrough.
“We had three chances in front of the goal, like five metres from the goal,” Sartini said. “And we pushed, pushed, pushed. Two went out. I don’t know how, to be honest…One the goalkeeper made a great save.”
The Whitecaps had one they thought crossed the line, but VAR was unable to rule whether it had. Major League Soccer has no goal-line technology implemented, so the call on the field stood.
A possible penalty for handball for the Whitecaps also sent the referee to the monitor. But it was denied, keeping the score at 2-1 for the final whistle.
The final match of the Whitecaps’ seven-game road trip ends in Colorado on Wednesday, Sept. 27. Sartini said it can be a reset for the team.
“It must be. It must be an opportunity. It must be an opportunity because no one plays Wednesday, so if we win, we get points on everyone.”
Sartini said that in order to do so, they must play with fire in their bellies.
“I want to see angry faces. I want to see guys that are pissed, guys that are maybe kicking bottles, guys that are maybe using expletives because of the game. But I want to see guys that are fired up to go Wednesday in Denver and make three points.”
Kick is at 6:30 p.m.