Coming into this match tied for second place on points, both the Vancouver Whitecaps and Colorado Rapids had everything to both gain and lose in what was a textbook "six-pointer" match. Both teams would no doubt be grateful for a full three points to try and make a charge at Real Salt Lake for top spot in the Western Conference, not to mention pull ahead of the dogfight raging around the playoff places. Unfortunately for Vancouver fans, not a single point would be theirs after 90 minutes.
Vancouver sent out the same starting eleven from last week's win against the San Jose Earthquakes, including Kenny Miller - he of the brilliant goal for Scotland against England in an international friendly mid-week. Conversely, Colorado countered with a 4-2-3-1 lineup designed to show off their two newest acquisitions, Vicente Sánchez and Gabriel Torres (the first ever Designated Player for Colorado), to the home crowd.
Early on, possession was something of a foreign word for both teams as long balls were more often that not the order of the day, especially for Vancouver as they opted to bypass the five-man midfield and let their attackers go to work. The only problem? Be it fatigue, altitude or that annoying "road game curse" the Whitecaps seem to operate under, the attacking trio of Miller, Camilo Sanvezzo and Russell Teibert never truly clicked at any point. Even with Nigel Reo-Coker resuming his role as midfield general/sprinting bulldog, the best the Whitecaps could do early on was to set up a shot only to see it deflected or saved. At worst, the setup itself would be incomplete with a poorly weighted pass or direct giveaway being the culprit.
As implied earlier, Daigo Kobayashi made another start this game in defiance of pre-game predictions that he had played himself out of a starting job in the San Jose match. With the confidence of Martin Rennie at his back, Kobayashi did the opposite of repaying his manager's faith and added more fuel for his detractors with a pair of absolutely horrid turnovers in the 17th minute. Luckily, the shot by Torres was well wide - a theme that continued throughout the game and mercifully kept the 'Caps in the match.
In the 26th minute, Teibert and Camilo finally showed signs of rediscovering their chemistry with a slick one-two that sprung Teibert in alone on Rapids goalkeeper Clint Irwin. As he would do all night, Irwin made a great point-blank save, denying Teibert with an aggressive charge and excellent reflexes to knock the ball away. After a pair of Deshorn Brown shots would go wide of David Ousted's goal, Irwin would make another great save in close, this time on Kenny Miller after a clinical pass from Teibert. One can only imagine the frustration being felt by the attackers; if they did manage to hold possession, it either came to nothing or was turned over. If they did manage a shot, Irwin was there to make the save.
As if to drive the frustration home, Deshorn Brown scored what would end up being the winning goal in the 36th minute, heading home a cross from Sánchez. Young-Pyo Lee will no doubt take a healthy share of blame for losing his mark, though Jordan Harvey's role in the play - and, indeed, for a good part of the evening - deserves some attention. Colorado fullback Marvell Wynne had been absolutely owning that corner of the park, making repeated charges at or past Harvey. On this play, his run allowed Sánchez space to make a threatening far-post cross that Brown would head, unchallenged, past Ousted.
Following Brown's goal, the teams would trade weak or off-target chances before half-time. Despite the sloppy play (or perhaps because of it), the foul count was low at this point, with far more whistles being blown for offside than any other infractions.
In the second half, Wynne would continue to terrorize Harvey though the best chance of the early minutes resulted in a save by Ousted and a yellow card for Brown after booting Ousted in the face. Luckily for the Danish 'keeper, even a blind, concussed sloth would've stopped the next scoring chance for Colorado. Torres, having broken in on a clean two-on-one, had time, space and the goalkeeper at his mercy. One heavy touch later - not even a shot, mind you - Ousted had claimed the ball and Torres looked less like a Gold Cup scoring threat and more like another Designated Player with horrible finishing woes whose name lives on in infamy in Vancouver. (That's right; after one match, I'm already calling Torres the "Colorado Jarju". Prove me wrong, Burgundy Wave.)
After a pair of chances in the 56th minute for Vancouver were both claimed by Irwin, Rennie opted to make a double substitution, pulling off Kobayashi for Matt Watson and Miller for Darren Mattocks. Interestingly, both players made an instant impact, with Mattocks looking threatening with well-timed runs and on-target shots that forced a save or two out of Irwin. For his part, Watson proved to be the missing piece in the "shut down Marvell Wynne" puzzle, not only providing relief for Jordan Harvey but allowing Gershon Koffie to play a slightly more advanced role as the 'Caps pressed for an equalizing goal. On the subject of Koffie, the young Ghanian had a very quiet night; it's debatable whether that means he was solid as a holding midfielder or ineffective in controlling the midfield against Colorado's high pressure. Regardless, with Watson and Mattocks in, the Whitecaps looked like they had a chance.
Sadly, that chance was snuffed out in the 79th minute when Edson Buddle, having only been on the pitch for two minutes after subbing in for Torres, took a hopeful shot on net. The ball struck Johnny Leverón's leg and deflected into the near corner, catching Ousted by surprise and sealing the game. To his credit, there was hardly anything Ousted could've done on the deflection and the Dane made an excellent save shortly thereafter on Brown, stoning him on a counter. From there, it was a by-the-books possession game for Colorado as they ran out the clock. Tommy Heinemann made an 82nd minute appearance, subbing in for Lee in an all-out attempt to grab at least a consolation goal but it was not to be found against Colorado. The Rapids took the game 2-0 and take sole possession of 2nd place in the Western Conference with 39 points, two back of Real Salt Lake. Vancouver falls to 5th, two clear of the Seattle Sounders.
From my viewpoint, it was a much closer match than the 2-0 scoreline indicates. Both teams were clearly looking for a win, playing a cagey, tight match that only turned into a foul-happy mess in the final minutes once Vancouver began pressing hard for a goal and Colorado began doing everything to wind the clock down. It was a perfect storm of ineffectiveness for Vancouver's much-lauded attackers, mixing poor decision-making and cheaply lost possession with some aggressive yet solid goalkeeping by Clint Irwin. Still, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades; last I checked, this is not Major League Hand Grenades. (Note to self: pitch "Major League Hand Grenades" to FOX Sports.) If the Whitecaps plan on not just making the playoffs - a concept by no means guaranteed in the Western Conference - but outdoing their one-and-done performance from last year, they'll need to find a way past teams like the Rapids that can dominate areas of the park either through numerical advantage or high pressure.
Vancouver and Colorado play each other two more times (Oct. 19th and 27th), once at each team's home grounds, to close out the regular season.
COL: 36', Deshorn Brown (from Vicente Sánchez)
COL: 79', Edson Buddle (from Nick LaBrocca)
COL: 51', Deshorn Brown
VAN: 71', Jordan Harvey