Heading into tonight's match up, the predictions were all over the board - after all, the Caps were riding a 8-1-3 home record, but the two-time MLS champion Galaxy were riding a great run of form.
In the end, it was a combination of an early defensive gaffe, multiple chances not taken, and a referee reluctant to blow his whistle that saw Vancouver drop all three points and fall out of a playoff position in the process.
The Southsiders had hardly finished up their rendition of Country Road when Andy O'Brien, back again in the Whitecaps central defense, joined Johnny Leveron in trying to tackle Robbie Keane 30 yards out. Leveron's poking tackle put the ball onto the foot of an unmarked Landon Donovan running at pace just behind the play. Donovan took a touch and thundered a left-footer into the top left corner past an outstretched David Ousted, who had begun to cheat in the opposite direction.
Despite conceding the early lead, and some difficulties linking the midfield of Gershon Koffie, Nigel Reo-Coker, and Matt Watson with the forwards, including Russell Teibert, Darren Mattocks (Camilo out with a groin issue), and Kenny Miller, Vancouver managed a handful of decent scoring opportunities in the first half. Koffie hit a half-volley knuckler from long range in the 9', only to see it tail away - missing by yard high and wide. Just five minutes later, Teibert got a step on Todd Dunivant, slid the ball into the path of Mattocks in the box, but Mattocks' desperate toe-poke attempt on goal was pulled across the goal face to Kenny Miller, striking him in the arm and nullifying the attack.
LA took over in the next phase of the match, with the Caps not managing to hold the ball long enough or link up well enough to move into a threatening position.
At the 30' mark, Watson found Miller on a probing through ball that had Miller at the races from the half line. As defenders began to close and surround, Miller held up and tried to feed Mattocks, but he'd strayed into an offside position, again killing a Whitecap attack.
The Caps closed out the half in dangerous fashion. First, Leveron powered a volley from just outside the LA box, but that fizzed wide by a yard or two, and then in stoppage time Reo-Coker went on one of his patented surges from midfield and then hitting a powerful stroke that a diving Jaime Penedo barely managed to push past his right post.
The Caps were rather one-dimensional for the most part through the first half, with virtually all the offensive thrust coming down the right side. There were times when Jordan Harvey was out on the left wing chalk with nobody within 20 yards of him, but he rarely saw the ball on those occasions.
At halftime, Whitecaps coach Martin Rennie made a rare formation change, and an even rarer mid-way substitution. The Caps switched to a 4-4-2, and swapped Watson out for Kekutah Manneh. Vancouver looked a more threatening side in the second half, particularly in the final 15 minutes, when LA, who have allowed 17 goals against in the final quarter hour, bunkered down.
Manneh's impact was virtually immediate. Just six minutes into the second half, he worked his way past A.J. DeLaGarza, and into the Galaxy box, but put his curling effort straight at Penedo. Just two minutes later, Kenny Miller missed a glorious opportunity when he put a Teibert grounder high and wide from 13 yards out.
At 62', Reo-Coker had a rebound fall at his feet, but didn't have the time or body position to bury the shot, instead putting it over the goal.
From the 75' mark it was pretty much one-way traffic, with Vancouver pushing hard to equalize and share the points. It was also the point at which the bounces really started going against the Whitecaps:
At 79' Gershon Koffie was steamrolled from behind in the LA box, with play allowed to continue, much to the displeasure of the Whitecaps' fans.
Just two minutes later, Manneh, from 30 yards out hit a vicious, curling half-volley that beat Penedo, but not the post. The rebound came to Jordan Harvey all alone six yards out. Penedo was down, having dived unsuccessfully for Manneh's ball. Harvey took a touch, still with nobody challenging, and instead of slotting it inside the far post, away from Penedo, his left-footer came back slightly across goal, and Penedo - making an all-world effort - makes the diving stop to leave Harvey on his knees wondering what had gone wrong with the world.
It was the last, and certainly the best chance the Caps had to pull out the draw for a side that could consider themselves rather snakebit on the night.
There were three, possibly four instances of handball infractions by the Galaxy that went uncalled, and the aforementioned demolition of Koffie in the LA box. NRC picked up a late yellow, and will miss the next match (Chivas) due to yellow card accumulation.
My greatest criticism on the night is reserved not for the Caps, but the TSN crew - specifically the director, who clearly knows little about soccer. Two free kicks were completely missed, and several times play was moving downfield but all while TV viewers were treated instead to iso shots of Camilo on the bench, Matt Watson jogging, and Bruce Arena and Martin Rennie looking stoic. Poor, poor performance in the match coverage.
While the loss puts the Caps out of the playoff picture for the moment, there were some encouraging signs. While LA were solid, they didn't look like world-beaters. Vancouver laid out a mixed bag in terms of performances, missed a good number of quality chances, got some bad breaks and still only dropped a 1-0 decision.
On the other hand, the Caps are still in desperate need of a creative force in midfield, and are too dependent on the right side for attack and service. It's like Rennie's driving on a new set of tires, but didn't bother getting them balanced. Whup, whup, whup...