See if you can spot the difference between these two storylines:
1.) Earlier today, D.C. United - knowing they wanted to have their starters fully rested and ready for the mid-week U.S. Open Cup finals - sent a reserve team to Toronto for a match against Toronto FC. Said reserves were pummeled 4-1.
2.) Tonight, Real Salt Lake - knowing they wanted to have their starters fully rested and ready for the mid-week U.S. Open Cup finals - sent a reserve team to Vancouver for a match against the Vancouver Whitecaps. Said reserves won 1-0.
If you answered "the home team in the second story embarrassed themselves beyond belief", congratulations - you haven't sunk into a pit of empty despair after watching Vancouver cough up three crucial points at home! (All the same, better safe than sorry; go eat some chocolate, hang out with friends and try to cheer up. You'll need it for the weeks to come.)
Let's get one thing out of the way right off the bat: Real Salt Lake is a very good team with excellent depth and a zen-like mastery of Major League Soccer's salary cap. Even RSL's reserves are good players; not necessarily starters, but still good players. The team wearing the claret-and-cobalt kit tonight was not a collection of walk-on scrubs hoping for a sandwich and a hot shower. That said, it was undeniably a "B"-team that took to the field tonight and went home 1-0 winners against what was arguably Vancouver's best available eleven. ProTip™: "B"-teams should not walk into enemy territory on a league match day and casually walk out with a 1-0 victory. Ever.
For the third home match in a row, the 'Caps were put in an unenviable position thanks to an early goal. This time, it was Inigo Montoya look-alike Devon Sandoval with a well placed header in the 8th minute. While David Ousted did himself no favours with an indecisive reaction to the initial cross by fullback Lovel Palmer, blame can't be solely attributed to the lanky Dane. Rather, Jay DeMerit bears the brunt of responsibility for that goal with his over-aggressive line that allowed Sandoval to blow by and gain excellent position to nod the ball home. Indeed, DeMerit played a high position for most of the night, often occupying Jun Marques Davidson's spot in what may have been an attempt to regain a midfield advantage.
Of course, to do that, typically one would need to play the ball in the midfield. I'll give you one guess as to where the Whitecaps didn't play the ball for the majority of the evening. Once again, a combination of one-two winger overlaps and lump-it longball were the order of the day for Martin Rennie's 4-3-3 formation, excluding Nigel Reo-Coker and Gershon Koffie from the majority of attacking play. Reo-Coker did what he could to assist the wingers, though his efforts were primarily on the right-hand side of the pitch with Russell Teibert and Young-Pyo Lee. Once again, Jordan Harvey was left more or less by his lonesome to try and spring whichever striker happened to be near him, often with poor results. Hey, know what else was a poor result? This game. Also, every other game played in a 4-3-3 since other teams noticed Vancouver was winning with it. Yet another 4-4-2 possession team was the Whitecaps' bane on this evening, capitalizing early and shutting down all Vancouver's efforts for the rest of the game with grim effectiveness. Even an uncharacteristic double-substitution by Rennie at the 53rd minute, bringing on Kekuta Manneh and Darren Mattocks for Tommy Heinemann and Gershon Koffie, and a shift from 4-3-3 to 4-4-2 wasn't enough to spark the Whitecaps' offense to anything greater than a scramble in the box and blasts from Teibert and Mattocks blocked by RSL defenders.
Speaking of Teibert, it should be noted he had a glorious chance to draw the match level back in the 36th minute with a vicious shot following a deflected cross by Heinemann. As good as the shot was, backup keeper Jeff Attinella made a better save, leaping to swat the ball away from the top corner and out for a corner kick. I wouldn't be surprised to see Attinella's effort rewarded with a "Save of the Week" nod.
At the other end of the park, Ousted did his best to keep the team in it after the early goal with great saves of his own. At the 61st minute, Ousted got an arm to Yordany Alvarez's bending strike. He then bailed out Carlyle Mitchell with another save, this time on Sebastian Velasquez, after the defender all-too-casually turned the ball over under pressure. Finally, his 72nd-minute stop on a wicked Olmes García shot prevented DeMerit's continued high-line play from being exposed again. While Ousted may have had a regrettable part in the first goal, it was clear he was determined not to be the cause of any further grief for the 'Caps.
The only other moment of note in the game was a fairly major one. In the 69th minute, a fortuitous bounce saw Teibert with a clear path to goal and the speedy Canadian put on the jets, only to be sliced down from behind by RSL defender Chris Schuler. Referee Baldomero Toledo not only kept the cards in his pocket but didn't even whistle for a foul, much to the surprise of nearly everyone in BC Place - including more than a few players on the pitch who were clearly expecting the whistle to be blown. While I may have my partisan shades on here, I'm confident Schuler's tackle was not only a foul and not only card-worthy, as the last defender back it should have been a straight red card.
Unlike the match against Chivas USA where
Caveman Heinemann managed some last-second heroics to salvage a point, not even repeated gambles by Ousted joining the fray on set pieces could find so much as a clear chance on net as time wound down. RSL bunkered in and countered hard, punishing the Whitecaps all over the field and even managing to ring a shot off the post courtesy a Joao Plata shot in the 92nd minute. Actually, that was the most threatening chance for either team in the final 15 minutes of the game, which tells you all you need to know about how this game went down.
During the post-game media scrum, Nigel Reo-Coker had this to say:
Reo-Coker: "We got taught a footballing lesson. They pass, they move, they had a lot more desire than us. We have to be honest." #MLS— Marc Weber (@ProvinceWeber) September 29, 2013
Mr. Reo-Coker, with all due respect, if a reserve squad - a [expletive] reserve squad - is teaching your side a lesson, you need more than honesty; you need to learn how to play the game of football. Considering your pedigree in particular, I had hoped that wouldn't be necessary thirty matches into the season.
Or, y'know, at all.