The Whitecaps grabbed a lucky point against the Impact last night, and I was totally good with that.
Oh, Vancouver wasn't being completely pushed around. It wasn't that sort of lucky point, that Wigan-against-Arsenal lucky point. The Whitecaps were certainly the classier force for the first twenty-five minutes or so, but then they got lazy, or complacent, or in some way let their game slip and the Impact pinned the Whitecaps deep in their own end, including snaring a rather lovely goal courtesy the erratic but talented Antiguan Peter Byers. Couldn't say the Impact didn't deserve their lead; they were converting their chances while Vancouver wasn't, and they kept their foot down through the beginning of the second half. But it was a close affair.
It was lucky in the sense that Montreal once again let their tempers get the best of them, that the Impact took their name a little too literally. Eighty-first minute, Marlon James dives like a fish to draw an undeserved foul. The referee misses the call, because this is real life and humans are imperfect, and awards Vancouver a kick. Adam Braz decides that he has had enough of this shit and, already riding a yellow, pops a Whitecap from behind as the Vancouverites mill through the confusion trying to get the ball set down. Matt Jordan's egregious taunting of Marcus Haber has no effect, the West Brom boy slots home the penalty, ballgame.
So yeah, the foul that got the whole affair started was actually a tremendous dive from James, proof that Phillips Bakery isn't the only place to get a big roll in St. Vincent. I'd feel a lot worse about that if not for Montreal's particularly egregious timewasting that began ere the second half was old, particularly courtesy Matt Jordan and Rocco Placentino. I'd feel a lot worse about it if half the reason James got the benefit of the doubt wasn't "well, they are the Montreal Impact and they do commit fouls like that".
Besides, the Whitecaps very nearly seized the opportunity in even more spectacular fashion. Braz hadn't been integral to the solid Impact defending last night but his absence seemed to stun Montreal and put life in Whitecap legs. From that moment on, almost without exception, the Whitecaps pinned the Impact back and put on a passing clinic which Montreal was powerless to stop. Marlon James very nearly snatched victory from the jaws of defeat with a stoppage time shot that eked barely wide. Far more than Toronto did last week, Vancouver controlled the play against ten-man Montreal, and though the situations were of course completely different and we didn't get the win we craved, it was enough to put hope in our hearts once again.
You have to believe the Impact are out of it. Two matches, one goal, one point, and three red cards. Over a quarter of the starting lineup for their first game will be ineligible for the third. But, throughout their history, Montreal has had a nasty habit of turning up alive. While they have a chance they will try to seize it, and if they achieve that long-awaited first victory against Toronto FC at home all of a sudden this Cup will take on a new, terrifying character. Toronto is the favourite now; they won their first game and if Vancouver plays like they did last night they'll win their first two. But they haven't got enough of an element of control to take anything for granted and the FC is at its worst when they go into cruise control.
As for the Whitecaps? Well, I've got hope. Hope is something.