When Darren Mattocks scored his first goal in nine months, putting the Vancouver Whitecaps up 1-0 mid-way through the 2nd half versus the Colorado Rapids earlier today, it seemed like balance had been finally been restored to the universe. Then Matias Laba lost his head, the Caps lost Laba, and in the span of three minutes they lost all equilibrium, and the match.
After playing brilliantly at home twice already this season, the Whitecaps had every reason to be confident heading into today's fixture versus the Rapids. Vancouver was one of only four teams to remain undefeated heading into the match, and Colorado could only score on PKs - having notched five of them in their three matches to date, failing to score at all during open play.
To complete the confidence-building, Rapids' coach Pablo Mastroeni had to do some major roster shuffling, as starting RB and defensive speedster Marvell Wynne was out serving a one-match suspension. Moreover, leading scorer Vincente Sanchez didn't make the trip to the coast, as he'd refused to play on the AT at BC Place. Apparently, some Uruguayans don't have the stones for it. He was joined by Edson Buddle, sitting out for the same reason.
Meanwhile, Carl Robinson rolled out the same lineup and formation that had pretty much neutralized Houston the week before.
But wheels on the Whitecaps wagon appeared to be decidedly ovoid right from the start. The Caps struggled throughout the first half to both gain and retain possession, as decent timing and mutual understanding were in very short supply for the blue and white.
That's not to say the Caps didn't have their chances to get on the board early. Mattocks, Gershon Koffie (2x), and Pedro Morales all had opportunities to score, only to be either denied, or fail in the attempt on out the ball on goal. At the 14' mark, Mattocks latched onto a rebound courtesy of a 30-yard bomb off the foot of Morales, and tucked the ball in behind keeper Clint Irwin, who was making his first start of the season. The marker was waved off, however, as Mattocks was offside on the play.
Colorado earned themselves a trifecta of chances of their own in the first half, all for Deshorn Brown, but David Ousted, Andy O'Brien, and a then three-inch gap kept Brown off the scoresheet.
At the half it was scoreless, but the Rapids were winning the possession battle 57% to 43%.
Vancouver came out somewhat more organized and patient on the ball to start the second half, but that dissipated faster than a Rob Ford exhale.
Very much against the run of play, Vancouver got on the scoresheet thanks to Darren Mattocks. Kenny Miller did all the spadework, winning a header in front of Shane O'Neill, and holding it up momentarily before side-footing the ball past him 30 yards out and sending Mattocks in alone on goal. The Jamaican coolly chipped Irwin, who got a piece of the shot, but not enough to keep it out.
Just a minute later, O'Neill was the goat again, as Mattocks, Morales, and Miller broke in from mid-field 3-on-1, but from the penalty spot, Morales couldn't bury Mattocks' feed from the left side, the ball glancing off Irwin's right leg, and wide of the goal.
Speed forward to 77' - and Vancouver's date with doom. Matias Laba is taken down from behind by Nick Labrocca. Laba reaches out and grabs the ball with former replacement ref Ioannis Stavridis standing a yard away. There's no call on the blatant foul, but Laba receives a yellow - his second of the match, so he's sent packing with 13 minutes of regulation time left.
Just a minute later, Jose Mari rips a 23-yarder from the top right corner of the Vancouver penalty area. It's got absolutely vicious bend on it, and banks in off the far post to Ousted's left. The Goal of the Week candidate's got Colorado on level terms with 12 minutes to go, and Vancouver down to 10 men.
Three minutes later, disaster is assured, as the Caps completely fall asleep at the back end. First year man Charles Eloundou in his MLS debut drives deep to the end line to Ousted's right. He cuts it back diagonally all the way to the top of the box, dead middle, where it's calmly laid off by Nathan Sturgis for Mari to softly side-foot past Ousted, who'd been leaning the other way. Throughout the entire sequence, not one Vancouver defender was in position to stop, harry, or block the ball movement, and it was game over.
Many will hang this all on Ioannis - and, in truth, he didn't call a decent match, but Laba's got to wear his red card just as badly as Jun "butthead" Marques Davidson had to last year. He was on a yellow already, and despite the foul there was no whistle from the Greek. I don't know what thoughts, if anything at all, went through Laba's head, but grabbing the ball should not have been among them.
It turns out the Whitecaps aren't invincible at home after all. That's the good news. The bad? The Caps play on the road next week. Versus LA. Without Laba.