An early defensive miscue from the visitors to BC Place and a brilliant counterattack from the Caps were all it took, as the Vancouver Whitecaps blanked the top team in MLS 2-0, and clawed their way back into a playoff position.
In the run up to the match, many Whitecaps supporters were quite willing to have accepted yet another draw - considering the quality of the opposition. Still others were firmly in the "If we're going to go down, I'd rather go down swinging" camp.
And why not? Vancouver had just one win in their last nine matches. Conversely, SKC were riding an eight-game unbeaten streak, had won their last five road matches, and boasted seven wins in 11 away matches this season. There were plenty of reasons to expect a draw or worse on Sunday evening - but a combination of stalwart defensive play in the midfield, a little serendipity, and a tired -looking all-star quartet worked in the Caps' favour.
The final stats bear out the run of the match:
SHOTS: WFC 13, SKC 13
ON TARGET: WFC 7, SKC 2
MISSED CHANCES: WFC 3, SKC 0
DUELS WON: WFC 68, SKC 47
SAVES: WFC 2, SKC 4
Sporting coach Peter Vermes was unequivocal following the match, saying that his side wasn't prepared mentally. In reference to the Whitecaps, he added "They deserved, easily, to get the three points out of this game. They were for sure the better team."
The Southsiders had hardly wrapped up "Boundary Road" when Darren Mattocks almost put the Caps out front at the 4' mark. After a nice cutback ball from Sebastian Fernandez, Mattocks turned CB Aurelien Collin neatly at the top of the six-yard box. Mattocks' shot from point blank was deflected just wide, however, after Collin recovered just enough to throw out a foot in desperation mode. It was a shade of things to come, if ever there was one.
A little over ten minutes later, Vancouver went up 1-0 on the strength of some great finishing. Unfortunately for SKC, the finishing came on an own goal courtesy of RB Igor Juliao. The young Brazilian and GK Andy Gruenebaum got their wires crossed on the play, as Gruenebaum raced off his line to challenge for a long lob from Pedro Morales. At the same time, Juliao headed the ball back neatly to where Gruenebaum had been standing moments earlier. Collin couldn't get to the ball in time to prevent it from bouncing into the Kansas City goal.
At 30' Mattocks latched onto a weak clearance but his left footer was stopped by a sprawling Gruenebaum. Just a minuted later, Pedro Morales got into the act. His driven 25-yard free kick from out toward the right flank dipped viciously at the near post, and Gruenebaum could only parry the one-hopper initially before smothering the rebound.
SKC was looking rattled at this point, and the Caps actually looked like a team going in for the kill. On 36' Mattocks fired a ground cross from the right wing, but it was too hot for an unmarked Fernandez, who just missed getting a foot onto it. Any contact on that play, and the ball was in the net.
At 38' it was Morales with a flippant, yet highly effective long range lob from 40 yards that almost caught the SKC keeper well off his line. Fortunately for Gruenebaum, the ball carried just a couple feet over the crossbar.
Vancouver went up 2-0 at 39' on a play with many constituent parts:
It begins with Mathias Laba cutting out a long Matt Besler pass. With a single touch, Laba directs the ball forward to Morales. He pokes the ball past Besler's attempted challenge, and finds himself on a fast break 1v1 against Aurien Collin, who's got decent inside position. Mattocks is out wide a good five yards to Morales' right. But reading the play perfectly, Mattocks immediately angles sharply toward the middle, crossing in behind Morales' heels to give Collin two things to worry about. As Morales approaches do-or-die time with Collin gradually shading toward him, he slips the ball inside to Mattocks, who takes a touch and then fires low to his right for the goal and the straw that broke SKC's back.
Though SKC would enjoy longer spells with the ball in the second half, Gershon Koffie and Mathias Laba (who look like the best DM pairing in the league right now) owned the midfield on the night - shutting down both midfielder Benny Feilhaber (one shot on target) and forward Graham Zusi (one shot - off target), along with striker Dom Dwyer (one shot- off target).
Playing out of their usual 4-2-3-1, Vancouver plugged the middle of the pitch, winning the majority of the aerial battles. SKC's 4-3-3 was forced to play wide, often going to their favoured left side (Feilhaber/Zusi), but shut down for the most part by RB Steven Beitashour and Gershon Koffie or Laba. At times, both Harvey and Beitashour took up almost wingback positions, taking away time and space from wide options for the visitors.
With the win, Vancouver overtakes both Portland and Colorado, moving two point clear, and into 5th spot in the Western Conference. The Caps also hold a game in hand over the Timbers and Rapids.
It's looking increasingly like it'll be a four-horse race between Vancouver, Portland, Colorado and LA down to the wire for the fifth and final playoff spot in the West.
The Caps now take to the road to battle Chivas August 16, and then LA on August 23.