Looking at the MLS standings going into tonight's match (never a reliable source for predicting anything), a Vancouver Whitecaps win seemed a foregone conclusion. From a casual fan's perspective, this was an opportunity to see the league-leading home team notch another win in their collective belt while getting a glimpse of some footballing royalty in Frank Lampard, David Villa, and Andrea Pirlo.
Realistically, this game was a match between a playoff-hungry New York City FC and a beat-up, faltering Whitecaps team. Looking at the lineups for tonight's match. There was very little to suggest that the 'Caps should be the favourites. NYCFC had all three of their stellar DP's, as well as Mix Diskerud (a US international who makes DP money), and a healthy lineup of solid starters. The Caps went without Octavio Rivero (who was "banged up" according to Carl Robinson), Pedro Morales, Pa Modou Kah and Steven Beitashour.
Vancouver's regular starters, the DP's especially, were missed greatly in the first half. The game looked like a stalemate for long periods. All the Caps could muster were hopeful long balls towards the front three. NYCFC broke through in the 29th minute with a well worked play finished by Frank Lampard. It shouldn't have been a massive moment in the game. The Whitecaps have had the ability to brush off 1-0 leads in the past, and chances to do so came and went. Ultimately, the end of the 1st half and beginning of the 2nd lacked the creativity and composure necessary to break down a well-organized NYCFC.
The 'Caps found themselves throwing caution to the wind in the final 20 minutes. Robbo made attacking substitutions (Morales for Koffie, Rivero for Mattocks, Earnshaw for Rosales) that changed the style of play and opened up the match. The game went from end to end and by the last 5 minutes the entire stadium was on its feet. Somewhere in amongst the countless Whitecaps attacks, a penalty was called and the stadium erupted. Pedro put the ball away and the momentum shifted. A late win didn't seem to be out of the question.
In fact, New York City did their best to gift the Whitecaps a win in stoppage time. In an attempt to make a late substitution, RJ Allen walked off of the opposite side of the field. Except the substitution didn't happen, and no one told RJ. He was left wandering around the field, and unbeknownst to them, NYCFC were down to 10 men for a crucial 2-3 minutes. The result was Kekuta Manneh with acres of space and several quality Whitecaps chances. Morales had a header saved, Waston headed the ball over the bar, and Rivero and Techera somehow managed to have a 4 on 2 broken up by Kwadwo Poku. It was truly agonizing stuff.
Then came the
penalty WHAT!?!?! HOW!?!? no! NO! ARE YOU SERIOUS?
If the Whitecaps' penalty seemed dubious, this was outright match-fixing. A fantastic Matias Laba tackle on a flat-footed Frank Lampard was somehow deemed to be a foul, and David Villa stroked the ball into the bottom corner. It was a dagger to Whitecap hearts. VWFC vs NYCFC began as a game we probably didn't deserve to win, became a game we needed to tie, then ended as a game we should've, could've won but lost.