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Caps stun Kansas City to grab win, playoff berth

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We’ve arrived at peak Vancouver Whitecaps

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Sporting KC Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

There is stealing three points and then there’s what Vancouver did on Saturday at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City.

Going with a “B” side and conceding over 75 percent of the possession, Vancouver snuck a goal from Erik Hurtado in the 53rd minute and held on for dear life the rest of the way to not only beat their closest rival in the Western conference table but also clinch a playoff berth.

Manager Carl Robinson went with a surprisingly rotated lineup with seven changes from the midweek loss to Seattle. Getting the nod were Stefan Marinovic, Jake Nerwinski, Marcel de Jong, Brek Shea, Nicolas Mezquida, Alphonso Davies and Erik Hurtado. Tony Tchani missed on account of the red card he earned in the dying moments of the Seattle game and Cristian Techera was absent as he traveled back to Uruguay for the birth of his son (welcome little Bastian!).

The Caps quickly got burned on the high press, with Graham Zusi dancing through the Caps midfield and finding an unmarked Seth Sinovic at the far post. The SKC forward was unable to hit the target however, and didn’t trouble Markovic.

Just moments later, the away side dodged a bullet. Kendall Waston fouled Sinovic and Baldomero Toledo initially signaled the infraction occurred outside the box. But after consultation with Video Assistant Review, Toledo pointed to the spot and SKC had the chance at an early lead. But Diego Rubio rattled the spot kick off the post and the 0-0 scoreline remained intact.

Rubio was denied again, as Zusi again proved a menace along the left hand flank. The Chilean met the left back’s cross but Marinovic was equal to it, as he scrambled to make a wonderful save and blank Rubio.

Rubio had another chance go wide moments later and Gerso Fernandes continued the barrage of SKC chances when Jordan Harvey was forced to deflect his well struck shot wide, otherwise it would have been a goal for the home side.

While SKC maintained well over 75 percent possession for the first half, Vancouver held firm. Gerso was played in on goal but Aly Ghazal made a fantastic recovery to go to ground and win the ball in a high-risk scenario.

Perhaps the lone chance for Vancouver in the first half was in the 40th minute, when Jordan Harvey had oodles of space to send in a sharp cross. It was met with the head of Brek Shea but the ensuing shot went just over the crossbar.

While the home side, buoyed by The Cauldron, was massively dominant, they were unable to beat Marinovic and the first 45 ended 0-0.

The SKC attack was no less unrelenting in the start of the second half but against all odds it was Vancouver who struck first. Jordan Harvey launched a well weighted ball in for Erik Hurtado, who cleverly flicked it one-time over the head of a helpless Tim Melia and into the back of the net. The goal silenced the home crowd and put the Whitecaps up 1-0 in shocking fashion.

SKC nearly found a quick equalizer. Ghazal hauled down Roger Espinoza for a free kick in dangerous territory and Zusi nearly made them pay. The set piece nicked the Whitecap wall and nearly beat a helpless Marinovic, but the crossbar saved Vancouver’s bacon once again.

An assist from Toledo may have helped in the 59th minute as well, when Marcel de Jong perhaps knifed down Espinoza in the box. The Honduran went to ground softly but there was certainly contact. Regardless, Toledo waved away appeals from SKC and Vancouver escaped.

The Caps took the chance to bring on Christian Bolanos for Shea at that point as well. After some more fierce clearances from Vancouver, they made their second sub by bringing on Yordy Reyna for Mezquida.

Throughout this period Vancouver frustrated the home team with time wasting, with Nico and Marinovic earning the derision of the crowd (not undeservedly so) for their antics.

Alphonso Davies could have set our collective minds at ease in the 81st minute, when Reyna found the teenager streaking through on goal. But the Fonz could not beat a stout Melia to earn his first MLS goal. He was replaced minutes later by Russell Teibert as the Caps’ last sub.

There were nervy moments for Vancouver late, perhaps none as dangerous as when Espinoza nearly converted off a lovely Benny Feilhaber cross. Marinovic, however, came up big and tipped it over the bar.

The dying moments of the match descended into absolute chaos. Firstly, Zusi was sent off for denying Reyna, who had rounded Melia and was clear through on goal. Not a lot of contact but it seemed Zusi clipped the heel of the Peruvian international and was promptly sent to the stands by Toledo.

But oh wait, the red cards were not done. Bolanos was also dismissed after raking his arm across the face of Espinoza. While the SKC man went down easily and sold the foul, it was also an utterly boneheaded play from a veteran and it is hard to direct too much vitriol towards the decision.

Nonetheless, the Caps were able to survive a few more heart-stopping moments and see off SKC, breaking their record home unbeaten streak in the process.

Thoughts

  • Not exactly the kind of match you can feel warm and fuzzy about at the end of the day. But at this stage in the season, with that lineup and a tough opponent? You don’t throw those wins back.
  • We need to see more of the New Zealand international to be sure but Saturday could have been a real statement of Marinovic as he potentially could be set to take over the number one kit next season. Marinovic put in an Ousted-like performance, making Save of the Week candidate stops on at least two occasions. As Ousted ages, we may shift from having a Great Dane to a Great Kiwi in goal.
  • Toledo had a vintage-Baldomero Toledo match here. SKC fans will probably be rightly up in arms about some of the foul no-calls (though I think the red on Zusi was earned). Caps fans will be equally frustrated with Bola’s sending off. That evens it out right?
  • Aly Ghazal impressed me again Saturday, although his was not a flawless performance. But the Egyptian is such a physical force in midfield and is adept at reading the game and picking out passes to intercept. Hope he continues to get minutes down the stretch run.
  • Is this style of play sustainable into the playoffs? That’s the $100 million question and while I tend to be pessimistic about its sustainability, fortunately, with the win Saturday, we’ll be able to find out.