On Saturday the Whitecaps hosted Real Salt Lake and the stakes could not have been higher for the home team. The playoff race for the final spot in the western conference has unofficially come down to the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Portland Timbers.
Just hours before kickoff in Vancouver the Timbers visited Toronto FC. Timber captain and Canadian international Will Johnson collided with Toronto defender Mark Bloom just seconds into the match and broke his leg. The Timbers fought for their injured captain and took a 2-0 lead on Toronto. The second half saw Toronto FC score 3 unanswered goals to steal a 3-2 victory. Toronto fans cheered and so did Vancouver. The loss for Portland meant a victory for the Whitecaps over Real Salt Lake would see Vancouver retake the 5th and final spot.
The first half between RSL and the ‘Caps was mostly uneventful as both teams effectively cancelled each other out. In the last moments of the first half Kendall Waston drew a penalty for Vancouver. The call was soft no question about it. Regardless, Pedro Morales stepped to the spot and RSL goalie Jeff Attinella guessed right and saved the soft shot. Early in the second half David Ousted made a stunning diving save to keep the match scoreless. The ensuing corner kick didn’t go so well for Vancouver. Real Salt Lake defender Nat Borches broke free from his check and nodded home to give RSL the lead in the 57th minute. A few minutes later, defender Carlos Salcedo made a dangerous tackle on Erik Hurtado in the box. The ref pointed to the spot again and this time Morales made no mistake as he tied the game. Vancouver coach Carl Robinson subbed Kekuta Manneh into the match and he had an immediate impact. Manneh went on an electric run down the pitch and sent a cut back pass into the middle. The pass went by several on rushing Vancouver players but fell to Steven Beitashour who one timed it at the goal. The shot would probably have missed but instead a lurking Morales redirected it past Attinella and the 19,395 in attendance leapt to their feet. Real Salt Lake pushed for an equalizer but the Whitecaps held on for the win.
The biggest positive from this victory was the return of Kekuta Manneh. The young striker has not seen much action lately but from the moment he stepped onto the pitch against RSL he looked destined to score a goal and he came ever so close while his assist for the winning goal was beautiful. Pedro Morales had a slow first half as he looked breathless at times but he tapped into his reserve energy in the second half and his leadership earned the team all 3 crucial points.
This win finishes a pretty good day for the Whitecaps. Optimism can’t be very high in the Portland camp after losing their captain and giving up a sure victory in Toronto. As we head into the final 4 games of the season the battle still rages between the Cascadia rivals. Neither team can say that they are a shoe in at this point but momentum seems to have shifted to favour the Whitecaps.