Vancouver Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson would like to have you believe that his team is now headstrong in a rivalry with Real Salt Lake. That despite a head to head record, has RSL ahead with four wins and three draws--against just three defeats.
Well, the Whitecaps probably have a ways to go to get to the point where they can call themselves rivals. But if the game on Saturday, July 19 was any indication of how far Vancouver has to go to get to that point, well, it probably isn't too far off in the distance.
In some alternate universe between here in the pseudo-Rockies and there, in the hinterlands of giant, majestic Canadian Rockies--you know, where the Whitecaps get their name--Vancouver has managed to come down to the Wasatch Front and steal two of six possible points.
On Saturday, in front of another packed house at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, the peaks of the mighty--well, not so mighty if you live in Vancouver--Wasatch towered over the place where these two teams played a not-so-friendly game of soccer.
This especially applied to the Whitecaps, taunting RSL players and inexplicably, goalkeeper Nick Rimando, who dived left as he thought he read perfectly this penalty kick Whitecaps forward Darren Mattocks was taking in the 73rd minute of a scoreless game.
The only problem was that Mattocks went to the opposite corner, slotting the ball diagonally and sharply into the far reaches of the net in a place where Rimando would have needed another set of arms to reach, and secure, his record-tying shutout.
That goal by Vancouver made it 1-0, a scoreline that by the grace of God was given to the Whitecaps thanks to a questionable call that went a little something like this: Mattocks took a few touches bursting down the right wing with the ball, nearing RSL's penalty box until defender Nat Borchers--who was sideways-on as any good defender is taught--turned his hips into Mattocks' path.
Mattocks took two more touches to try to get around Borchers, to no avail. Bprchers stayed neck-and-neck with the Jamaican speedster. Soon enough, Mattocks--and Borchers and his flowing red mane of a beard--had to make a decision. Mattocks took a heavy touch to get past Borchers, and Borchers reacted by sliding his left foot towards the ball Mattocks was dribbling.
Mattocks flew like a newborn bird who just got wings. Referee Edwin Jurisevic--who has issued four red cards in eight matches called, a 50 percent rate of not-so accuracy--pointed to the penalty spot. Mattocks, who sort of earned his kick, but not really, stepped to the spot.
“It’s not a PK. It’s 100 percent not a PK – I just watched it again. I wish the referee would, you know, be positive [about a call like that]. I went up to him afterwards and asked him ‘are you sure about that call?’ He said ‘pretty sure.’ It’s a PK in the box – you need to be sure. You can’t be ‘almost right’ about those types of calls," RSL head coach Jeff Cassar said post-game.
Fortunately for RSL, it wasn't finished on the night, despite every effort from Vancouver's players to taunt and belittle RSL's players after Mattocks' penalty kick. The last straw came when an RSL player tried to kick the ball--standard procedure, this--out of their own net.
A Vancouver player re-directed the ball RSL tried to kick out of its net back in RSL's direction. A scrum ensued, players from both teams started pushing and shoving each other and Jurisevic rushed to their aid. He also kept his sparkling record intact, issuing four yellow cards in one sitting.
Perhaps the melee was a wake-up call for RSL, because the boys in claret and cobalt--rejuvenated by a second half substitution transfusion in the forms of Robbie Findley and Luke Mulholland--were on the move, zigging and zagging through and around Whitecaps defenders at will.
The 65-to-35-percent advantage in possession that RSL had throughout this match was no fluke, and it would have been higher had Vancouver not opted to blast the ball out of harm's way every time an RSL player approached the Whitecaps' penalty box.
On one occasion, however, Vancouver was unable to prevent RSL from scoring. After brilliant interplay between several RSL midfielders in the middle of the park, Kyle Beckerman saw forward Joao Plata making a run down the left wing.
“It was just a play where I tried to get it off Luke [Mulholland]. I saw Javier [Morales] play it in to Luke [Mulholland], and that I was going to receive it back from him. He got the ball off to me, and I heard Plata screaming for it. I knew he was wide open, so I just played it," Beckerman said post-game.
Plata got the ball on a dead run, taking two touches before he took his shot. If you've ever seen a torpedo exit a submarine, that's precisely what left Plata's left boot as the ball sped between the Caps' keeper's outstretched arm and leg, through the smallest of crevices for a goal.
The aggression RSL had shown in the Whitecaps' attacking third had almost paid off in the form of a goal on numerous occasions. Javier Morales' 3rd minute free kick outside the Caps' box that bent over the wall, heading for his left upper 90 until the Caps goalie fingertipped it over the bar. Morales and the keeper reprised their roles later in the second half, with a similar ending to the first.
Vancouver had its chances too, but both first half efforts in the 37th and 40th minutes went wide right, a poor but obvious inference to the movie "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective." Considering Vancouver was much like the Jim Carrey character barking in unison with a dog because the windshield of his junky car was shattered by thugs--and Carrey thought he was a dog--you could understand their frustration in not fitting in.
The Whitecaps knew they couldn't come into Rio Tinto Stadium and get three points--but they would battle to the death for a draw. They bombed the ball out of danger; they physically assaulted and taunted their opponents and they ruined Rimando's attempt at a record-tying shutout. They also enjoyed stoking the flames of a budding rivalry between two teams that couldn't be more diametrically opposed, both by distance and ideology, if they tried.