The Vancouver Whitecaps fought back to earn a 2–2 draw at B.C. Place against visiting Chivas USA, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s two points dropped against the weakest team in the MLS Western Conference in a very tight playoff race.
Erick “Cubo” Torres was the hero for the visitors with two goals early in the first half. His first, in the third minute, will surely be MLS goal of the week. The 20-year-old Mexican sent a beautiful overhead kick past David Ousted in the Vancouver goal after defender Andy O’Brien skied his headed clearance.
Then, just 11 minutes later, Torres struck again, and again did his robot dance celebration after. Edgar Mejia sent in a cross from the right flank after Kekuta Manneh fell for the former’s fake. Torres found some precious real estate between the two Whitecaps central defenders and glanced a header in the far side of the goal.
But Vancouver turned it on in the second half with goals from Gershon Koffie and an injury-time equalizer from substitute Tommy Heinemann to earn what could still be a very valuable point.
The Caps pressured the Goats relentlessly in the second half, but were mostly wasteful with their finishing. Erik Hurtado had a chance right in front of goal in the 90th minute, but fired his shot high. Kenny Miller had a credible chance early in the second half after a feed from Manneh, but the Scot made a mess of his shot as he clumsily lost the ball in his legs.
Chivas was coming off a 3–2 home win over the New York Red Bulls and they began the game very strongly. Vancouver was tentative; it was as if both teams were continuing the form from their prior games.
On a positive note for Vancouver, Camilo made his return to the starting lineup. The Brazilian’s best chance came in the 79th minute when he cut in from the left flank, but fired wide of goal.
He was also the victim of a bizarre decision by referee David Gantar who failed to call Chivas USA goalkeeper Dan Kennedy for a handball outside the box. Instead Camilo was called for a foul.
But Kennedy was at fault for Vancouver’s first goal when his clearance, albeit under duress from Matt Watson, landed at Koffie’s feet. The Ghanaian simply took the long shot, which evaded Kennedy who was unable to get back into proper position to make what would have been a routine save.
Vancouver coach Martin Rennie left speedy Jamaican forward Darren Mattocks on the bench in favor of Heinemann and he was rewarded in the end. Koffie sent a cross from the left flank that Hurtado headed across goal. Heinemann was in the right place at the right time to head past Kennedy for the equalizer.
Just three weeks ago, Vancouver was sitting pretty in second place in the Western Conference, but two straight losses (in which they failed to find the back of the net) had them outside the top five coming into Sunday’s match against Chivas USA. The draw leaves them in sixth, two points back of Portland and Colorado.
Vancouver had also lost two of their last three home games, which is unusual for the MLS’s Western Conference. Winning on the road in the West has been particularly difficult as five of nine teams have only one home loss. And no team has even a .500 record on the road.
The Western Conference playoff race is very tight with six teams from third to eighth place separated by six points. It was actually tighter three weeks ago, but Real Salt Lake and L.A. Galaxy have started to distance themselves from the chasing pack. Chivas USA are the only Western Conference side to have no realistic playoff hopes this year.
The Whitecaps’ next three games are on the road with the first two being proverbial six-pointers in the Western Conference playoff race. Next Saturday, they travel to Texas to face FC Dallas and then take on San Jose in California a week later. Any kind of result in these two games will be critical for the damage it will do to the playoff hopes of their rivals.
Follow Rahul on Twitter @RV_ETSports