The Vancouver Whitecaps against the Colorado Rapids has been a matchup full of excitement, goal scoring, and momentum changes this season. Saturday evening's final game between these two sides was the culmination of all the previous matchups, topping them all.
Last time these two played in Vancouver, the Rapids tied things up down to 10-men. This Saturday, it was Vancouver who found two scores down 10-men to ruin things for Colorado. With all the swings of emotions, the one feeling Rapids fans will be left with is disgust for all the wasted opportunities.
In the first 15 minutes of the game, the Whitecaps looked like a boxer who took a shot to the head and still hadn’t recovered from the blow. The home team found themselves unprepared on a long pass from Sam Cronin to Marlon Hairston, who deftly controlled it into the penalty box. Hairston got tripped by opposing goalkeeper David Ousted, but the ball trickled through to Dominique Badji who calmly put it away in an empty net in the 8th minute.
Hairston would have another chance at goal in the first 15, only to have his shot tipped out of bounds. On a corner kick shortly thereafter, Eric Miller got a header through that bounced off the crossbar. Vancouver didn’t seem to know what to do, barely hanging on to their one-goal disadvantage.
The Rapids early on were clearly making an effort to push the ball forward and avoid the back passes that so thoroughly frustrated their coach last week against San Jose. Colorado tried to get forward quickly with fast one to two touch passes.
As the blow of the early goal lessened, the Whitecaps became more organized and structured, closing up spaces that the Rapids were finding earlier in the match. Vancouver, desperately fighting for a final playoff spot began to gain confidence and started to come out of their shell, finishing with the most altruistic play in the end of the first half.
That momentum carried over for Vancouver in the second half where they quickly found the equalizing goal in the 51st minute. A weak showing from Colorado's set piece defense in which Axel Sjoberg got muscled out of the way by Kendall Watson set up the equalizer. The two biggest men on the field went up against each other and Vancouver’s central defender won.
But it was the same Watson who would cost his team shortly after tying the score. Shkelzen Gashi saw Badji being marked tightly by Watson, so he passed to the striker over the top where the much faster Badji got into the box easily and was pushed from behind by Watson. Penalty and a red card for Watson, leading to an easy finish from the penalty spot for Gashi, and 2-1 Colorado in the 57th minute made things seemingly locked up.
With a goal and man advantage, the Rapids seemed to control easily until they got surprised by yet another goal to take the game level. Erik Hurtado dribbled his way by a couple passive Rapids defenders to cross it in easily to Pedro Morales, who cleanly put the ball away in the right corner at the 70th minute, leading to pure and utter shock.
Vancouver looked to create even more danger right after the goal, as the Rapids seemed genuinely rattled by the 10-man team taking the game back. As the visitors tried to lessen their shock, Gashi came through to save the day.
With a free kick just outside the box, Gashi scored a free kick goal, a beautiful left-footed curler going around the man-barrier and slipping into the left upper corner. Ousted was left to look at the ball powerlessly as it flew by him.
Vancouver, desperate to make it into the playoffs and bring home some points in a crucial home match, tried their best to get another goal past Tim Howard. The defense was far from steady conceding, a slew of dangerous chances to the Whitecaps that should have easily been avoided given the numerical advantage.
That danger eventually cost them as the Whitecaps found an equalizer 93 minutes in, with a cross that neither Sjoberg nor Marc Burch or Howard could get out of harm's way, leaving the Rapids with a bitter and disappointing 3-3 tie.