It could have been oh so different. At the 80 minute mark of Vancouver’s game at Kansas City on Saturday, the ‘Caps were sitting top of the Supporters’ Shield standings. By full time, they weren’t even top of the Western Conference.
You can credit KC’s fightback. You can credit Tim Melia’s excellent stops in goal. You could look at the missed opportunities the Whitecaps had to kill this one off. Or you could look at some terrible defending and marking that allowed four second half goals, three of them from free headers.
There’s a lot of reasons why Vancouver are heading home from KC with nothing. The officiating in the match didn’t seem like one of them but that was what ‘Caps coach Carl Robinson focused after the game, as you’ll see below.
Deflecting the focus from his players? Perhaps. And it will certainly hit him in the pocket as a result. But the defensive collapse needs to be the main talking point after losing two goal leads twice in the space of four days.
We’ll have more on that later, but for now, here’s our report and postgame reaction from the seven goal thriller that was Vancouver Whitecaps’ 4-3 loss to Sporting Kansas City.
Sporting Kansas City showed their title credentials with a stunning fightback that left Vancouver Whitecaps rattled, shocked and drawn back into the playoff chasing pack.
A first half brace from Kekuta Manneh had Vancouver sitting pretty, but when Kevin Ellis pulled one back just after half time, they knew they had a fight on their hands.
Pedro Morales looked to have eased any jitters with a stunning free kick 15 minutes from time, before KC’s late late show saw goals from Dominic Dwyer and a brace from Paulo Nagamura give the home side the unlikeliest of 4-3 victories.
Having had the luxury of resting eight of his starters for the midweek Canadian Championship draw at Montreal, Carl Robinson made just one change to the line-up that dismantled Seattle and RSL in the last two MLS games. That one was enforced, with Kendall Waston suspended and Tim Parker coming in to the middle of the defence.
The big question was whether Matias Laba would be deemed fit to go after picking up an ankle injury midweek, but with the importance of this game to the Supporters’ Shield race, the Argentine was in.
KC had their own midweek Cup tie and Peter Vermes went with seven of the team that started both that US Open Cup win over RSL and last Saturday’s MLS match against TFC.
The home side had some early pressure but it was Vancouver who had the first real chance six minutes in when Manneh sent a long ball forward to Octavio Rivero, but the Uruguayan took just too heavy a first touch and Tim Melia was out quick to block the danger.
Manneh was already looking a handful for KC and he opened the scoring for Vancouver in the 9th minute with a magnificent solo goal that saw him dispossessing Soni Mustivar just inside the ‘Caps half before running in on goal in a 3-on-1 break and coolly slotting home past Melia into the bottom right hand corner.
Manneh again pounced on some slack KC defending in the 15th minute, sending a ball in across goal that a sliding Rivero just couldn’t fully connect on.
KC had their best chance two minutes later when Benny Feilhaber sent a beautiful ball over the ‘Caps defence to Paulo Nagamura, but David Ousted stood tall to come up the point blank block.
If that was good, then the defending three minutes later was sublime, as Krisztian Nemeth played a neat one-two with Dwyer and tried to round Ousted, but the Dane came up with the big save to knock the ball away.
As the ball broke free Jordan Harvey then came up with a double block to keep KC at bay and force a corner which then came to nothing.
It was an entertaining match and it got even better four minutes before the break when Manneh grabbed his second of the game to give the ‘Caps a crucial 2-0 lead, rising to head home a Steven Beitashour cross after the right back had stripped sub Amadou Dia and tore up the wing.
As expected, KC came out all guns blazing to start the second and Ousted came up with a superb one handed save on a fierce, and slightly deflected, Dwyer shot just three minutes in.
The home side kept the pressure on and pulled one back in the 53rd minute when some sloppy ‘Caps defending saw them fail to get their head on a hot potato of a ball that eventually came to Kevin Ellis, who headed in from on the goalline.
Vancouver nearly took some of the pressure off on a quick break three minutes later. Manneh squared to Rivero but the Uruguayan took too long to settle and Melia was out fast to block once again.
The Whitecaps sensed the danger and sought to liven up their own attack, bringing on Mauro Rosales and Pedro Morales. Nice options to have on the bench for sure.
KC turned the pressure back up and Beitashour had to get in a last ditch foot in the 71st minute to prevent Feilhaber from being through on goal.
Manneh should have had his hat-trick moments later when Morales played him in on Melia with a sublime lob, but once again the KC ‘keeper was out quick to thwart the threat.
Vancouver finally made it 3-1 in the 75th minute when Morales hit a stunning 25-yard free kick past Melia, after Nagamura had given it away with a ridiculous and unnecessary handball.
If the ‘Caps thought the game was dead and buried, Dwyer made them think again with nine minutes remaining, losing Pa Modou Kah and heading home a Nemeth cross.
KC’s fighting spirit saw them fully reward three minutes from time when Nagamura made amends, burying a Chance Myers square ball to tie things up at 3-3 and stunning Vancouver.
The home side nearly grabbed a last minute winner but his first timer went just past the right post, as the ‘Caps defence looked rattled.
Vancouver had a break in stoppage time but Rivero and sub Darren Mattocks didn’t seem on the same page and the KC defence killed the danger for a corner.
But there was still time for the home side to grab a dramatic last ditch winner when Nagamura lost his marker and rose to head home a Mustivar cross to spark ecstatic scenes in the home crowd.
It was a stunning fightback and just what it will do to the ‘Caps psyche and how they will bounce back from blowing two two-goals leads will now be key as to where they finish come the end of the season.
Another massive coming up next week against Dallas. Their first of three meetings this season. If the ‘Caps still have Supporters’ Shield hopes, then three points is a must in this one.
FINAL SCORE: Sporting Kansas City 4 – 3 Vancouver Whitecaps
KANSAS CITY: Tim Melia; Saad Abdul-Salaam (Chance Myers 73), Kevin Ellis, Matt Besler, Jimmy Medranda (Amadou Dia 34); Paulo Nagamura, Soni Mustivar, Benny Feilhaber; Connor Hallisey (Jacob Peterson 46), Dom Dwyer, Krisztian Nemeth [Subs Not Used: Jon Kempin, Marcel de Jong, Erik Palmer-Brown, Amobi Okugo]
VANCOUVER: David Ousted; Steven Beitashour, Tim Parker, Pa-Modou Kah, Jordan Harvey; Matías Laba, Gershon Koffie; Cristian Techera (Mauro Rosales 60), Nicolás Mezquida (Pedro Morales 65), Kekuta Manneh (Darren Mattocks 74); Octavio Rivero [Subs not used: Paolo Tornaghi, Christian Dean, Russell Teibert]
His frustrations at the end of the game and his thoughts on the officiating:
“It’s about a number of decisions today. Great environment, great place to play, super fans here, unbeaten at home, fantastic. But it can and it needs to be managed and handled by the correct person. Tonight it wasn’t.”
“There’s so many decisions I’m super frustrated about. But I’m proud of my team. I cannot fault any one of that young group in there today. My centre back’s got a broken jaw and apparently it’s a foul by him. Unbelievable, unbelievable. But I’m proud of my team.”
“They’re a good team, KC, good team. I love Peter to bits. Top top coach. He gets them going. Big games need big people to handle them.”
Thoughts on the wild finish:
“I love Major League Soccer. I really do. Young boy from Wales, love it. But I also really, really hate it in relation to what’s just happened. An influence and my young group, they’ve put so much work in. They’ve travelled, they played three games in a week, credit to them they kept going, but my group’s travelled and I just think there’s certain aspects that need to be better. We’re talking about the Giovincos, the Kakas, top top players, world class players coming into the league, good teams, we need to be better. People need to be better.”
On Vancouver’s late missed chances to put away the game:
“We were 3-1 up; they never give in. Peter’s got a team drummed in to keep going, keep going. Credit to them. They got their result and they got their reward because they played great today. They beat us, and no-one cares how you play, it’s about the results. All credit to them. Credit to KC to keep going, but I’m so proud of my group. I’m speechless for them. I told them to keep their heads up because we’re a good, young team but we’re going to have to do it against all the odds because no one, and I mean no-one, is going to help us, as proven today.”
On tactics to attack up left:
“There was a plan to attack, but not really. Last week Cristian Techera had a very good game and scored two goals. Today, I didn’t know what they would do in the full back areas, playing three games in a week. We got off to a good start and we countered very well at times. We knew we’d get chances from that. We probably should have scored a couple more, because they were open, but they’re a good team, their two full backs go high. They grind out results. It’s not luck why they were MLS Cup Champs in 2013 and I think that proves why.”
On Paulo Nagamura’s performance and losing those late goals:
“Good player Paulo. I was with Naga at Toronto when he first come into the league. I know what he’s about. Credit to him, he got his goals today. We could have been better, we could have stopped crosses, we were a little bit too deep. It’s a bitter pill to swallow tonight. It’s a tough one. We take it on the chin, as Welsh people usually do. I said to you, I love Major League Soccer and today I’m disappointed.”
On others criticising MLS officials and what needs to be done:
“Not from me. I’m usually very calm and I’m calm today. I’m just disappointed for the group in there because I’ve got 18 guys, 23 guys, who have put so much work in and I feel it’s been taken away from us. But as I said, I don’t know. New franchises are coming in, the supporters are fantastic, in most of the organisations, in fact, all of the organisations. Better players are coming into the league. Top, top players are coming into the league. We’re attracting senior DPs, Drogbas, Gerrards and Lampards. We’re also attracting players in their prime, Giovinco’s arguably the best player in the league. It needs to be better. It all needs to be better. The coaching, the clubs, the officiating, everything needs to be better. I can focus on my coaching, but everyone else needs to step up I think.”
On his substitutions:
“Cristian [Techera] picked up a slight groin injury, so I didn’t want to take a risk with him., so it was good to get Mauro [Rosales] back on the field with his experience. Obviously Pedro then coming on, gets his goal. Then that last one was forced on me as Kekuta had picked up a slight hamstring tightness. That’s what happens when you play three games in a week and travel. But credit to KC. Credit to them today.”
On if the loss was his most disappointing as a Vancouver player:
“Probably yeah, with the run we are having right now. The way we played, you can’t fault anyone for the effort we gave. We gave everything we had, but we gave that one away which is pretty disappointing. We felt like we had the game.”
On creating several chances throughout the match:
“We created a lot of chances — myself and all the attacking players. We should have taken some more of the chances that we created. We didn’t take them and that’s sometimes how the game goes. They capitalized on their chances and took their chances, so it’s just really disappointing we didn’t come out with a win.”
On the positives to be taken from the performance:
“Definitely the way we played up front. Like I said, we put everything we had in the game. We scored three goals — that’s one of the positives. Sporting KC are one of the best teams in the West. Defensively they are a really good team. I think there’s stuff we can work on defensively as a team, so hopefully we can sort it out next week.”
[On TSN 1410 radio] Feeling about the game:
“I think in a day or two we might be able to take some positives, but right now all I can think of is the negatives.”
“It’s disappointing because we had the lead multiple times in the game. I just thought we had it. We defended so well, for so long and limited their chances in the first half. The second half, they laid it on thick and we couldn’t capitalize on the other end.”
[On TSN 1410 radio] Thoughts on late defensive collapse:
“Giving up that many goals, so late and in quick succession, is always going to be frustrating.”
On Sporting KC’s 4-3 comeback victory over Vancouver:
“There’s no doubt that the third and fourth goal are all because of the crowd. The crowd is what pushed the guys on. They kept the faith and the way they brought the energy, I think there’s no doubt that it spilled on to the guys on the field. The 12th man was unbelievable tonight. That’s what really got us the 3 points. There’s no doubt about it in my mind.”
On Paulo Nagamura’s late heroics:
“I told him, with all the vacation days I’d given him this year, that he owed something back to me. Those two goals were great payback. When we went out to get him a few years back, when I was the technical director, I remember watching him play with Chivas and I saw him prior to that when he was with LA. The best description I can give is he’s like a pit-bull. He’s got a winning mentality. The guy never stops, never gives up. He’s dealt with quite a few injuries this year. A lot of stuff is bad luck, but it’s amazing that he can come in and play 90 minutes basically two games in a row here like he has in such a short period of time. He’s a team-first guy and he’s got a winning mentality. He’s a really good player, all those things are givens. He’s just a winner.”
On Sporting KC’s performance early in the match:
“I thought we were very poor in the first half, in possession and we gave the ball away in very dangerous areas of the field. We just played right into what they wanted and what they like to do. They like to have an open game, they like to catch you on the counter, and they like to have space to run into. We played right into that by giving up a goal in very dangerous areas. Some of that was because defensively we were in between, we weren’t really high and we weren’t really dropped off. We were too spread out at that time, we lose the ball in a dangerous area and now we’re open. They have one of the best front fours in the league and when they want to go, they can go. But if you give them that, that’s when they’re dangerous. Credit to our guys in the second half, we made a few little adjustments. And other thing that was very evident in the second half was our fitness level. Sporting fit took over at the end. It was harder for them to come out. Maybe two or three guys would counter, but the rest would have a hard time defensively getting out of back. It allowed us to win the ball and get back on the attack.”
On a number of different players contributing to win:
“This team has definitely taken goal scoring by committee, if you will. A lot of guys have stepped up at the right moments and found good opportunities. Naga’s second goal is great goal, but his first goal was tremendous. What you really have to look at is the ball Chance (Myers) plays him. That’s the experience that Chance brings and that’s the reason we brought him in at the end of the game. We needed more in the attack and he’s very good in the final third. A lot of different guys helped us win the game, no doubt.”
On the volume of the Sporting Park crowd:
“At one point it definitely felt like we were in MLS Cup. It was very, loud. I think it was actually muffled at MLS Cup because it was so cold.”
On Soni Mustivar’s performance:
“He had his best-worst performance tonight. He wasn’t good on the ball. I never doubt his heart. He puts everything into every game. From that point of view, I have the utmost respect for him. Tonight wasn’t his game in regards to just playing with the ball and being simple. But it happens sometimes and I make mistakes and sometimes they do, too. As much as I want those guys to trust me, I have to trust them as well. He at least put the work ethic in, even if he wasn’t good technically.”
On Paulo Nagamura scoring two goals to complete the late comeback:
“He’s a warrior. He’s a winner. I wouldn’t expect anything less from that guy. I’m very happy that he was able to get the two goals.”
On what it took to complete the three-goal comeback:
“We didn’t win that game with great soccer or skill or tactics. We won the game with heart and balls.”
On the emotion involved in such a dramatic victory:,br>
“There’s a ton of emotion involved. It’s a high — winning is always a high. But to come back like that on your home field against the first-place team, it’s a major win. At the same time, though, we can’t get too carried away because we’re in the middle of a very demanding stretch physically and mentally. We’ve got to enjoy this but we’ve got to get ready for the next one.”
On Sporting KC’s confidence level:
“We should have the confidence to feel like we can win no matter the situation in the game. Tonight we didn’t have one of our best games. Like I said, we played one of the best teams in the conference — arguably the best team in the league — and we were still able to find a way to win. That says a lot about the team.”