Greg Sutton gave Canada's national team coaches reason to think twice Saturday.
The New York goalkeeper made key saves to backstop the Red Bulls to a 1-1 away tie with the Vancouver Whitecaps.
The strong performance came after the 34-year-old Hamilton native was bypassed for the Canadian squad that will compete in the upcoming CONCACAF Gold Cup.
"It's always fun when you're playing back at home in Canada," said Sutton. "People remember me, I think, from my Montreal and Toronto days."
He helped the Red Bulls (4-2-6) earn a point despite missing key stars, including French striker Thierry Henry, who were either injured or away with national teams in preparation for the Gold Cup to be played in the U.S. next month.
Luke Rodgers' goal in the 34th minute gave the Red Bulls the draw after Eric Hassli opened the scoring on a penalty kick in the 23rd minute for the Whitecaps (1-5-6), who have gone 11 MLS games without a win.
Sutton, who overcame a concussion early in the season to win a three-way battle for the Red Bulls' starting job, said he spoke to Canadian coach Stephen Hart a week ago about possibly playing in the Gold Cup but was told the club wanted to go with younger goalkeepers.
"You're always disappointed in the sense that you can't be named to your country when you have the opportunity," said Sutton. "But I'm pleased that I'm back in this team."
He left the Whitecaps feeling disappointed as they came out strong and controlled most of the play before a sellout crowd of 21,000 that evoked memories of the old North American Soccer League when the Whitecaps and New York Cosmos waged a fierce rivalry. It was the 25th meeting between Vancouver and a team from New York — but first since 1996.
"I'm again quite disappointed, because I feel that we should have managed to take three points in the game," said Whitecaps coach Thordarson. "I think we played a good first half, not as good in the second, but still not bad. I thought that we had control of the game all the way through."
Rodgers tied the score 11 minutes after Hassli's goal by one-timing Jan Gunnar Solli's through ball past helpless Vancouver goalkeeper Jay Nolly.
The Red Bulls, who are winless in five, were weakened offensively from the opening whistle. Henry, the league's second-leading scorer with six goals, stayed home with a knee injury, while defender Rafa Marquez (Mexico) and midfielder Dane Richards (Jamaica) have already joined their respective national sides for the Gold Cup. Moroccan midfielder Mehdi Ballouchy could not leave the U.S. because of visa issues.
New York coach Hans Backe said the Red Bulls continued to struggle to find their passing rhythm. But he was pleased with the result.
"We're missing a lot of players, the guys that definitely can make a difference," said Backe. "That's why we also have to be pretty satisfied to pick up points on the road. We could have lost it. We could have won it."
Early in the second half, the Whitecaps were denied on three excellent scoring chances in as many minutes. First Sutton came out to make a diving save on a charging Camilo in the 57th minute. Vancouver midfielder Terry Dunfield then one-timed a Hassli header over the crossbar from about 25 yards out in the 58th. And Hassli himself was denied on a one-timer in the 59th minute as Sutton blocked the shot with both legs.
"[Sutton] was very good and he made some great saves, especially the one on Hassli's chance," said Thordarson.
Added Backe: "That was a key save so we could stay in the game."
On his penalty-kick, Hassli beat the six-foot-six Sutton with a low shot to the right corner.
"It was close," said Sutton. "If I had a couple more inches on my fingertips, I would have been able to get it. But he hit it well. It was a tight shot."
The spot kick resulted after New York defender Carlos Mendes tripped Camilo in the area.
The goal was Hassli's fourth of the MLS season and extended his unofficial scoring streak to three games. He scored a goal in the first leg of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship final against Toronto. Another goal in the second leg was nullified after the game was abandoned due to an unplayable field.
But Hassli didn't take any consolation from his goal — or the draw — as the Whitecaps remained without a win since their March 19 season-opening victory over Toronto FC.
Vancouver is now 1-1-5 at home.
"We're very frustrated and angry now," Hassli said through a French interpreter. "[The home winless skid] is getting to be a bit much."