Whitecaps' playoff hopes fade in loss to Real Salt Lake
Vancouver remains 4 points behind Colorado
Vancouver Whitecaps coach Martin Rennie is known for stressing the positive, but he was unusually blunt Saturday.
Aside from goalkeeper David Ousted, Rennie spared no players his wrath after the Whitecps dropped a 1-0 decision to a Real Salt Lake squad, which fielded mostly a second-team lineup, before a sellout crowd of 21,000 at B.C. Place Stadium.
"I don't think anyone played well today, apart from Ousted," said Rennie. "It was just a terrible performance from everyone."
Devon Sandoval's goal in the ninth minute was the only one that RSL needed. RSL improved to 15-10-6 and gained a share of first place in the Western Conference while ending a losing skid at two games.
RSL coach Jason Kreis went with 10 new additions to his starting lineup as he rested key players in preparation for Tuesday's U.S. Open Cup final against D.C. United. The winner of that game will qualify for the CONCACAF Champions League.
The Whitecaps (11-11-8) saw their playoff hopes fade some more as they remain four points back of fifth-place Colorado with only four games remaining. Only the top five teams qualify for the post-season.
"(It was a) thoroughly disappointing game for us," said Rennie. "We've had hardly any like that at B.C. Place this season. But for the third game in a row, we started the game badly, which is really frustrating. It's something that we've worked on and focused (on) and made sure we were ready to go.
"It wasn't a bad goal. It was a great cross and a good header, but it's something we should have defended better."
The Whitecaps could have also played much better offensively in the coach's view.
Camilo drew into Vancouver's starting lineup after scoring two goals in a second-half substitute role a week earlier in Montreal. Whitecaps striker Kenny Miller missed the game a groin injury. As a result, Tommy Heinemann took his place after impressing in a win over Montreal. Heinemann, rarely used for most of the season, made his second consecutive, and third overall, start. Before last week, he had not started since April 20.
Heinemann was dangerous at times but he and Camilo showed little chemistry and midfielders did not link up well with forwards. Rennie tried to inject speed in the second half as he subbed off Heinemann and Gershon Koffie for Kekuta Manneh and Darren Mattocks, respectively in the 54th minute.
Out of sync
But the changes had little effect.
"We put ourselves in a bad spot to start with, and then I just thought out (offensive) quality was really poor," said Rennie. "I didn't think we got good balls into the box. We didn't really connect any crosses. Our passing in the final third was poor today, and it was a disappointing performance, especially given how well we'd played in our last two games."
Rennie credited RSL, contending, rather charitably, that it was the best performance by a visiting team at B.C. Place this season. He insisted that his club did not take RSL's subs-turned-starters lightly.
"If it hadn't been for saves that David (Ousted) made, it could have been worse for us today," said Rennie. "I'm scratching my head as to the way that we performed."
RSL's absentees included starting goalkeeper Nick Rimando and midfield stalwart Kyle Beckerman. Backup goalkeeper Jeff Attinella, who had not played since August 19 in Portland, registered his first shutout of the season while getting credit for just one save.
"It was fun, as a group that doesn't get to play a lot," said Attinella. "But we have a lot of talented players and, really, a team with lot of MLS experience still on the field.
"So to come out here and get a result, and kind of right the ship for our team a little bit, and then with Tuesday's U.S. Open Cup (final), hopefully, the momentum carries into Tuesday."
Crediting his team's effort, Attinella did not feel overly tested, but said the Whitecaps still "pretty well" and kept him busy with crosses that defenders played well.
"We got the early goal, which was huge for us to get off to a fast start," said Attinella. "And then to hold that lead on the road, on a turf field against a team that runs its own numbers forward, I couldn't be happier."
RSL's lineup changes paid off early as Sandoval bounced a header past Ousted. It was the third goal of the season for Sandoval, who put in a cross from Lovel Palmer on a counter-attack after the Whitecaps had controlled the run of play in the early going.
Ousted appeared to be in good position for a save if Sandoval had put his header in the air instead of sending the ball down. But Ousted still chastised himself for allowing the goal.
"I think I should have come across and tried to take the (crossed) ball in the air," he said. "Maybe I get there. Maybe I don't. But (I) at least try to take the header away from him. I'm not happy with that goal and I'm not happy with my own performance on that goal."
Like Rennie, the goalkeeper, who joined the Whitecaps in mid-season from his native Denmark after signing as a free agent, was at a loss to explain his club's poor effort. He felt the Caps should have done better early and created more scoring chances.
"It's an important stage of the season," said Ousted. "We should be able to come out and perform better and be more hungry for each ball and each goal. But we weren't there today."
He made sensational saves on Yordany Alvarez in the 61st minute, when he lunged to get his hand on the ball, foiled Sebastian Velasquez by diving and catching the ball in his mid-section in the 68th and then getting his body an Olmes Garcia shot from the right side of the area a little while later. But Ousted was not willing to accept praise from Rennie or anybody else.
"We're here as a team," said Ousted. "So when you're talking about the team, you're talking about 11 of us (on the field), and I'm in there. I'm not happy with the way we performed — myself included. We should have done better, especially in this part of the season."
"We've put ourselves in a difficult spot when we go forward," said Rennie. "But we've still got plenty of time to get the wins that we need."