Jay DeMerit sounded like a boxer who did not see the knockout blows coming.
The Vancouver captain and his teammates were left stunned after Jose Mari scored a pair of goals three minutes apart in the second half as the Colorado Rapids came back to beat the Whitecaps 2-1 before a sellout crowd of 21,000 at B.C. Place Stadium on Saturday.
“We all feel like we got punched in the gut a little bit there,” said DeMerit. “Unfortunately, that happens in our sport. Some things you can’t control. I thought the things we could control (were) enough to win. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen tonight.”
It was the Whitecaps first loss of the young season.
“Ultimately, it’s disappointing,” said DeMerit. “I think everyone will walk out of B.C. Place tonight thinking like something got taken away from them.”
Mari scored in the 79th and 82nd minutes shortly after Matias Laba’s ejection for a second yellow card reduced Vancouver to 10 men.
“It kind of hit us at the wrong time, too, when we think we had the game by the scruff of the neck and we’re controlling things,” said DeMerit. “It was kind of a one-two punch there, and you find yourself on the back foot therea You have to say that the guys fought for 90 minutes tonight, even when we went down a man. We had enough chances to win.”
Laba was sent off in the 77th minute following his deliberate hand-ball as he fell and grabbed it to prevent a scoring chance. He had already received a yellow card for a foul in the 54th minute.
A Colorado (2-1-1) player said a few words of reminder to referee Ioannis Stavridis, after he showed Laba another yellow card and the official pulled out a red one.
Mari then sliced home a left-footed shot off the goalpost from the left flank. With the Whitecaps (2-1-2) still reeling from that goal, Mari put a right-footed chip shot from the top of the box over Vancouver defenders that shocked Whitecaps goalkeeper David Ousted.
“You’ve gotta give credit to their two finishes,” said DeMerit. “Same guy. Same two finishes. And, if he doesn’t win player of the week this week, I don’t know who will.”
Darren Mattocks scored for the Whitecaps as all of the goals came in the final 45 minutes following a scoreless first half in which Vancouver had more scoring chances than the Rapids.
Colorado triumphed despite playing without strikers Vicente Sanchez, who shared the MLS scoring lead before Saturday’s games, and Edson Buddle.
A team spokesman said the two players missed the game because they chose not to play on artificial turf.
Meanwhile, Colorado’s No. 1 goalkeeper Clint Irwin excelled in his first game of the season after being sidelined in the pre-season with a strained quadricep. He was kept busy, and won many races to the ball, as the Whitecaps pressed for most of the first half.
Vancouver’s Mattocks had a goal disallowed in the 14th minute because he went off-side, slightly behind a Colorado defensive wall. Pedro Morales took a shot and the rebound from Irwin’s save came right to Mattocks, who made no mistake in converting, but was victimized by his own miscue seconds earlier.
Mattocks had another chance five minutes later as he raced in on a breakaway, but Irwin got his hand on the shot and the rebound bounced off the Vancouver striker and over the end line for a Colorado goal-kick.
In the 37th minute, Irwin knocked over Caps striker Kenny Miller as they both raced to the ball inside the bottom right corner of the Colorado box. But to Miller’s chagrin, no penalty was called and the Rapids were awarded another goal-kick.
Mattocks’ luck finally changed in the 67th minute as he outraced Colorado defender Drew Moor to a lead ball from Miller, raced in on goal and scored. Irwin got his hand on the shot, but could not keep the ball out. The goal resulted after Vancouver coach Carl Robinson had injected more speed into his lineup by inserting speedy substitutes Sebastian Fernandez (57th minute) and Kekuta Manneh (74th), providing even more opportunities off long balls that created many chances in the first half.
“Obviously, when I’m walking off with (about) 15 minutes to go with Manneh coming on, I could never have envisioned that we were going to lose that game,” said Whitecaps striker Miller.
“But, obviously, the red card had turned the game on its head.”
Robinson was contemplating a defensive change to help preserve the lead when Laba was ejected, but Mari struck for his quick markers.
“The first one, especially, just gave us so much life,” said Colorado captain Moor.
The two Colorado goals prompted Robinson to make further goal-oriented substitutions instead, but they did not pay off.
While the Whitecaps lamented a win that they felt got away, the Rapids gave themselves credit for their comeback a week after they had lost to Kansas City by allowing a late game-winning goal. Moor called the early-season win over a Western Conference rival “a good sign.”
“We want to play against teams,” said Moor. “We don’t want to sit in and come in on the road and hope to get a point, hope to get a tie. We want to go win games. In the game last weekend against Kansas City, I thought we were unlucky, a couple lapses of concentration. But this week, I think we just had the belief the whole time that we were going to get something out of it. It’s pretty powerful sometimes.”
Irwin was credited with three saves in the opening 45 minutes and six on the night, while Ousted recorded just one save. Vancouver put seven shots on target compared to Colorado’s three.
“You can create chances, but you’re not always going to score three or four goals every week,” said Miller. “You want to (finish) the chances when you create them.”
Notes: Injured Whitecaps midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker (concussion) missed his second consecutive game, but has resumed training. a Rapids midfielder Kamani Hill received a yellow card for a deliberate hand-ball as he palmed Russell Teibert’s intended cross for Miller on a counter-attack off Colorado’s lone corner-kick in the first half. a Colorado defender Marc Burch was cautioned in the second half for taking Morales down with a hand to the head.