Martin Rennie always tries to stress the positive, but he could not hide his disappointment Saturday.
The Vancouver Whitecaps coach watched in dismay as the Seattle Sounders pulled out a late 2-2 draw with his club before a raucous sellout crowd of 21,000 at soccer-configured B.C. Place Stadium.
“It’s definitely not all doom and gloom, but I just want us to be making strides faster than we are,” said Rennie. “Today was a chance for us to make that stride.”
Seattle improved to 7-2-2 while Vancouver (5-3-3) went winless for the second straight MLS game.
The Whitecaps wanted to use the game to gauge their growth in their second season of Major League Soccer existence as they renewed a rivalry with Seattle that spans several leagues and dates to the 1970s. But it was evident that Vancouver, known for its own gritty comebacks, has to learn to hang on to a lead.
Fredy Montero’s goal in the 90th minute earned the Sounders a point after they were in danger of being run off the pitch in a poor first half.
“We have really good players, (but) we have to be consistent,” said Montero. “Sometimes in the game, we were away from the goal. ... But at the end of the day, we have one point.”
Eddie Johnson, in the 47th minute, also scored for Seattle, which overcame deficits of 1-0 and 2-1.
Alain Rochat, in the 12th minute and second-half substitute Camilo, in the 82nd, scored for the Whitecaps.
“It was an unfortunate tie,” said Vancouver winger Omar Salgado, who set up Rochat’s goal and almost scored himself. “It feels like a loss.”
Montero made good after a couple of near misses on outstanding saves by Whitecaps goalkeeper Joe Cannon earlier in the second half. The 24-year-old Colombian striker took Johnson’s header on the run in mid-air, and lifted the ball around Vancouver captain Jay DeMerit before putting it on the ground and firing home a shot from atop the 18-yard box.
“Definitely, I was really happy because that ball went into the net,” said Montero. “The goalkeeper got some really good saves. But for the second half, I just really wanted to keep trying to score goals. At the end of the day, I had that one.”
With Wednesday’s second leg of the Amway Canadian championship in Toronto looming, Vancouver coach Rennie juggled his forwards. He kept star striker Eric Hassli on the bench again, along with Camilo, while second-year winger Salgado returned after watching the first leg against Toronto from the bench.
Meanwhile, Rennie gave rookie striker Darren Mattocks his first start. He has missed most of the season due to arm and shoulder burns suffered in a cooking accident.
Rochat opened the scoring after he took a pass from Salgado, ran down the left flank, cut towards the goal and beat Seattle goalkeeper Bryan Meredith with a shot into the far corner of the net.
“I was suprised myself to go right through,” said Rochat. “I was looking for an option and it was way open for me to go right to the goal.”
From there on, the Whitecaps controlled play, rarely allowing the Sounders to get the ball near their net. Contrary to most games this season, the hosts were given considerable space by their opponents, especially in midfield, and made several long runs with the ball.
“The first half was our best half that we’ve played since I’ve been here,” said Rennie.
“I thought, the first half especially, that’s as solid as we’ve played,” added DeMerit. “But it’s a long game and they’re a good team. But that doesn’t take anything away from our performance. We deserve one (point).”
Seattle’s best first-half scoring chance came in two minutes of added time as Johnson shot wide as the ball came to him following a free kick. Two minutes into the second half the Sounders went down field and Johnson headed in a long Mauro Rosales cross from the right flank.
The goal gave the Sounders new life and they pressed like they never had earlier, gaining back-to-back corner kicks moments apart — after only generating one in the first half. Seattle was credited with nine attempts on goal in the second half after producing just two in the first. The Whitecaps also recorded 11 attempts on goal while counting only two shots to Seattle’s five, which all came in the second half.
“Goals change games,” said Montero. “We got that goal at the beginning of the second half and it was like the energy we needed.”
Rennie inserted Hassli after Mattocks fired the ball over the net off Davide Chiumiento’s beautiful heel-pass. It was the second near-miss for Mattocks, who shot wide from close range late in the first half.
The stage was set for Hassli again after he had subbed on to secure wins against Toronto in the first leg of Canadian championship play and against the powerhouse San Jose Earthquakes in league play.
But Camilo took over the limelight after he entered the game in the 80th and soon after curled in a free kick from the left flank. Gershon Koffie ran onto the ball and DeMerit almost connected on a diving header, but officials ruled it was not touched by another Whitecap — so Camilo got credit.
However, just when the crowd was launching into full celebration mode — to the chagrin of many Seattle supporters on hand — Montero’s late goal spoiled Vancouver’s victory hopes.
Rennie hoped the result served as an important lesson as the Whitecaps head into the second leg of the total-goals Canadian final, which will determine Canada’s representative in CONCACAF Champions League play.
“We need to let the disappointment of today burn enough that Wednesday gives us that feeling of winning,” said Rennie.
Notes: Montero now has three goals in as many careeer MLS games against the Whitecaps. ... Vancouver striker Atiba Harris remained out with a bruised thigh. ... The game counted as part of the Cascadia Cup, an in-season series between Seattle, Vancouver, and the Portland Timbers.
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