Alain Rochat’s calm composure in front of the cameras and microphones defied the emotions that were churning inside him.
The Vancouver stalwart scored a goal but also committed a miscue that enabled the Colorado Rapids to come back and tie the Whitecaps 2-2 on Sunday.
“It was good for us that we could score early in the first half, but it was bad for us that they scored a few minutes to the end,” said Rochat. “We take the point and try to move forward.”
The Whitecaps (10-12-8) remained winless in six games but moved two points up on idle Dallas in the race for the fifth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Second-half substitute Jamie Smith’s goal in the 86th minute gave the Rapids the tie. Smith put home a shot from just inside the 18-yard box after the ball bounced a couple of times off the feet of Rochat and Young-Pyo Lee as they misplayed a loose ball.
With the goal, Colorado (9-18-3) avoided a 10th straight road loss that would have extended a club record.
“It’s disappointing not to have gotten all three points tonight,” said Whitecaps coach Martin Rennie. “But at the same time, that might be the point that gets us into the playoffs. We have to build on that now. We have to get better performances.”
The Rapids improved their playoff hopes slightly, moving within six points of Dallas and staying eight back of Vancouver.
Omar Cummings staked Colorado to a 1-0 first-half lead before Rochat and second-half substitute Kenny Miller replied for the Whitecaps in the second half — only to be disappointed in the end.
Colorado coach Oscar Pareja said his club showed character by battling back from its deficit before a crowd of 18,992 at B.C. Place Stadium.
“This is a team that doesn’t stop fighting,” he said. “It would have been very easy to quit for the last fifteen minutes after giving away those two goals, but the team kept pushing — and I think [the players] deserve more than the point we walked away with.”
Rochat, a 29-year-old Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., native who grew up in Switzerland, has played most of the season as a left defender. For the second game in a row, he started in midfield as the Whitecaps sought to create more offence through his adept passing. But he moved back to an unfamiliar central defender role at the start of the second half as Rennie added an extra striker, Miller, to get some goals.
Rochat said the ball that led to Smith’s tying goal could have been cleared easily, but his inexperience and discomfort in the central defender spot cost him.
“We do need to make sure we do the right things defensively,” said Rennie. “There were some simple mistakes there that cost us, and both goals were very avoidable.”
The Whitecaps controlled much of the play but were robbed frequently by Colorado goalkeeper Matt Pickens, who was credited with six saves. Vancouver counterpart Brad Knighton was credited with four, but had little to do before Cummings’ goal in the 35th minute turned the momentum in Colorado’s favour before the Whitecaps surged in the second half.
“It was tough to go down early, but the guys fought back really well, and then we had all the momentum,” said Knighton. “It was just an unfortunate lapse at the back, and they ended up tying things up.”
But Knighton and the rest of the Whitecaps were glad to earn at least a point after six straight losses.
“We look at it as we’ve got a two-point lead [over Dallas],” said Knighton. “It should have been four. ... [But] we’d rather be having points in our pocket rather than having to chase the other team.”
After the Whitecaps dominated most of the early play, the Rapids capitalized on a quick counter-attack in the 35th minute as Cummings put in a rebound after Martin Rivero’s rolling shot hit the left post and the ball caromed to him on the right flank.
But after the goal, the Whitecaps could not attack with the same authority. Despite controlling play early in the second half, their offence was disjointed.
But Rochat managed to draw Vancouver even in the 64th minute as he flicked in Gershon Koffie’s shot off a long Camilo corner kick. Just before the 66-minute mark, Pickens robbed Darren Mattocks on a breakaway, and it looked like the Caps, who entered the game with just one goal in five contests, would continue to struggle to score.
But Miller, a designated player and Scottish national team captain maligned for his lack of production since arriving in July from English League Championship side Cardiff City, gave Vancouver the lead about two minutes later. He ran on to a through ball from Barry Robson and, from just inside the 18-yard box, put in a shot off Pickens’ hand.
Miller said his first goal at home and second as a Whitecap eased some of his frustration.
“Coming off the bench, I felt pretty good,” he said. “It’s just disappointing we lost another late goal. It just seems to be a running theme this year. We’ve lost a lot of goals in the last five, the last four minutes of the game — and it’s something we’ve gotta stop.”
The draw came a week after the Whitecaps suffered a heartbreaking 1-0 road loss to Dallas second-half stoppage time. Rennie said nerves set Sunday in as his club tried to end its losing skid.
“In sight of the fact that we’d lost a few games, we tried to protect the lead in the wrong way, instead of continuing to do what we were doing, which was creating chances and causing problems,” said Rennie.
Notes: Los Angeles Lakers star Steve Nash, a Whitecaps minority owner, watched the game from the stands and led a cheer late in the second half. ... Vancouver’s Dane Richards will be suspended for Saturday’s game in Seattle for receiving his eighth yellow card of the season. He took down Luis Zapata hard in the 22nd minute. ... Rochat faces a one-game suspension for his next yellow card. ... Whitecaps midfielder Russell Teibert of Niagara Falls, Ont., sat out with a thigh injury sustained in practice. Defender Andy O’Brien, questionable due to a groin strain, dressed as a substitute. He has also been dealing with knee tendinitis. Left-winger Omar Salgado is close to returning from a broken foot, but did not suit up. ... Colorado played without defender Anthony Wallas (torn Achilles) midfielders Pablo Matroeni (headaches) and Davy Armstrong (undisclosed personal medical issue) and striker Edu (foot).
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