The Vancouver Whitecaps almost pulled off a miracle Saturday.
Or at least a scoreless draw.
But in the end, they could not make up for being shorthanded most of the game and fell 1-0 to the Philadelphia Union, suffering their first home loss of the Major League Soccer season.
Second-half substitute Antoine Hoppenot’s goal in the 85th minute proved to be the difference. The Whitecaps gave a valiant, if not sensational, effort as they were forced to play with 10 men after midfielder Jun Marques Davidson received a red card for head-butting Keon Daniel in the back in the eighth minute.
Watch: Union beat Whitecaps 1-0
“The obvious pivotal point in the game (was) early on in the game when Jun Marques (got) sent off,” said Whitecaps coach Martin Rennie. “He reacted in a way that he shouldn’t have. He made a mistake and, ultimately, we paid the price for that, because I thought we played well after that.”
The Whitecaps (9-7-5), who were unbeaten in 10 previous home games, recorded their second consecutive loss.
Philadelphia (9-6-7) remained unbeaten in three games.
“We were unbeaten here for a long time,” said Rennie. “We’d had a lot of good nights and gotten a lot of great results. It’s disappointing to lose that undefeated record at home.
“I feel like, even with the 10 men, we put enough into the game to at least preserve that record.”
The Whitecaps were forced to play with 10 men after midfielder Jun Marques Davidson received a red card for head-butting Keon Daniel in the back. The incident resulted after Keon kicked the ball while Davidson was on top of it after a whistle.
The Union player earned a yellow card for the infraction and had turned and started to walk away following a face-to-face confrontation with Davidson when the Whitecap decided to seek some revenge.
“It’s just what happened,” said Davidson, a defensive specialist, finding himself under media scrutiny for a rare time in his two-season Vancouver tenure. “I reacted wrong and, for all of it, I just want to apologize to all the players.”
He also apologized to fans, adding the miscue was out of character for him.
The Whitecaps still managed to match Philadelphia’s five shots on target, while directing 14 on goal, down slightly from the Union’s 16.
Hoppenot scored off a Philadelphia counter-attack moments after Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath had robbed Whitecaps striker Camilo at the other end of the pitch.
“Obviously, the red card changed the game pretty early on,” said MacMath. “But I thought the team played really well and did well being patient throughout the game and waiting to get that final goal.”
MacMath earned his seventh shutout of the season in one of his busier games.
“The first half wasn’t too busy,” said MacMath, who was credited with five saves. “But the second half, especially with them pressing, after they gave up the goal, it was a busy game for me and a busy game for the team in general.”
The setback deprived Vancouver goalkeeper Brad Knighton of a chance to beat his former squad after being released by Philadelphia following the 2010 season and forced to play a campaign in a lower-tier circuit in 2011. Knighton made some timely saves, but now, after his second consecutive loss, risks losing his starter spot to former Danish Superliga star David Ousted, who was signed in June.
“We’ve made this place a fortress over the last six months, and it’s a tough one,” said Knighton, who recorded four saves. “I felt like we had our chances today, and we just didn’t take them.”
The Whitecaps were fortunate not to lose Knighton after he and Philadelphia captain Jack McInernerey, a former teammate and close friend, knocked heads in the 24th minute.
But the Whitecaps would not be so lucky when it came to converting scoring chances or having other players remain healthy. Vancouver lost striker Kenny Miller to a groin injury just two minutes into the second half and central defender Brad Rusin late in the game.
The contest ultimately turned after Rusin left in the 81st minute after he was hurt blocking a shot. He was replaced by Carlyle Mitchell, who was victimized on Philadelphia’s goal.
“It’s hard to change the centre back like we had to at that moment,” said Rennie.
Hoppenot scored as Mitchell gave the ball away, fell and then could not get up in time to prevent Aaron Wheeler from sending a short pass to him. Mitchell said he blocked the first pass but wasn’t able to prevent the Union from continuing on goal.
Rennie stuck with the same lineup, but will be forced to make changes in the next game Aug. 3 at Portland. Davidson received an automatic one-game suspension, and could face further discipline from the league. Fellow midfielder Gershon Koffie will also serve a one-game suspension after taking his fifth yellow card of the season as he fell in the Philly box and tried to draw a foul.
Miller and Rusin’s injuries also raise questions about their availability, and Knighton could be replaced in favour of the higher-paid Ousted.
“There’s other players ready to play that could play if they’re not in the starting lineup,” said Rennie. “And, it’s up to them to get in the lineup and play well and take their chances.”