A feral second-half attack led to an improbable comeback for the Vancouver Whitecaps.
The Whitecaps scored two goals in the final eight minutes to steal a 2-2 tie at Real Salt Lake on Saturday night.
Nicolas Mezquida’s first career goal in the 86th minute cut the deficit in half and set the stage for fellow Uruguaian Sebastian Fernandez, who scored in the fourth minute of stoppage time to stun the home crowd and earn the result.
Real Salt Lake (3-0-5), the league’s remaining unbeaten team, jumped ahead 2-0 in the game’s first nine minutes on goals by Joao Plata and Alvaro Saborio.
But the Whitecaps (2-2-4) again showed some second-half magic.
“It’s a ‘get out of jail’ card, I believe,” Vancouver coach Carl Robinson said. “We were 2-0 down and dug ourselves a hole, but we learned from that. We’ve shown if we go behind, the game’s not over.”
Fernandez’s shot from about 40 yards out beat goalkeeper Nick Rimando in the lower right corner of the net. It was a dramatic capper to an unlikely turn of events that began moments earlier when Saborio held possession.
The Salt Lake forward dribbled in space near midfield, in what appeared to be the start to an offensive rush that would, if nothing else, run out the game’s final seconds. But Vancouver defender Steven Beitashour tackled the ball away and to the foot of Fernandez, who scored his second goal of the season.
“I got the ball and knew it was going to be one of the last plays of the game,” Fernandez said through an interpreter. “I got it, hit it, and it went in.”
Said Beitashour: “I was on the floor when I saw Seba take it, and he’s got a rocket. I think everyone behind him was yelling ’Shoot! Shoot!’ I had a good angle from the floor, and that ball moved on (Rimando).”
Vancouver, which earned a point for the first time in four games, was stunned by the early deficit and “played fearful” in the first half, according to Robinson.
After the break, the Whitecaps sent wave after wave at Rimando, and looked to be a different squad. Robinson went to his bench to provide a spark, sending Fernandez and Mezquida each in shortly after halftime.
Vancouver’s challenge now comes in finding consistency throughout a full 90 minutes — a task Robinson acknowledged after the game.
“It’s a challenge when you’ve got a group of young players, which is what I have,” Robinson said. “They played with fear in the first half. I don’t want them to play with fear. I put demands on players because I know how good they can be, but they’ve got to start believing. We’re touching the surface at the moment.”