Vancouver Whitecaps coach Marc Dos Santos felt like he was aging at an alarming rate Saturday night.
His team was up 2-1 on an undermanned Real Salt Lake at the end of 90 minutes, but still had to hang on through nine minutes of injury time to seal the three points.
“I was thinking ‘I’m 43 and I’m going to be 61 after this game,”’ Dos Santos said after his squad finally secured the victory.
“There was a moment where I looked at my watch and in my head I go ‘Four minutes still?!’ It felt an eternity. But these are the wins that feel good when (the referee) whistles at the end.”
The Whitecaps (5-7-0) struggled to stay in control through much of the game, with Real Salt Lake (3-4-5) dominating 63 per cent of possession and outshooting Vancouver 25 to 8.
Fatigue was a factor, Dos Santos said, but the coach was proud of how his squad hung in for the win.
“After three games in eight days and travel and recovering so fast, to see a group of players that fought so much to stay with the three points and give everything they had, the attitude to keep the win was very good,” he said.
Saturday night saw the return of Lucas Cavallini, who sat out the Whitecaps' 3-1 home win over the Montreal Impact on Wednesday with a red card suspension.
The 27-year-old Canadian striker came on for midfielder David Milinkovic in the 59th minute and put away the game winner with just six minutes to go in regulation.
“I needed my vengeance and luckily today I got it,” Cavallini said. “This is a new page for me now and I’ve just got to keep going like this – positivity, a lot of heart and goals, more than ever. We need them to keep getting those points that we need.”
Fredy Montero registered his second assist of the night on Cavallini’s goal, collecting a cross-field pass from Michael Baldisimo, making a quick turn and putting the ball at the feet of a sliding Cavallini.
The pair are good friends off the field and have worked hard together in training trying to memorize each other’s runs, Cavallini said.
“We’re always a step ahead of the other team,” he said.
Montero, 33, sees his younger self in Cavallini.
“(He’s) hungry to get some goals and show what he’s capable of,” said the Colombian forward. “We just need to help him. I’ve been in his shoes, when you don’t get service, when you don’t get the ball. But now I’m in a different role in this team. And I’m happy to help him get his high level. Because if he’s good, the team’s going to be good.”
Montero also helped Milinkovic score his first Major League Soccer goal on Saturday, sending a beautiful pass deep into RSL territory. Cristian Dajome collected the ball and sent it across the top of the goal box, with Milinkovic tapping it in to put the 'Caps up 1-0 in the 53rd minute.
Salt Lake went down a man after Kyle Beckerman caught diving Whitecaps 'keeper Thomas Hasal in the back of the head with his boot in the 60th minute.
There was no initial call on the play, but after discussion, it was sent to video review. After watching the footage, referee Kevin Stott gave Beckerman his second yellow of the game and the American midfielder was sent off.
Beckerman was also booked in the eighth minute for taking out Dajome midfield.
RSL evened the score in the 81st minute when Maikel Chang got a great ball to Justin Meram in front of the net, and Meram headed it in.
Saturday marked the first time Vancouver has collected back-to-back wins this season.
After returning to MLS play in August with a three-game losing skid, the Whitecaps now have victories in three of their last four outings.
“Only a group with a strong mentality can react like that,” Dos Santos said, noting that the rest of the season is likely to be a difficult slog for his group.
COVID-19 border restrictions mean the Whitecaps will likely play the rest of their games south of the border. Their next matchup will be against Los Angeles FC in California on Wednesday before they face the Timbers in Portland on Sept. 27.
“We have to understand that what’s coming next is still hard, it’s still a challenge,” Dos Santos said. “We have to be strong and keep going.”
NOTES: Vancouver defender Ali Adnan was shown the yellow card for simulation in the 41st after he took a dramatic dive in front of the Salt Lake net. … RSL allowed about 5,000 fans to attend the game at Rio Tinto Stadium.