With 30 minutes left, it looked like the game was already over for the Vancouver Whitecaps.
The Whitecaps had just lost speedy striker Darren Mattocks to a red card in the 60th minute following his second yellow — only a minute after his first one. But, forced to play a man down, the Whitecaps still found a way to pull out a 1-0 win Saturday over the over the Colorado Rapids before a crowd of 19,166 at B.C. Place Stadium.
"It's one of those games that we'll remember for a long time, because it's one of those pivotal moments that shows we're a team that doesn't give up, and we're a team that doesn't look for excuses," said Whitecaps coach Martin Rennie.
Sebastien Le Toux's goal in the 80th minute gave the undermanned Whitecaps the dramatic win. Vancouver held off a Rapids rally and caught a couple of breaks as Colorado players clanked shots off the crossbar and the post in the closing minutes.
The Whitecaps (7-3-4) posted their seventh Major League Soccer victory of the season, surpassing the six they mustered in their 2011 expansion season.
"It was something that we talked about and we were motivated by going into this game," said Rennie, who is in his first year as Vancouver's coach. "We know that seven is the most wins the team has had during that last two seasons in the league, so that's an important moment for us."
Vancouver caught more luck less than an hour later as the expansion Montreal Impact completed a 4-1 upset of powerhouse Seattle. As a result, Vancouver moved one point ahead of the Sounders into third place in the Western Conference and five points up on Colorado (6-7-1) in the Western Conference standings.
Colorado won both games against Vancouver by identical 2-1 scores last season.
"It was great until they got a red card," said Colorado goalkeeper Matt Pickens, whose brilliant effort was spoiled by the loss. "I felt like we were playing fine and doing well. Then they went down a man and we kind of took our foot off the gas pedal, slowed the game down, worked more offensively and lost our heads defensively on some of the plays they had."
Le Toux scored on a sliding volley off Davide Chiumiento's long cross from near midfield. Rennie said it was fitting that Le Toux scored after he had worked hard to create many chances.
Five minutes into the second half, Pickens stopped Le Toux from point-blank range after Vancouver's Young-Pyo Lee ran onto a cross but could not get control of the ball. In the 70th minute, Le Toux saw his shot hit ring off the crossbar after the ball hit a fallen Pickens and ricocheted upward.
The French striker's goal ended almost a two-month scoring drought in league play. He had not scored an MLS goal since April 18 against Kansas City.
"It was difficult," said Le Toux of the slump. "Lots of times, it can be in your head. For a long time, I didn't score. So it was great for me and for my confidence, and it was great for the team, too, especially against Colorado, which is a big rival in the league and our conference."
Le Toux led all players with four shots. Chiumiento was the key to the goal as he dribbled away from three or four defenders in his vicinity and sent the seeing-eye cross.
It was Vancouver's second consecutive victory. Colorado has not won a league game since early May.
Vancouver's Brazilian striker Camilo and French counterpart Eric Hassli, the team's highest-paid player, started on the bench for the second straight game as Rennie elected to go with Mattocks and Le Toux, who plays a withdrawn attacker role. Camilo did not see the field for the second consecutive contest while Hassli subbed in during the 86th minute.
Mattocks made the decision look good until he was sent off. The Whitecaps rookie striker's first yellow card came in the 59th minute as he was called for diving in the 18-yard box after he ran onto a ball and it was cleared. In the following minute, he took his second yellow, and an automatic red, for a high tackle near the sideline on Colorado captain Drew Moor.
Chiumiento said the Whitecaps were able to concentrate better after the Jamaican striker's ejection.
"Sometimes with 10, you play better than in 11," said Chiumiento.
Whitecaps goalkeeper Joe Cannon was outstanding as he picked up his sixth shutout of the season and Vancouver's seventh clean sheet overall. Cannon was credited with five saves while Pickens recorded seven.
Two minutes after Le Toux scored, Colorado came close to equalizing, but were denied as, first, Cannon got his hand on a Conor Casey shot from the right flank. Then with the goalkeeper out of position, Vancouver defender Martin Bonjor blocked an Edu shot. Then Martin Rivero clunked the rebound off the crossbar.
Six minutes later, Colorado was unlucky again as Hunter Freeman curled a shot past Cannon from the corner of the 18 — only to see it hit the post.
"We dodged a few bullets, but we worked hard enough to create those breaks," said Cannon.
Notes: Mattocks will sit out an automatic one-game suspension for the red card Wednesday. ... Chiumiento received a rousing send-off as he subbed out in the 83rd minute. ... The Whitecaps have reinstated striker Long Tan, who was suspended indefinitely for complaining on Twitter about his lack of playing time. The suspension lasted a week. Tan, the first Chinese-born player to play in MLS, was not among 18 players dressed and watched the game in street clothes. ... Defender Michael Boxall has rejoined the Whitecaps after being away on international duty with his New Zealand squad. Boxall, a mainstay in 2011, has played sparingly this season and was not in the lineup against the Rapids. ... Cannon played 86 games for Colorado between 2003 and 2006, earning 25 shutouts and 2004 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year honours.