Goodbye, playoffs: Vancouver Whitecaps rue slack defending, "soft, soft" PK decision in Rapids loss

Dubious defending and a questionable penalty-kick decision conspired to end the Vancouver Whitecaps’ hopes of competing in this season’s MLS Cup playoffs.

That was the outlook from both the players and their coach in the wake of Saturday’s 3-2 loss to the Colorado Rapids at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, which officially knocked the Pacific Northwest club out of the playoff picture.

Perhaps the most frustrating moment for the club came in the 51st minute, as the Vancouver back line failed to deal with a goal kick, allowing rookie Deshorn Brown to lob David Ousted and fire the Rapids into a 2-1 lead.

“Obviously Carlyle [Mitchell] was wrestling with Edson Buddle, who’s a big physical presence up there,” center back Jay DeMerit told Vancouver radio station TEAM 1410. “Sometimes he can shift you off the ball, and [Mitchell] missed that header. On the flick on, [Lee Young-Pyo] is with Brown. Brown’s a pretty big guy. Physicality won that battle and Davey [Ousted] is caught in between … You can play that back and blame it on one, two or three guys.

“But at the end of the day, that play, I think, was the turning point.”

After taking a lead through Kekuta Manneh, who scored a spectacular goal in the 32nd minute, Vancouver found themselves on equal terms when referee Armando Villarreal pointed to the spot after Mitchell made contact with Drew Moor in the area.

All players interviewed on the post-match broadcast expressed their surprise at the call, and Whitecaps head coach Martin Rennie was particularly uncompromising in his assessment of the decision.

“It was a really big moment in the game and it was a crucial decision,” Whitecaps head coach Martin Rennie told Vancouver radio station TEAM 1410. “It was very disappointing. It was a soft free kick in the first place that I didn’t think was a free kick. Then the ball’s going over everybody’s head. It’s virtually out of play and Moor goes down and [Villarreal has] given a penalty kick. It was a really, really soft, soft decision.

“In a game of this magnitude, you don’t give penalties for that. But it’s a young referee who’s learning and it was very costly for us tonight. Hopefully he’ll learn tonight and improve, but tonight it definitely cost us.”

Rennie didn’t go so far as to claim the referee was decisive in his side’s defeat, acknowledging the biggest issue was a failure to defend at key moments – an issue not just restricted to this match.

“We didn’t defend well enough on those goals that we’ve lost,” Rennie said. “At the end of the day, we’ve come away from home and scored two goals. It turns out to be our 50th goal of the season but we’ve let in three.

“That’s been the frustrating part of this game and in some ways our season. I think we’ve become much more expansive, much more entertaining, scored a lot more goals…but we’ve not tightened up well enough at the back.”

Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com.