VANCOUVER, B.C. -- The Vancouver Whitecaps may still be sitting atop the Supporters' Shield standings after another dramatic Saturday in Major League Soccer, but that was scant consolation for the team following a heartbreaking and controversial 2-1 loss to New York City FC.
The Whitecaps looked like they had fought back to grab at least a point when Pedro Morales tucked away a disputed 88th minute penalty but that was just to be the start of the late drama.
Referee Ricardo Salazar pointed to the spot again after Matias Laba tackled Frank Lampard in the box in stoppage time and David Villa slotted home the 95th-minute winner.
Replays seemed to show that Laba had cleanly won the ball and it was decision that left 'Caps coach Carl Robinson and his players fuming at the final whistle.
"He's got the ball and I think everybody in the stadium can see it," Robinson told reporters after the match. "I don't know whether he's felt it was a make-up call or whatever. The game's about tackling, the game's about contact. Mati Laba is one of the best players in that position. He's clearly won the ball. What can you say?"
Whitecaps players had to be held back from Salazar at the final whistle and it was a withdrawn and downbeat mood in the Vancouver locker room after the match.
"It's devastating," goalkeeper David Ousted said postgame. "At this point in the season, losing it in that way is definitely tough. It's a bit of a heartbreak. All in all, we weren't good enough today and that showed at the end of the game in the score."
Despite the controversial ending to the match, Robinson felt that wasn't what ultimately cost his side the game. For him, that fell squarely into two aspects - their first half performance and their continued inability to take the chances they created.
"The first half I felt we played with a bit of fear against them and they probably deserved to get ahead," Robinson admitted. "We didn't score enough goals tonight. We were never ahead, that's the thing.
"We managed to claw our way back, and deservedly so, and we probably should have gone ahead but just made wrong decisions. We've got to learn from that because we've made a number of wrong decisions in games this year and it's cost us."
Vancouver had numerous chances to draw level before they did and had several breaks with an advantage in stoppage time as New York City left themselves short at the back, pushing forward looking for the win they needed to keep their Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs hopes alive.
But it was to be the same old story that's haunted the Whitecaps these past couple of seasons, as Ousted noted.
"Not good enough, for short," was Ousted's take. "That first half is the poorest I've seen us play and we weren't at it. All in all we can't complain too much. We were after it in the second half, we had our chances, but again it's a tale of if you don't take your chances, you don't win games."
Despite the feeling in the Whitecaps locker room immediately after the match, the Dane feels the team needs to pick themselves up immediately, using the loss as the catalyst for the business at hand.
"My focus is winning these last four games we have," Ousted added. "I don't want to have this as being the defining moment in the season. We need to push on and we still need to have our ambitions. I don't care about this loss after I digest it today and tomorrow. Then we push on. We still need to win."