For 69 minutes, everything went to plan for the Vancouver Whitecaps.
The Western Conference underdogs had taken an early lead against the LA Galaxy through a third minute goal from Darren Mattocks, and had so far managed to repel everything the defending champions had thrown at them.
Then, a four-minute meltdown undid over an hour of excellent defensive work and strong counterattacking play.
On one such counterattack in the 68th minute, just before Mike Magee’s equalizer, Matt Watson played a one-two with Kenny Miller before Josh Saunders made a save. On the rebound Miller scuffed his effort wide, only for the ball to fall to Barry Robson, who couldn’t find the target either, under pressure from several Galaxy defenders.
“That was the turning point right there,” goalkeeper Brad Knighton told TSN immediately following the match. “We finish that, we go up two and we take the wind out of their sails a little bit, but that’s the way the game goes sometimes -- they come right back and score and they’ve got all the momentum right here at home.”
While Saunders made the big save on Watson just moments before, Knighton conceded he couldn’t do much on Magee’s well-taken volley from Juninho’s cross to bring things level.
“You just chalk it off as another game, another goal of the week,” Knighton said. “Hats off to them, and best of luck.”
The Galaxy didn’t stop with an equalizer, and just four minutes later scored the go-ahead goal from the spot through Landon Donovan, which would ultimately go on to be the game winner.
That call came in controversial fashion, as Martin Bonjour, having just come on as a substitute for the injured Jay DeMerit, appeared to make light contact with the American international.
Donovan appeared to legitimately go down in the first half in the box without getting the call, and along with fellow Designated Players David Beckham and Robbie Keane made his case to referee Silviu Petrescu at half-time – something Whitecaps head coach Martin Rennie believes played a role on the game -winning play.
“They campaigned all the way up the tunnel, all the way to the referees’ locker room, all the way to the door,” Rennie told Vancouver radio station TEAM 1040 following the match. “That does affect the referee, I think. I’m not going to say he was overly influenced or anything like that, but I think that amount of pressure can make it hard for anybody.”
Still, in a match which most observers had chalked up as a likely walk in the park for the Galaxy, Vancouver made the Galaxy sweat – a big step from where the club stood in 2011, sporting a league-worst record.
“It’s frustrating because we were so close – so close to a huge victory for our franchise that could really define the future of our franchise,” John Thorrington said. “But that being said we have to take a big picture and remember we were that close to coming into the defending champions at home in a one-off game and giving them everything they could handle.”
Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com.