SANDY, Utah — After being thoroughly outplayed for 80 minutes, the Vancouver Whitecaps scored two late goals, including a stunner from midfielder Sebastian Fernandez in the game's dying seconds, to draw Real Salt Lake 2-2 on Saturday night at Rio Tinto Stadium.
The result meant a miserable day in Utah turned into a miserable night for Real Salt Lake — as miserable as it gets without losing. They got off to a blistering start, going up 1-0 barely a minute into the game and 2-0 in the ninth minute, but — for the second time this season — blew a two-goal lead and gave up the tying goal in stoppage time.
Nicolas Mezquida's 86th minute goal for the Whitecaps — a deflection after RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando made a save following a defensive lapse — prevented Rimando from tying the all-time MLS record for shutouts.
And in the fourth minute of stoppage time, Fernandez fired a 35-yard rocket that Rimando had no chance at to tie it up.
In the first half, it appeared Salt Lake was headed for an easy win, as they played some of their best soccer all season. For the first time since he went out with a hamstring injury on March 22, diminutive forward Joao Plata was back in the starting lineup. And it took him barely more than a minute to make an impact. Taking possession of the ball after a dummy by midfielder Luke Mulholland, Plata put the ball in the net to give the Claret-and-Cobalt an immediate lead.
It was his third goal to go with two assists in just 212 minutes of play (at that point) for Plata this season. And it was enough to ignite a fire despite a daylong rainstorm that ended shortly before the game began and temperatures hovering in the low 40s.
In the ninth minute, Salt Lake midfielder Ned Grabavoy fended off three Vancouver defenders in the box and got the ball out to forward Alvaro Saborio, who sailed a terrific curling left-footed shot from the right side to the upper left corner of the goal, out of reach of Vancouver goalkeeper David Ousted.
In some respects, the Whitecaps were actually lucky to get out of the first half down only 2-0, with RSL repeatedly playing the ball into the box and failing to finish on good chances.
After a dismal first half, Vancouver came out more aggressive in the second half, but couldn't find the back of the net until Mezquida's late goal. A promising free kick just inches outside and to the left of the box in the 59th minute, turned into nothing when Kekuta Manneh fired his shot directly at Rimando for an easy save.
Ten minutes later, Vancouver's Erik Hurtado, a second half substitute, was on the receiving end of a corner kick, but his header fell rather weakly to Rimando's feet, and the keeper fell on it for the save.
Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson arguably turned the game in the second half, bringing on not only Hurtado but both goal scorers. Though the Whitecaps continued to play on the back foot for most of the game, they started clicking in the dying minutes of the game, and Mezquida's tally, his first career MLS goal, energized the visitors as they pushed for the equalizer.
As it turned out, RSL could have used a third goal to put the result to bed.
The draw kept RSL (3-0-5) unbeaten this season and extended their regular-season undefeated streak to 12 games. And the Whitecaps, who celebrated like they'd just gotten a win, still remain winless (0-4-2) in Rio Tinto Stadium.
RSL Salt Lake heads back out on the road, traveling to Chicago on Saturday. Vancouver returns home to face San Jose on Saturday.
MLSsoccer.com Men of the Match
|Rank||Player||What We Saw|
|1||Sebastian Fernandez||When he scores, he scores beauties, and this one was an absolute peach|
|2||Alvaro Saborio||Hit a pretty good goal himself, and was dangerous all night against the Whitecaps|
|3||Luke Mulholland||Luis Gil may be coming into his own, but Mulholland is making a case for himself to continue getting starts in RSL's midfield|