VANCOUVER, B.C. - It was a tale of two penalties at BC Place on Saturday night.
New York City FC had to survive a second-half onslaught at the Western Conference-leading Vancouver Whitecaps but they held firm to record a much-needed 2-1 victory to keep their playoff hopes alive.
A first-half Frank Lampard strike put New York ahead before Pedro Morales looked to have secured a share of the points with an 88th minute penalty. But the drama wasn't over and David Villa scored a 95th minute penalty of his own to secure all three points for the visitors.
The victory keeps New York City's (10-14-7; 37 points) postseason hopes alive, but they face an uphill battle in their remaining three games to close the five point gap on the sixth placed Montreal Impact. Vancouver (15-12-3; 48 points) remain on top of the Western Conference and Supporters' Shield standings for now, but Saturday's defeat means they won't clinch an Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs berth this week and ensures a tense positioning battle in the season run-in.
Vancouver were confident that their fast-paced attack would be a constant concern to a New York City defence that had already shipped 50 goals this season.
Kekuta Manneh came close in the 16th minute when his near post effort deflected off New York City keeper Josh Saunders and onto the post before being recovered on the line.
The home side may have been looking the sharper on the break but it was the visitors who were enjoying more possession and they made it pay in the 29th minute when Lampard gave New York City FC the lead, burying an Angelino cutback from eight yards out.
With no further goalmouth action in the half, Vancouver regrouped at the break and came out firing in the second and Saunders came up big to keep out a Kendall Waston header in the 50th minute, turning the ball around for a corner from his goal line.
Vancouver had clearly upped the tempo, but they were leaving room at the back as they chased the game and Mix Diskerud and Villa brought saves out of David Ousted with a couple of half chances.
The Whitecaps kept Designated Players Pedro Morales and Octavio Rivero on the bench due to some injury concerns but Carl Robinson brought both on as Vancouver tried to find a way back into the match, launching wave after wave of attacks.
The visitors' defense was buckling and they finally cracked when referee Ricardo Salazar gave a penalty when Waston was judged to have been brought down in the box by Angelino. Morales stepped and drilled home the penalty to make it 1-1 with two minutes remaining.
Vancouver sensed they could get all three points and had several chances to do just that in stoppage time but couldn't get the breakthrough. With a draw looking the end result, New York were handed a playoff lifeline when Salazar awarded his second penalty of the match in the 94th minute, as a tackle by Matias Laba on Lampard was judged to be a foul.
Villa stepped up to send Ousted the wrong way and give New York City FC all three points after a pulsating encounter.
Vancouver now have to pick themselves up as they head on the road for their next two matches, with a trip to San Jose Earthquakes first up next Saturday. New York City continue a three-game spell on the road at D.C. United next Friday.