RSL loses to Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1, missing opportunity for playoff position

Real Salt Lake forward Justin Meram, right, passes the ball between Vancouver Whitecaps defender Ranko Veselinovic, left and midfielder Janio Bikeli, center, during the first half of an MLS soccer match in Portland, Ore., Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020. (AP Photo/Steve Dykes)

Vancouver has enjoyed playing Real Salt Lake this season — though maybe that’s a fair statement for most teams.

After four consecutive losses, the Whitecaps found a win against RSL in a neutral site on Saturday night, getting a 2-1 victory over an RSL side that has fallen flat recently this season. Indeed, it’s Vancouver’s first win since the last time it played RSL.

Early, it looked like RSL was going to do enough to get three points against one of the two teams below them in the Western Conference standings. But with the loss, RSL now has just one point and one goal scored, in their last four games, falling further away from the Western Conference playoff picture.

The good news: RSL got off the scoring schneid by netting that lone goal Saturday night. It was scored in the 37th minute on a goal initiated from a beautiful ball from Maikel Chang, the 29 year old Cuban, to Justin Meram waiting on the back post. While Meram had a chance to go for goal himself, his unselfish headed ball was actually placed right to a streaking Damir Kreilach, just six yards away from the goal for an easy tap-in.

But Vancouver came back. Its first goal came from the head of RSL’s Douglas Martinez on a long free kick. Martinez tried to clear the ball lofted into the box, but accidentally headed it back to goalkeeper Andrew Putna’s back post to level the game. Putna looked to be in poor position on the goal.

The third goal of the match was even more chaotic: a ping-pong ball bouncing around in the box that wasn’t cleared by the RSL defense, neither of Marcelo Silva or Donny Toia. The result was a Vancouver shot, an initial save, and then a rebound put away by the Whitecaps' Lucas Cavallini to take the late lead in the 75th minute.

“The second goal was just sloppy. It wasn’t good enough,” RSL head coach Freddy Juarez said.

The end result was a very disappointing one, given the quality of their Whitecaps opposition. The Canadians had been outscored 13-1 in those last four games, all losses. One player, Andy Rose, was unavailable for selection due to the red card he suffered against San Jose. Vancouver was the second-worst team in the West — it’s now tied with RSL there, though it has the far worse goal difference.

“We just gave up two easy goals. The first from a set piece, which (we) weren’t very concentrated on. Second goal as well. We have to live with that,” Kreilach said. “First half we were on the right path, but the second half wasn’t good.”

And the match wasn’t even played in Vancouver’s home stadium. Thanks to U.S./Canada travel restrictions, the Whitecaps are playing their home games in Portland this season.

It was a physical match, to be sure. Center referee Silviu Petrescu, usually reluctant to open his book, actually handed out nine yellow cards throughout the match, five to Vancouver and four to RSL. And in nearly every respect, it was an evenly matched contest — both teams ended with nearly equal possession, eight shots, and three of those shots on target. RSL had one more corner.

And one fewer goal. Enough to lead to a poor result, yet again, in a difficult RSL season.