VANCOUVER – A play that Vancouver Whitecaps defender Jay DeMerit says he makes dozens of times a game ended up costing his team two points on Saturday.
Gonzalo Pineda scored on a controversial penalty in the 82nd minute after Vancouver’s captain was judged to have fouled Seattle substitute Cam Weaver as both players jumped for the ball in front of goal as the Sounders salvaged an emotional 2-2 draw with the Whitecaps.
The home side looked to be on its way to a third straight Major League Soccer victory before referee Ismail Elfath whistled DeMerit’s aerial challenge and pointed to the spot late in the second half.
The Whitecaps were furious with the decision but could only watch as Pineda stepped up and cooly chipped a shot behind Vancouver’s David Ousted for his first goal with the Sounders.
“It’s devastating,” said DeMerit. “It’s devastating not only for myself, but to see guys put in the type of performance that they did … guys put themselves on the line for 90 minutes, and for that to be taken away from us is disappointing.”
“As players, all we can do is play hard and play committed and work hard for our teammates, and I thought all of us did that tonight.”
When asked what he saw on the decisive refereeing decision, Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson said bluntly: “I saw my captain jump for the ball in his penalty box and head the ball away.”
DeMerit, who plays an aggressive, physical style, has now been called for fouls inside his penalty area in consecutive MLS games at B.C. Place Stadium.
“I’m too old to start changing my game and play less committed than I already do,” said the 34-year-old. “It is hard and I think the thing that’s really eating me inside is that if I have to change my game then I’m going to be in trouble and that’s sad.
“I’ve been around this game for a long time and when you play hard and you play with the heart on your sleeve and you get punished for that, that’s disappointing.”
Vancouver got its 2-1 lead in the 66th minute when midfielder Gershon Koffie scored his first goal of the season on a horrendous goalkeeping error by Seattle’s Stefan Frei.
In an effort to keep a ball in play, Frei ventured way out of his net and booted a clearing attempt into the middle of the pitch instead of safely up the sideline. Koffie pounced on the mistake and fired a shot from a distance that Frei could only watch bounce into his vacated goal.
After the Seattle penalty tied the game, Sounders striker Obafemi Martins struck the post behind Ousted before Koffie had two more chances in stoppage time, including one on the last kick of the game.
“I thought there was only going to be one team winning. I thought the guys put in the effort that was necessary,” said DeMerit. “Ultimately to go away with a draw is disappointing. Everyone’s going to walk away a little bit disappointed but that’s life and that’s football.”
Erik Hurtado also scored for Vancouver (4-2-5), which has just one win against Western Conference opponents so far in 2014.
Seattle (8-3-2), which entered play atop the league standings with five wins in its last six games, got its other goal from Chad Barrett against a Whitecaps team that nearly ran the Sounders out of the park early on.
“It was unlucky today, but nevertheless I thought it was a great team performance,” said Whitecaps defender Nigel Reo-Coker. “The first 30 minutes were fantastic. It’s the best we’ve been all season as a team — the chances we created, the tempo we were playing at, the passing, the movement … another day it could have been 3-0, 4-0 to us and game done.”
Apart from being an important game in the Western Conference standings, Saturday’s encounter was the second match of the Cascadia Cup competition, a mini-tournament played between the Whitecaps, Sounders and Portland Timbers. The team with the most points in the games played amongst the three clubs at the end of the season takes the title, which Vancouver did last season.
The Sounders had a large section of travelling fans in one corner on the stadium on Saturday, while Vancouver’s supporters section took up its usual spot in the home end in a match that had the passion of a European derby both on and off the field.
After a rocky start for the visitors, Barrett headed home his first of the season in the 36th minute off a cross from Kenny Cooper.
The Whitecaps got that one back just three minutes later on a highlight-reel effort from Hurtado. The striker with the bleach-blonde Mohawk cut back twice to free himself from two Seattle defenders before blasting a shot into the roof of the net over a helpless Frei. Hurtado now has three goals in three games — two in MLS and one in the Amway Canadian Championship.
“The boys were fantastic from the first minute,” said Robinson. “I thought the first half hour we were absolutely phenomenal in our play, could have been ahead, weren’t ahead, they scored on their second chance and then we fought back. It was a very entertaining game.”
Robinson said earlier this week that he wanted his team to put its stamp on the match, and Vancouver was a bit unlucky to not open the scoring in the game’s first 10 minutes.
Kekuta Manneh, who had a hat trick in last year’s 4-1 victory over the Sounders in Seattle, had a good chance four minutes in, but saw his effort stopped by Frei.
Koffie then busted through the middle and ripped a shot that went off the crossbar and landed just inches from the goal-line before being cleared by a defender.
Robinson wouldn’t bite on questions about the officiating afterwards and instead pointed to the positives.
“I think my job this year since I took the job was to try and put a certain style of playing in this team and I think I’ve done that,” said Robinson, who was promoted from his assistant’s role in December. “I concentrate on my job and that’s my job. I think today you saw we’re going in the right direction. Obviously disappointed with the result but the performance of some of the players was excellent.”
Notes: The Sounders were without influential playmaker Clint Dempsey, who is away with the U.S. national team preparing for the World Cup in Brazil. Fellow midfielder Brad Evans was also at the American camp, but failed to make the 23-man roster. … The Whitecaps came in having not played since bowing out to Toronto FC in the Amway Canadian Championship semifinal 10 days earlier. … The Cascadia Cup has been played between the Whitecaps, Sounders and Timbers every year since 2004. Vancouver won its fourth title last season, while Seattle and Portland have each won three times. … The Sounders host Real Salt Lake next Saturday, while the Whitecaps visit the Timbers on June 1st in another Cascadia Cup matchup. … Seattle and Portland tied the first game of the competition 4-4. … Whitecaps defender Steven Beitashour is away at Iran’s World Cup camp.