The first penalty called against Real Salt Lake in its game against the Vancouver Whitecaps at BC Place sure seemed strange. A Whitecaps corner kick was whipped into the box in the 46th minute–but a referee ruled that RSL forward Alvaro Saborio fouled a Vancouver player–pointing to the spot.
In hindsight, the penalty call was borderline ridiculous. Both players fell in the box simultaneously–perhaps Whitecaps defender Kendall Waston flopped if you look at the replay–but the referee ruled that Saborio pushed the Vancouver player.
And so Whitecaps midfielder Pedro Morales went to his left at the same time RSL goalkeeper Jeff Attinella went to his right. Simultaneously, the two made their decisions–and for Attinella it was the right move as he saved the kick from going in.
A relatively tense first half opened up dramatically in the second though as both teams hit their gas pedals and Vancouver defeated RSL 2-1 on Sat. Sept. 27.
“I actually thought our soccer was pretty good. You know, it’s a team that had their backs against the wall, and you saw them tonight that they were fighting hard on every play. There was no give up on that team, and that’s a credit to coach Robinson. They kept going. We kept going, too, but it just wasn’t our night,” RSL head coach Jeff Cassar said post-game.
Perhaps propelled by a higher power–or by the referee’s dumb decision on the PK going into halftime–RSL came out firing in the second half. In the 56th minute its patient but persistent buildup in the attack would be rewarded.
In the first half, RSL played off the front foot, searching for an open door in Vancouver’s back line. In the second half, the claret and cobalt wouldn’t have to wait long to get rolling, either.
Searing one-touch passes that zig-zagged into the middle third resulted in a cutting through ball to midfielder Javier Morales, who collected the ball on the ground, flipping it to himself before he rocketed a half-volley at the near post from about 8 yards out–but the Whitecaps wouldn’t break.
Seconds after Morales’ wonder strike got punched away by the Vancouver keeper, his corner kick also had bad intentions. His ball whirled into the box, clearing one set of heads before RSL defender Nat Borchers leaned his head towards goal and glanced the ball inside the far post netting for a 1-0 lead.
RSL’s lead wouldn’t hold for long though. Four minutes later, a cross from a Vancouver player traveled into the top of RSL’s penalty box off of a deflection from defender Chris Wingert. Fellow defender Carlos Salcedo–coming in very high on a tackle–got all of the Whitecaps player he was trying to mark.
The foul got Salcedo a yellow card and the referee gave Vancouver another penalty kick. This time, however, Pedro Morales would crush the ball into the far post, past Attinella to tie the game 1-1.
After Attinella chewed out the young Salcedo for making such a critical error at the absolute worst time of the game–when RSL just scored.
Nevertheless, the claret and cobalt continued their pressing, attacking ways–pushing numbers forward. Their overeagerness almost cost them, however, in the 64th as Vancouver mounted a counter-attack off a Morales.
The Whitecaps bombed the ball forward to the wing, then its dribbler sped towards the penalty point–typical behavior when playing in a 4-2-3-1 formation–as RSL backpedaled on defense.
After weaving past three defenders and playing the ball out to the right wing, Vancouver chipped the ball directly into the penalty box at the corner of the six yard box, which was flicked on by a Whitecaps player but punched wide by Attinella.
Some hard luck possession sequences by RSL would cost it the game in the 78th minute. As the claret and cobalt played on at sea level, their touches became more suspect as they searched for ways to get by a more athletic Whitecaps squad.
The claret and cobalt really paid the price for their boldness when Morales slid on the turf to save an errant one-touch pass and whiffed. The Whitecaps took full advantage, eventually–after RSL captain Kyle Beckerman cut out one attack–when their winger cut back a ball at the end line towards the top of the penalty box.
Running from his wing defender position–also common in a 4-2-3-1 system–was Vancouver defender Steven Beitashour, Iranian international and a longtime Major League Soccer All-Star. On a dead sprint, Beitashour approached the ball, ripping it low on one touch into the center of the six–where Morales was lying in wait, redirecting it into the net for a 2-1 Whitecaps lead.
Twelve minutes later after RSL had sent even more numbers forward looking for the equalizer–and the point it needed to secure a playoff spot–Attinella traveled from his own penalty box for the final play of the game, a free kick.
The ball curled into the box, swinging out as it went. Attinella reacted to Morales’ final prayer, arching his head skyward to head the ball. But it, and RSL’s chances, drifted over the crossbar, giving the Whitecaps a hard luck win and leaving the claret and cobalt with more work to do.