VANCOUVER – After the referee denied his team the chance to compete fairly last week against Atlanta United, Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson joked Saturday that at least Vancouver will get to replay the game.
It doesn’t of course, even though the Whitecaps won their appeal of referee Ismail Elfath’s absurd 13th-minute red card against defender Kendall Waston – a video-review decision that cost Vancouver their best player, a penalty-kick goal against and any chance of winning what turned out to be a 4-1 loss.
But depending how the rest of this Major League Soccer season plays out for the Whitecaps, reconstructed by Robinson in the off-season, the coach may also wish a do-over for Saturday’s 0-0 draw at B.C. Place Stadium against the Los Angeles Galaxy.
The Galaxy was missing more than half its lineup due to injuries, a suspension and international call-ups. It was also biding time until former global star Zlatan Ibrahimovic joins them after his blockbuster acquisition this week from Manchester United.
The Caps were missing only Waston, away to play friendlies with the Costa Rican national team, and were eager to re-establish some momentum and prove the dismal loss in Atlanta was more about the referee than it was about them.
They responded Saturday with just two shots on target and not much creativity in the final third as the undermanned Galaxy gained a point with a 0-0 draw while the Whitecaps essentially dropped two.
“We weren’t good enough to break a team down that put seven, eight men behind the ball,” Robinson said after the Whitecaps fell to 2-1-1 after opening the season 2-0. “It happens sometimes. When we got our key chances, we didn’t take them. Unfortunately, when you don’t take chances, you don’t win games.
“I firmly believe … we had enough of the ball in the final third. [But] I don’t think our quality was nowhere near good enough. We weren’t good enough in the final third.”
The Whitecaps hadn’t been shut out in a regular-season home game since last May, and the draw did extend their unbeaten streak at B.C. Place to 11 games (6-0-5, including playoffs) since July.
But it was still an opportunity lost and brought back uncomfortable memories of the Whitecaps’ scoreless second-round home playoff game last October against the Seattle Sounders.
Last season’s leading scorer, Fredy Montero, left the Whitecaps last winter due to financial reasons and returned to Portugal. Goalie David Ousted and central defender Tim Parker, a potential future captain who was the Whitecaps’ second-best young player, also moved elsewhere when the club was unwilling or unable to meet their contract demands.
The club has never made a signing like the Galaxy’s deal for Ibrahimovic, the 36-year-old forward who follows the path from Europe to Los Angeles of David Beckham, Steven Gerrard and Ashley Cole.
Instead, Robinson made a series of smaller trades and signings, mostly for Latin American players, that dramatically changed the Whitecaps’ lineup.
On Saturday, newcomers Felipe Martins and, especially, Efrain Juarez looked good in central midfield roles, winning and distributing balls and driving possession for Vancouver, but neither looked capable of unlocking the Galaxy defence.
Playmaking midfielder Yordy Reyna, moved wide by Robinson to make room for the new arrivals, was largely ineffective, and wingers Alphonso Davies and Cristian Techera had no problem getting balls into the L.A. penalty area – but a lot of trouble actually getting them to new striker Kei Kamara or anyone else in a Whitecaps jersey.
“I think Yordy did a lot of good things, but without the end product in the final third,” Robinson said. “But he wasn’t the only one. Techera … and Fonzie.
“And we didn’t look as much of a threat off set pieces. We’re a good set-piece team [but] we were running into each other, which is unusual for us.”
The Galaxy could have snatched a winning goal when Emmanuel Boateng easily outran defender Jose Aja, Waston’s fill-in, to a long ball over the top but shot wide in the 57th minute.
Reyna had a similar scoring chance for Vancouver in the 39th minute but fired straight at Los Angeles goalie David Bingham.
“You want to win your home games,” Robinson said. “I want to win every home game. That’s the standard we set. And we didn’t win a game today. Yeah, we’re disappointed. But that shows you how far we’ve come … that we’re disappointed when we draw against a good team at home.”