VANCOUVER — It was a tie for the Vancouver Whitecaps and Toronto FC, but a loss for Canadian soccer.
The old east-west Canadian rivalry was more tedious than tense for at least an hour Friday before an ugly goal ended an ugly game, as TFC snatched a 90th-minute equalizer in a 1-1 draw in Major League Soccer.
Toronto substitute Nick DeLeon’s cross deflected into the Vancouver net off Whitecaps’ defender Ali Adnan six minutes after Fredy Montero’s penalty kick gave the home team a 1-0 lead.
There was some excitement to all that late drama, but too little of it to save the game.
“We just felt that tonight there was a little bit of lack of energy,” Vancouver coach Marc Dos Santos said. “You know when the mind is tired, and then we are not sharp enough. It looked like the accumulation of all the month.
“The run they (Whitecaps players) made is fantastic this month. It’s easy for me or you or whoever… to say, yes to press, yes to run. But the run of these guys this month — seven games in 25 days, 17 points in our last 11 games — there’s a lot of positives.”
At the end of their gruelling month, the Whitecaps looked for most of the night like they were trying to win 0-0. They lined up five players across their back line, sat deep as a team and invited Toronto to come forward.
Missing injured Jonathan Osorio and Michael Bradley, TFC was unable to break down Vancouver’s back-court press. Sure, there were a couple of long-range attempts at goal by Toronto’s Alejandro Pozuelo and Liam Fraser, and a shot straight at Whitecap goalie Maxime Crepeau from Terrence Boyd, who should have done better on his partial breakaway in the 35th minute.
But, honestly, unless you love watching chess live, the rivalry match was a dud until the final half-hour, when a combination of fatigue, desperation and few fresh bodies off the benches gave the game some life.
“The first half, I was surprised really how passive they were, how many guys were just sitting deep,” TFC coach Greg Vanney said. “That led to a lot of us being able to dictate the game in that moment. But it’s also been a little bit of their formula for success the last few games. That’s why were expecting that. They did a great job of protecting their goal and made it difficult for us.”
After Crepeau made diving saves in the last half hour against Jozy Altidore and Marco Delgado, the Whitecaps took the lead when a counter-attack ended with Toronto captain Drew Moor chopping down Vancouver substitute Yordy Reyna on a breakaway inside the penalty area.
Montero sent Toronto goalie Quentin Westberg the wrong way on the 84th-minute penalty kick.
But with the Whitecaps labouring to hold their lead and head into a three-week schedule break with a 4-1-2 record in their May marathon, Vancouver gave DeLeon a pile of room down right wing to deliver a cross that was partially blocked by Adnan, who watched the ball skip and spin behind Crepeau.
“I think that we didn’t bring our best game tonight,” Crepeau said. “I have no words for this play (on the tying goal). The ball is on DeLeon’s foot, coming in, Ali’s doing his job trying to block the cross, and then it’s going past me. It’s difficult to end the game like that. It’s heartbreaking.”
The draw halted Toronto’s two-game losing streak but extended its winless run to 0-4-2. TFC has two wins in 11 games since a 3-0 start in March that seems like a faded dream.
“We could have been better in their half,” Dos Santos said. “But at the end of the day, even if we scored and conceded late, we have to admit that the tie is fair. If we don’t admit that, then we are delusional and we don’t progress as a team.”
Dos Santos isn’t delusional. Even with just two losses in 11 games after a dreadful 0-4-1 start, the coach reiterated that the Whitecaps still need help and will try to add players during the summer transfer window.
“There are definitely games this season we’ve played better,” Vancouver defender Andy Rose said. “Sometimes you end up with a draw and feel great, and sometimes you don’t feel good. This one is kind of in between.”
The Whitecaps don’t play again until June 22 against Colorado in Vancouver. Toronto plays Sporting Kansas City at home next Friday before its own two-week FIFA break.