Late July in the Beehive State, and the first of two visits to one of Major League Soccer’s toughest stadiums.
Such encounters usually provide a good measuring stick for MLS clubs. Friday night offered that type of test for Whitecaps FC, with the first of three regular season meetings versus Real Salt Lake.
Last season’s defeat in Sandy, Utah, was a distant memory. What was in front of Martin Rennie’s squad was a chance to close the gap on second-place RSL and solidify their hold on third place in the west.
A second win over league leaders San Jose Earthquakes provided a source of belief that earning a superior head-to-head record against Jason Kreis’ talented side was possible.
Now earning that head-to-head record will be settled in the future. As for Friday’s encounter, Whitecaps FC were given the feeling that their time to shine in MLS is still to come…
As a defeat, the Blue and White offered plenty in Friday’s match, and that may prove as a strong reminder to RSL, the Western Conference, and MLS that Vancouver are emerging in this league.
A draw or a Whitecaps FC victory was a possible outcome in Utah, but Salt Lake got a favourable penalty decision before scoring the match winner from arguably their best chance of the match.
It wasn’t a vintage RSL performance, but in some ways, it didn’t need to be. The desired result was achieved. With 42 points from 23 games played, it’s hard not to see Salt Lake outside the west’s top two places for the remainder of the regular season.
Nonetheless, Vancouver will relish their RSL re-match in two weeks. They certainly put enough of a scare into their hosts with the type of chances they created. How much joy would it have been to see a Jun Marques Davidson goal? Only the width of a post denied ‘Caps fans that possibility.
It would have also been interesting to see how Friday’s match would have unfolded had a second Whitecaps FC goal arrived soon after Mattocks’ well-taken equalizer? In the end, what we can take from Utah was how well we created our chances.
It was as if the move that created Mattocks’ goal inspired the great quality of Vancouver’s chances. Usually a solid defensive unit, Salt Lake were put on the back foot in the second half, and that offers a very good sign for the future.
There have been times when creating chances has been a challenge for Whitecaps FC in 2012, but that wasn’t the case on Friday. Coming from a variety of sources, RSL were put under the type of pressure that will have them dreading next month’s trip to BC Place.
And for the third straight game, Whitecaps FC offered something else - entertainment. Not only did Rennie’s side show again that they can compete against the league’s best, they can do so in entertaining style.
The job ahead will be to polish that ability to compete and entertain. Training sessions will help considerably, and with the schedule not as hectic over the next three months, a welcome reality.
Defeats always leave an empty feeling, but Whitecaps FC supporters know their squad have shown the resolve to bounce back and compete in 2012.
We also know RSL is an MLS powerhouse, but the impression the ‘Caps may have left on them might be more significant. With continued growth and progress, Vancouver may yet earn more of the MLS talk in the autumn months.
Time for a summer break! And then back at it in August. That looks like a tasty month…