By Bill Beacon
MONTREAL — The Vancouver Whitecaps will have to wait for another chance to lock up a United Soccer Leagues First Division playoff spot.
Substitute Peter Byers scored in injury time to lift the Montreal Impact to a 1-0 victory over Vancouver on Wednesday night, denying the defending league champions the one point they needed to clinch a playoff berth. The Impact swept all three regular season games with the Whitecaps this season.
The Whitecaps' playoff-clinching point could come as early as Sunday, when they return home to face lowly Austin, or Sept. 18 when they end the season at home against last-place Cleveland. They will also make it if eighth-place Maimi FC fails to sweep its final three games.
"We have a good possibility to do that, but this is the sixth game that we gave away in the last minutes of the game," said Whitecaps coach Teitur Thordarson. "In three of them, we gave away wins, not only a point, so of course we're disappointed. But we played well and I'm happy with that."
The Whitecaps dropped to 9-10-9 and ended a seven-game unbeaten run while the 12-10-6 Impact now has five wins and a draw in their last six games.
Byers, who had a goal called back by a quick whistle in the 81st minute, fought off three defenders inside the penalty area before slipping a left-footed inside the far post.
Only 19 minutes earlier, the crowd of 11,867 at Saputo Stadium booed when a Byers' goal was called back because referee Silviu Petrescu had whistled for a Montreal free kick just before the Impact striker fought off a hold by Chris Pozniak and shot inside the far post from 12 yards.
"It was a good game for both teams and we definitely deserved at least one point," said Thordarson. "They were unhappy because their goal wasn't allowed but at the same time there was penalty at the other end that wasn't blown.
"At the end we gave it away with a little lack of concentration. There's not much to say about that."
The crowd booed again as Montreal sweeper Nevio Pizzolitto was shown a yellow card - which will bring a two-game suspension for accumulating eight cautions in the season - in the 83rd minute, and again when Byers was hauled down by goalkeeper Jay Nolly to nullify a chance in the 86th.
"A huge win," said Pizzolitto. "From the first half, we played really good soccer.
"We created chances, we had a goal disallowed, but we kept pushing and Peter Byers was a machine out there."
It was Montreal's first game since a report this week that England star David Beckham may buy into the club if it moves to the more prestigious Major League Soccer in 2012.
"It's all rumours, but it would be great for the city," said Pizzolito. "But until it's confirmed, we can't talk to much about it."
Montreal, which clinched a berth in the playoffs when Rochester beat eighth-place Miami FC on Tuesday night, moved into fifth place, one point ahead of the idle Rhinos. The top seven teams make the playoffs.
There was no playing for a draw as both clubs came out attacking, and the Impact had the lion's share of chances in a scoreless first half.
Only three minutes in, Eduardo Sebrango was stopped at point blank by Nolly and Tony Donatelli put the rebound over the bar. Leonardo DiLorenzo had a glittering chance from the left side in the 13th minute but shot wide, while Roberto Brown was on the doorstep in the 27th but his shot went off Nolly's leg.
Sebrango left the match at half-time due to a fractured right hand and was replaced by Byers.
The Whitecaps had the best chances early in the second half, as Charles Gbeke's bullet drive from 25 yards was stopped in the 65th minute and Tyrell Burgess forced a quick save in the 72nd.
It had the makings of a grudge match.
On June 18, the Whitecaps arrived two days early hoping to collect the trophy for the Nutrilite Canadian Championship, only to see the Impact dress a weak side and crumble 6-1 before Toronto FC, denying Vancouver a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League. Two days later, Montreal beat the Whitecaps in a regular-season game.
The Whitecaps were without veteran midfielder Martin Nash, who missed a third game with a hamstring injury, but striker Marlon James returned from missing three weeks with a groin problem and got into the game in the 78th minute.
Montreal goalkeeper Matt Jordan was out with a hand injury, so ex-Whitecap Srdjan Djekanovic played.
Copyright © 2009 The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.