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One-time MLS Cup favourites trounced by Whitecaps

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Camilo, two goals give him 11 on the season.
Real Salt Lake is heading to the MLS playoffs, while the Vancouver Whitecaps are playing out the string, enduring what is likely to be a basement finish in the league’s overall standings.

But, in examining RSL’s 3-0 loss to the Whitecaps Thursday, you have to shake your head and try to think back to the spring, when the Royals were everybody’s shoo-in pick for the MLS Cup. Think back to when Real Salt Lake was one lousy goal away from winning the CONCACAF Champions League and making plans to head to Japan for the Club World Cup.

Yes, this RSL team was without the likes of Kyle Beckerman, Will Johnson and Alvaro Saborio due to World Cup qualifying. But this team prided itself on being the deepest squad in MLS. Now, it has lost four in a row, and has 11 losses on the season.

Had the temporary grass pitch at Empire Field held up to a July deluge, the two teams would have been able to play their scheduled game — and the Whitecaps wouldn’t have been able to celebrate their first-ever B.C. Place victory on Thursday. Instead, the rescheduled game fell smack dab in the middle of the international match week, something which had a negligible effect on the Whitecaps, but a massive effect on RSL.

Still, RSL had a lineup that boasted the recently returned-from-injury Javier Morales, one of the best midfielders in the game, and a back line that is one of the stingiest in MLS.

But, RSL did little to threaten Whitecaps’ keeper Joe Cannon — and two penalty calls insured that the one-time MLS Cup favourites would leave Vancouver with nothing to show for their efforts.

Ironically, maybe the most legitimate penalty claim the Whitecaps had all night went unheard. Brazilian forward Camilo was shoved by RSL defender Chris Wingert in the penalty area. But, referee Chris Penso left his whistle in the pocket.

Think back to early September, at Red Bull Arena, when Camilo had a goal waved off after it looked like he’d fought through a tackle to score. Instead, the foul went against him. Camilo didn’t have another goal waved off but, again, another call in the area went against him. And you have to wonder how much of that is a product of the regular theatrics MLS referees have seen from the Brazilian. And you have to wonder if Camilo now has enough of a reputation — and it is a deserved reputation, no doubt about it — that he won’t get the benefit of any sort of judgment call.

But Camilo got his revenge by scoring on two penalties that, well, might not have been penalties. The markers now give him 11 goals on the season. The first came when RSL’s Collen Warner was adjudged to have deliberately used his arm to deflect a Jay DeMerit header from going into the net. But replays showed that the ball glanced off Warner’s shoulder. But, we can’t judge referees on replays, when they have to make bang-bang calls in real time.

In real time, that’s a tough call for Penso not to make. But, with Warner being on the ground when the ball hit him, we can say the red card may have been harsh.

Camilo buried the penalty, an already shorthanded RSL was down to 10 men.

In the second half, after a the ball took several quick deflections, it struck RSL’s Chris Schuler just inches inside his own area. He didn’t move his hand to the ball, he didn’t have time to react. But Penso pointed to the spot and Camilo converted, even though RSL keeper Nick Rimando got a hand to the ball.

Nizar Khalfan was reintroduced to the lineup as coach Tom Soehn, unimpressed by the Whitecaps’ lackadaisical effort in Sunday’s loss to Portland, scratched midfielder Davide Chiumiento (and didn’t have striker Eric Hassli because of yellow-card accumulation). It paid off as Khalfan smashed a volley in for a late insurance goal, to give the Whitecaps a marker from open play.

Trinidad and Tobago defender Carlyle Mitchell, who was acquired on MLS roster-freeze day, had a solid start in the centre of the defensive line, bringing some stability to an area that has leaked goals all season.

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