Home MLS Vancouver Whitecaps Whitecaps clinch No. 1 seed in ACC with Utah draw

Whitecaps clinch No. 1 seed in ACC with Utah draw

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The Vancouver Whitecaps visited Rio Tinto Stadium in Salt Lake City for the second time this season and came away with a better result — a scoreless draw this time. The two squads each managed 2-1 victories at home in their prior two meetings this season.

Although both squads came out with lineups suggesting that they were looking ahead to upcoming playoff matches, this result was not without consequence for the ‘Caps.

“I think it’s a good point for us,” said head coach Martin Rennie. “It obviously finishes us ahead of Montreal which I think is important in terms of being the top Canadian team this season which is important to us. And it also means that it gives us a good seeding for the Canadian Cup next season, so I think that was important.”

The Whitecaps finish the season with one more point than the Montreal Impact, which lost earlier Saturday to New England.

The point guarantees that the Whitecaps will open the 2013 Amway Canadian Championship against No. 4 seed FC Edmonton, while Montreal will meet Toronto FC in the other semifinal.

RSL dominated possession in the opening 30 minutes, but the best chance in that stretch came via an Alain Rochat free kick from 30 yards out. He sent reserve Salt Lake keeper Kyle Reynish sprawling to his right, but the shot fell just outside of the upright.

Rochat tested Reynish again on another free kick just outside the penalty area. This time the ball went over the wall and forced the keeper to make an awkward grab.

In the 37th minute, RSL forward Alvaro Saborio found himself ahead of the defense in the left channel and blasted a shot from 12 yards out that had a blistering pace. Goalkeeper Brad Knighton was able to push the ball over the bar, however, and the resulting corner kick was not fruitful for the home team.

In the 57th, Darren Mattocks appeared to have knocked in a goal off of a corner kick, but was judged to be offside on the play and the goal was disallowed. There was a bit of controversy on the play, but the replay looked to support the decision.

A few moments later Saborio slipped between the defenders with a through ball from teammate Fabian Espindola, but took too long gathering the ball at his feet and his low angle shot was off target. RSL would maintain possession on the sequence but an ensuing header by Espindola sailed harmlessly over goal.

In the 69th minute, RSL had a flurry in and around the Whitecaps penalty area, but it was unable to convert the action into a goal.

Rennie applauded his team’s defensive attention throughout the match. “I think it was our 12th clean sheet overall this season which is third best in the league and I think it was a disciplined performance for us away from home.”

Vancouver found itself in the RSL end frequently in the second half and had a number of chances off of set pieces as time was winding down.

“I think we started to get a foothold in the game, and we moved the ball a little bit quicker,” analyzed Rennie. “And maybe Salt Lake were throwing a few players more forward and that gave us some gaps to exploit.”

In the 90th minute, rookie Sebastian Velasquez appeared pinned in the corner by two Whitecap defenders but somehow escaped along the end line and delivered a ball across the front of goal that Saborio narrowly missed making solid contact with.

That would be the last significant chance of the night, and the game would keep its 0-0 score line. The result left Salt Lake trying to hold onto second place in the Western Conference with a 17-11-6 record, and 57 points on the season. Vancouver vaulted to a much improved 11-13-10 record for 43 points in its second season.

Now RSL will face Seattle next weekend as they start the post-season action. Meanwhile Vancouver will head to Los Angeles to face the Galaxy in a midweek encounter. For the ‘Caps, the question is whether or not they are ready for their first ever post-season action.

“I think we saw the determination that we’re going to require,” assessed the Vancouver boss. “I think we saw the hunger and the belief that we’re going to require. I think there are things that we’re going to need to improve on and adjust for playing L.A. But tonight was just a good end to a regular season. We find ourselves coming out of it much improved.”

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