The wait continues for the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Since joining Major League Soccer in 2011, the Caps have been unable to win against their Cascadia foes; the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers.
The latest disappointment came Saturday night at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, where the Whitecaps wasted a great opportunity to get all three points. Instead, they came away with nothing after a second half performance where they fell apart defensively, letting slip a 2-1 halftime lead against a severely understrength Seattle team that was missing six players due to international call ups, injuries and suspensions.
Beating their Pacific Northwest rivals for the first time was one of the objectives set out by Whitecaps head coach Martin Rennie ahead of this season, and now in two attempts so far this year they have fallen short. On both occasions, they were holding a lead as they headed into the closing stages of the match. Poor defending cost them at home to Portland last month in a 2-2 draw, and again on Saturday, they were undone by individual mistakes and some below par performances.
In Seattle, an injury to central defender Andy O'Brien influenced the outcome of the match, but even before the Republic of Ireland international went off, it seemed only a matter of time before the home team would find the tying goal. The second half fight back from the Sounders overshadowed an excellent first 45 minutes from the Caps and a couple of really well taken headed goals by Camilo. They were playing a high tempo, getting forward well and rarely looking threatened defensively. But it was a different story after the break.
Had referee Hilario Grajeda not made a terrible call to award a free kick instead of a penalty, the Sounders would have had a spot kick before O'Brien's injury. When Jun Marques Davidson hacked down Obafemi Martins inside the box, it was a lucky escape for the Whitecaps when the referee thought the incident had occurred outside the penalty area. It was clearly the wrong call. However, there was no denying the Sounders a penalty later in the half when substitute Greg Klazura made a reckless challenge on Lamar Neagle. After, Servando Carrasco tied the match from the resulting penalty, the Sounders then won the game with a goal from Lamar Neagle after good work by Martins. It was a well worked goal, but the Caps defending made it far too easy for the Sounders to find a path to goal.
So it was a familiar feeling for Whitecaps fans. A thousand of them had travelled down the I-5 and they contributed to a fantastic atmosphere with a crowd of over 53,000 packed into CenturyLink. But for those Caps fans in the stadium and watching at home, it was the same old story - a massive letdown in one of the games that matters most against one of their biggest rivals.
In a Western Conference filled with quality, the Whitecaps now have a three match stretch against teams they really need to beat if they are to challenge for the playoffs this year. Back-to-back home matches plus a trip to the league's worst team DC United will provide the opportunity to close the five point gap between the Caps and the top five. Martin Rennie has talked about the need to make it count at times when the schedule gets more favourable for his team, but in their current situation that is now looking like a major challenge.
The defence is a major concern. With Jay DeMerit out long term, and Andy O'Brien, Brad Rusin and Caryle Mitchell injured, Rennie's team will have to face this crucial stretch with a makeshift backline.
The loss of O'Brien is a massive blow, not only because of his own defending, but the way in which he organizes those around him. The trade of Alain Rochat last week now looks to have come at a bad time, as the Whitecaps really need additional bodies at the back.
So there are big challenges ahead for a club that has not met expectations so far this year. There is plenty of quality within the squad, but it is getting to the stage in the season where that quality has to produce on a more consistent basis rather than letting points slip away, otherwise the Whitecaps will find themselves with too much ground to make up.