It wasn't the sort of performance you would expect from a side chasing for a playoff place. With the opportunity to close to within a point of the postseason positions, Vancouver Whitecaps turned in a display in front of their home fans on Saturday that lacked energy, cohesion and ideas.
Real Salt Lake walked out of BC Place with a 1-0 win, despite having left most of their regular starters at home, and they thoroughly deserved the three points. The visitors took the lead inside ten minutes when Devon Sandoval headed in a superb cross from Lovel Palmer, and through the following 80 minutes, the Whitecaps were hardly able to muster an effort on goal.
It was an incredibly flat performance from a team that had everything to play for, and it was summed up perfectly by 'Caps midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker following the game.
"We got taught a footballing lesson today," Reo-Coker told my TSN colleague Perry Solkowski. "They have a system that they stick to through the whole season and everybody knows their roles. They had a lot more desire than us."
Whitecaps coach Martin Rennie didn't sugarcoat things either.
"I thought it was a terrible performance from everybody, and that means it was a terrible performance from the coach as well," he said.
Real Salt Lake played really well - a team of reserves who all stepped up and proved that the Utah club has the deepest squad in MLS. However, the Whitecaps also made it fairly easy for them.
We have seen many times at BC Place earlier in the season that the Whitecaps are capable of playing an attacking, entertaining style of play, scoring plenty of goals, but that wasn't evident at all against Real Salt Lake. As has been the case this year, Vancouver certainly missed the injured Kenny Miller, but they still had plenty of attacking weapons available. The problem was those weapons appeared fairly blunt. There was little creativity and an inability to break down a very well organized Real Salt Lake team.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment was the lack of urgency. Playing at home against a massively understrength opposition, the Whitecaps just never seemed to get going. Even when Rennie made changes early in the second half bringing on the speedsters Darren Mattocks and Kekuta Manneh, the 'Caps produced very little to trouble the opposition. In past games, the injection of Manneh's pace has changed games, but both Manneh and Mattocks provided little impact off the bench.
It wasn't until the 93rd minute of the match that we saw the first attack-minded burst from midfield by Reo-Coker. In fact, Real Salt Lake managed the midfield battle for most of the match, dominating possession and preventing the 'Caps from gaining any momentum going forward.
While the Whitecaps chances of making the postseason are mathematically still very much alive, there is little chance of them picking up the necessary points from the remaining four games, judging by the display they produced at the weekend. It was even more puzzling following on from a spirited and highly effective showing in Montreal a week earlier when the Whitecaps came away from Stade Saputo with a 3-0 victory. It's now just two wins in 11 matches for Vancouver – far away from the form needed to challenge for the top five.
If the Whitecaps are to keep their hopes alive, they will need to achieve two firsts. Objective number one is to win against Portland Timbers on Sunday, something they are yet to do in Major League Soccer. They will then have to go into Seattle the following Wednesday (live on MLS on TSN) and win at Century Link Field for the first time. The Timbers and Sounders have improved greatly this season, as have Colorado Rapids. At this stage, it seems the Whitecaps haven't been able to keep up.
The Media Match
The day before the Whitecaps played against Real Salt Lake, the club held its first – and soon to be annual – Media Invitational Tournament. It was a fantastic event with around 50 media members attending and split into four teams playing three matches each on the BC Place pitch.
If you listen to our TSN FC podcast or follow along on Twitter, you will know the stakes were high, with plenty of banter going back and forth in the days leading up to the tournament. For the record - because my broadcast partner Jason De Vos will try and twist the story – I actually scored three goals, one in each of the games. The highlight was a stunning back-post volley against Jason's team. We ended up tying the match 4-4, and post-game Jason tweeted: "To his credit, Luke played well." Make sure you check out this week's podcast for a full recap of the event.