Whitecaps 2, DC United 2: Vancouver treading water as season end looms

The Whitecaps haven’t won in four games, making their push for a top-4 spot in the West a tougher prospect with three games left.

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It was like 2015 all over again on Saturday night.

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Carl Robinson patrolling the sideline at B.C. Place, fist-bumping his team’s goals. Striker Erik Hurtado coming out with yet another new hairstyle.

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And a very good Vancouver Whitecaps team falling short in a crucial stretch run game.

That 2015 Caps team was considered the best squad in the club’s Major League history, and had its sights set on finishing high in the Western Conference standings — maybe even atop the overall table — before a five-game winless late-season swoon cost them a chance at glory. That Robinson-coached side finished second in the West, then flamed out in the first round of the playoffs against Portland without nary a goal.

On Saturday night at B.C. Place, the newly anointed ‘best side’ in team history tied 2-2 with D.C. United, who had both Robinson and Hurtado on their bench.

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While the ending has yet to be written for this year’s team, the draw extended a winless streak to four games. With three more remaining, a top-four spot in the West — and the home field advantage in the first round that comes with it — is an increasingly more difficult prospect. Their remaining games are against the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 teams in the West.

Saturday’s tie was the second straight game the Caps settled for single point against a team below the playoff line, but that didn’t concern head coach Vanni Sartini after the game.

“No, no. First of all, they were two very different games,” he said. “Last game (vs. Colorado) wasn’t a very good game to be honest, but for a million reasons. The altitude, the last game of the seven-game stretch and whatever. Today, it doesn’t concern me in terms of performance, because I think we played very well.

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“To make the playoffs is the primary goal. That’s the thing. Only if you make the playoffs, then you can think about going into the top four. I said it that we couldn’t talk about top four until after these two games (today and St. Louis on Wednesday). Even if we win against St. Louis, it’s going to be hard to say we’re going to arrive in the top four. So let’s arrive into the playoff. We have a very good team. I think that we can beat every team. The objective now is to finish in the first seven places, like we are now.”

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WHERE THEY STAND

The Whitecaps (11-10-10) benefited from the out-of-town scoreboard on Saturday, as all the teams with direct impact on their fate also tied. As a result, Vancouver heads into Sunday in sixth place in the West, which won’t change after the weekend.

Houston tied Dallas 0-0; Minnesota and San Jose finished 1-1; Nashville vs. Seattle was also a scoreless draw; Sporting Kansas City, five points back of Vancouver, was thumped 4-1 by first-place St. Louis; and L.A. Galaxy kept Portland from passing Vancouver by holding them to a 2-2 draw.

LAFC and RSL play Sunday, and one of those teams will increase their points lead over Vancouver, as both are above the Caps in the standings.

DYNAMIC DUO

Tosaint Ricketts called them Batman and Robin. But between Brian White and Ryan Gauld, who is Batman, and who is Robin?

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“I think we’re both good with whatever you guys want to choose. Whatever helps the team win,” White said with a smile after Saturday’s game.

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Social media consensus says White is Batman to Gauld’s Robin, mostly because he’s taller. But what does that make Jake Nerwinski, White’s BFF who visits Vancouver with St. Louis on Wednesday? (The Joker is the leading answer on Twitter).

So much for the jokes. But the two attackers are a serious threat in MLS.

White had the game’s opening goal, turning in a Gauld cross two minutes into the game. He also drew the penalty that Gauld converted in the 57th minute.

The two players are have the most goal contributions of any duo in the league. White’s 14 goals — one off the Golden Boot Lead — and Gauld’s matching 11 goals/11 assists is the league’s gold standard. White’s eight headed goals is most in MLS, and he’s the league’s top American-born goal-scorer.

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“We build the team around the fact that in order to enhance this partnership, we did everything in order to take off the weight of a defensive work from them sometimes, and make them play as close as we can to each other. Make them play as close to the goal as we can, and they’ve paid that back big,” said Sartini. “They’re very important but also they know that the team has been very important for their success.”

SNAKE BITTEN AND SOFT

Tristan Blackmon might want to burn some incense, find some magic crystals, sprinkle himself with holy water, or maybe get a First Nations elder to smudge his condo — anything to rid himself of the bad luck that plagued him Saturday.

On DC’s opening goal, the Caps centreback slipped as Yohei Takaoka passed him the ball. The visitors pounced on the loose ball, and a quick 1-2-tap-in later, the 11th minute equalizer was in the back of the net, courtesy of Christian Benteke.

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On United’s second goal, a deflected cross looped to the top of the box, where Mateusz Klich unleashed a volley that skimmed off Blackmon’s back and in the corner past Takaoka.

“I don’t want to say we’ve been unlucky because luck doesn’t exist at the end. It’s about us,” said Sartini. “We need to deserve to be lucky. And today we didn’t.”

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The two goals stuck in Sartini’s craw, because they were both so unnecessary and cancelled out two Caps’ leads. The slip on the opening goal was understandable, but the failure to clear the ball on the second aggravated the Caps coach.

“I use same term that they used in in Salt Lake — we’ve been soft,” he said. “And guys, if you’re soft like this, it’s hard to win playoff games — and this today was a playoff game.

“We need to be stronger — better. If you are soft defensively, then it’s very hard offensively.

“… It’s very hard to score even if you have four chances. And so it shouldn’t be easy to score for the other team. Unfortunately we made that easy with a couple of moments.”

FAMILIAR FACES

“It’s nostalgia week!” a Whitecaps staffer joked before the game.

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There was Robinson, making his first return to B.C. Place since coming back to MLS from A-League exile in the preseason.

Cristian Dajome had been traded away in April to find a fresh start, and Hurtado — E-Money or Rufio, as Caps fans would remember from his time here (2013-18) — also made the trip with United.

Before the game, current Caps Sam Adekugbe and Russell Teibert shared an embrace with Robbo at midfield, and were joined by Hurtado. A few minutes later, the Jumbotron played a nice vignette highlighting their contributions to the Whitecaps when they were here, and Robinson gave a sheepish acknowledgement as he ran his team through their warm-ups.

Only Dajome saw the field — coming in as a 79th minute substitute — as Hurtado didn’t feature Saturday.

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They won’t be the last old friends to visit this week.

Centreback Tim Parker and Nerwinski return to Vancouver with St. Louis City FC on Wednesday. And only a few diehard fans would know that SLCFC’s sporting director, Lutz Pfannenstiel, played for the Whitecaps in 2007, one of the 26 teams he played for in his career. Pfannenstiel is the only player to have played in all six FIFA confederations.

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