One thing that wasn't clear following Saturday's 1-1 draw between the Whitecaps and RSL was what sparked the brouhaha shortly after Darren Mattocks converted the dubious penalty for Vancouver. Only those involved will know for sure, but something really got under the skin of the home side, beyond just the referee's decision.
It was the second time this season the Whitecaps held Real Salt Lake to a single point at their fortress in the Utah mountains.
In the April encounter, remarkably late goals by Nicholas Mezquida and Sebastian Fernandez overturned an early two-goal RSL advantage, leaving the MLS Cup-finalists strewn about the pitch, flat-out in disbelief. An obviously frustrated Kyle Beckerman was overheard telling Mattocks, “Good luck making the playoffs.”
I wondered if the prospects of taking only one of a possible six points at home against a cocky group of 20-somethings was too much to bear for last year's Western champs. Perhaps, that's why the pot finally boiled over and, not long after, Joao Plata made sure RSL got something from the game. Robbie Findley came within inches of winning it.
Still, taking just two of six points against the Whitecaps at home would be considered a setback by the veteran team, one that has never lost to Vancouver at Rio Tinto Stadium. Maybe the frustration was amplified by the fact that Vancouver had played in Toronto on Wednesday and rotated their squad with a mix of players who hadn't seen starting minutes in quite some time.
“Squad guys, stepping in and understanding their roles and the system almost immediately? Who do they think they are? Us!?”
The Claret and Cobalts have been a model franchise since joining MLS in 2005. They hired a young coach and former MLS vet in Jason Kreis, who envisioned and executed a style of play that would become the club's DNA.
General Manager Garth Lagerway made prudent, but meaningful, signings without blowing the bank on high-profile foreigners. Avaro Saborio, Javier Morales, Kyle Beckerman, Nat Borchers, Will Johnson, Jaimeson Olave and Nick Rimando - an enviable foundation that was then augmented by role players who fit Kreis's system. Lagerway also wasn't afraid to move players on as they reached peak value. He freed up roughly $1 million of cap space prior to last season by shipping out Johnson, Olave and Espindola. RSL came within a penalty shootout of putting a second star on their badge last December.
Carl Robinson's club-building philosophy isn't drastically different from RSL's. He's referenced their formula often and the grand vision includes locking down his young core long term. That group includes Koffie, Tiebert, Laba, Leveron, Mattocks, Manneh and Hurtado. Despite their youth, the MLS minutes among them are starting to accumulate and, when this season concludes, roughly $1 million of expiring contracts could come off the books.
Supporters can be excused for wanting success now, but if the Whitecaps could have the kind of long-term prosperity that Salt Lake has enjoyed, a team that is perpetually in the championship discussion, well, fans would be almost certainly be willing to wait a bit longer.
RSL went from expansion team to MLS Cup-winner in only four years. After some early hiccups, the Whitecaps, now in their fourth MLS season, seem to have found their young visionary. If he sees out his plan, perhaps, one day they, too, will be desperately disappointed by collecting a mere two out of six points at home from a Western rival.
So when an agitated Javier Morales got in the face of countryman Mattias Laba in Saturday's midfield dust-up, was he looking at a younger version of himself?
Carl Robinson sure hopes so.