LOS ANGELES — Coach Marc Dos Santos feels that an "incredible mistake" by the referee changed the game for his Vancouver Whitecaps on Sunday night.
The L.A. Galaxy beat the 'Caps 1-0 thanks to an injury-time goal from Kai Koreniuk.
"It’s heartbreaking. Everybody in the locker room feels that. We deserved to (finish) with at least another point," Dos Santos said after the loss.
The matchup seemed destined to end in a scoreless draw until referee Victor Rivas called Vancouver's Russell Teibert for unsporting behaviour in the 89th minute.
L.A.'s Carlos Harvey had just gone down in a challenge with Teibert, but the 'Caps midfielder adamantly disagreed that the play was a foul.
Still, Rivas showed Teibert the yellow card and awarded the Galaxy a free kick.
A blast from L.A.'s sharpshooter Cristian Pavon went off the crossbar, but the Galaxy kept possession in the 'Caps end. Moments later Kai Koreniuk smashed a ball in from Pavon in stoppage time to snap L.A.'s six-game losing skid.
The 22-year-old midfielder came off the bench just four minutes before he scored.
"It’s just disappointing for me that (call by the referee) essentially leads to a goal," Teibert said. "Instead of one team beating the other, a decision from an official leads to a deciding moment late in a game, late in the game."
The "unfair" call could have big implications in Major League Soccer's tightly contested Western Conference, Teibert added.
The Whitecaps (7-12-0) currently hold the final playoff position, but several teams are battling for post-season berths and the single point that comes with a tie could make the difference at the end of the regular season.
"It’s one of those results that we might be looking back at in a few weeks time saying 'That point could have mattered.' Every point from here on to the end of the season matters," Teibert said.
Sunday marked the Whitecaps fifth game in 16 days and the fatigue showed at times.
Dos Santos said his team could have been sharper offensively at times, and noted that while they controlled 54.6 per cent of possession, they could have create more scoring chances.
"When you play every three days and you travel, it’s normal … that (fatigue) could come in and be a factor. But I still think that we had the chance to win the game," he said.
Galaxy 'keeper Jonathan Klinsmann made five saves to collect his first-ever clean sheet in MLS play on Sunday.
At the other end of the field, Evan Bush was a force in the Vancouver net, stopping four-of-five on-target shots.
His first test came early after 'Caps defender Jake Nerwinski fumbled a header midfield in the sixth minute, allowing Pavon to get the ball.
Pavon went one-on-one with Bush and the 'Caps netminder made a diving, fingertip stop, then quickly bounced back up to make a second save.
Bush felt his team didn't move the ball as quickly as they could have on Sunday and weren't as decisive as they needed to be.
"I think we really needed to be more intelligent about how we killed the game," he said. "We didn't manage it well the last 15 minutes of the game, I would say."
Sunday's result marked the Galaxy's (5-9-3) first win since Sept. 6.
A loss likely would have ended the club's hope for the playoffs and made the congested Western Conference slightly more manageable, Bush said.
"Emotionally, spiritually, I think they were dead in the water," he said. "We concede with two minutes left in the game and give them hope. And that’s unfortunate."
The Whitecaps will now get some respite, with most players heading back to Vancouver for a few days before returning to the team's temporary home in Portland, where they'll host the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday.
Even with Sunday's loss, the 'Caps still have high hopes of going on a playoff run, Bush said.
"We’re still in a position where things are in our hands," he said. "When we come back, we know that there’s some tough games ahead and we’re going to have to be prepared for that. But it’s better to be where we are and fighting for something at this point than just kind of dragging out the season and not really having hope for anything."
NOTES: L.A.'s Perry Kitchen was shown the yellow card in first-half injury time after he bowled over Vancouver's Lucas Cavallini. He will miss next Saturday's game against Los Angeles FC as he serves a suspension for yellow-card accumulation. … The Whitecaps finalized the transfer of Serbian centre back Ranko Veselinovic on Sunday, signing the 21-year-old through 2023. Veselinovic originally joined Vancouver on loan from FK Vojvodina in the Serbian SuperLiga in February.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 18, 2020.