Late Erik Hurtado goal keeps Vancouver Whitecaps' slim playoff hopes alive
Colorado Rapids right winger Marlon Hairston (left, in yellow and blue) pokes the ball past Vancouver Whitecaps goalkeeper David Ousted (right, in green) in the Rapid's 3-3 draw against the Whitecaps on Saturday. Photo credit: Jennifer Buchanan/USA T

Erik Hurtado's goal in the last minute of second half stoppage time earned the Vancouver Whitecaps a point in a 3-3 draw against the Colorado Rapids at BC Place in Vancouver, British Columbia on Saturday. With the draw, the Caps stayed in eighth place in the Western Conference. Although the Caps battled back to rescue a point, they will probably be eliminated from playoff contention by the end of this weekend. The Rapids rose to second place in the Western Conference but will feel that Saturday's draw was a missed opportunity to move up the Western Conference table. 

Desperate Whitecaps show their mettle with season on the line 

The Colorado Rapids took advantage of some poor goalkeeping to take an early lead. In the eighth minute, Rapids midfielder Sam Cronin floated a long ball to Rapids right winger Marlon Hairston. Caps goalkeeper David Ousted charged off his line to intercept the pass but was instead caught in "no man's land." Hairston took a touch around Ousted and was taken down by the Danish goalkeeper, but center referee Baldomero Toledo let play continue and Rapids center forward Dominique Badji controlled the loose ball and passed it into an empty net. 

The Rapids dominated possession in the first half and almost doubled their lead in the 14th minute. Rapids right back Eric Miller got on the end of left winger Shkelzen Gashi's corner kick but saw his header come back off the crossbar. In the 17th minute, Caps' midfielder Alphonso Davies, who made his Major League Soccer debut on Saturday, dribbled the ball from his own half to the edge of the Rapids' 18-yard-box but fired the ball high and wide of Rapids goalkeeper Tim Howard's goal. The Caps offense did not trouble 'keeper Howard in the first half and the Rapids went into the halftime break up 1-0. 

The Caps started the second half on the front foot and tied the game in the 51st minute. Right midfielder Christian Bolanos swung a corner kick into the Rapids' six-yard-box and Caps center back Kendall Waston nodded the ball past Rapids 'keeper Howard. It was Waston's third goal of the season and gave Caps' supporters hope that the Caps would turn the game--and their season--around. 

But just five minutes after scoring, Waston went from hero to villain. Rapids left winger Gashi chipped the ball over the Caps back line and forward Badji collected Gashi's pass and raced through on goal. Badji touched the ball past Waston and was brought down by the Caps center back as he entered the Caps' box. Center referee Toledo pointed to the spot and showed Waston a red card for denial of a goal-scoring opportunity. Rapids winger Gashi compounded the Caps' misery by coolly converting the ensuing penalty kick to give the visiting Rapids a 2-1 lead. 

Yet the Caps didn't wilt after going down a second time and instead fought back to tie the game. In the 70th minute, Caps forward Erik Hurtado dribbled into the Rapids' box and touched the ball to teammate Giles Barnes. Barnes dribbled to the end line and crossed the ball to Caps midfielder Pedro Morales, who redirected Barnes' pass past Howard to tie the game at two. 

But just five minutes after tying the game, the Caps fell behind for the third time. Caps left back Jordan Harvey fouled right winger Hairston at the edge of the Caps box and Gashi stepped up to take the free-kick. The Albania international curved the ball around the wall and the ball flew past Ousted and into the top-left corner of the goal. It was a world-class free kick and Gashi's seventh goal of the season, giving the Rapids a 3-2 lead. 

The Rapids thought they had secured three points after goalkeeper Howard batted substitute Nicolas Mezquida's long-range strike away in the 90th minute, but the Caps would get the last laugh. In the 93rd minute, the Rapids failed to clear a long ball into their box and the ball fell to Caps left back Harvey. Harvey crossed the ball towards the six-yard-box and forward Hurtado headed Harvey's pass in off the underside of the crossbar. When the final whistle sounded, just seconds after Hurtado's equalizer, neither team celebrated as each team had to settle for a point. 

Men of the match

Colorado Rapids: Shkelzen Gashi

The Rapids' Designated Player scored two picturesque, set-piece goals on Saturday. The 28-year-old first scored via a penalty kick in the 57th minute before curling a world-class free kick past Caps goalkeeper Ousted in the 75th minute. Besides scoring a brace, Gashi also put teammate Badji through on goal in the 56th minute, which led to Caps center back Waston's dismissal and Gashi's penalty kick goal. Gashi also finished with two key passes, seven tackles, and three shots on goal. The Rapids will need their Albanian DP to continue to score down the stretch as they look to finish at the top of the Western Conference table. 

Colorado Rapids winger Shkelzen Gashi (right, in yellow and blue) scored two classy goals on Saturday. Photo credit: Jennifer Buchanan/USA Today Sports
Colorado Rapids winger Shkelzen Gashi (right, in yellow and blue) scored two classy goals on Saturday. Photo credit: Jennifer Buchanan/USA Today Sports

Vancouver Whitecaps: Erik Hurtado

Caps forward Erik Hurtado played arguably his best game of the season on Saturday. The 25-year-old has endured a tough 2016 and has missed scoring chance after chance over the course of his Whitecaps career, but he silenced some of his critics after Saturday's display. Hurtado's smart run and layoff led to the Caps second goal and he then headed the ball in off the underside of the crossbar to salvage a point for the 10-men Caps. Hurtado also finished with one key pass, four tackles, and one successful dribble. If he can continue to play well down the stretch, he could be an asset for the Caps in 2017 and beyond. 

What's next for both teams

The Caps will play their penultimate 2016-17 CONCACAF Champions League group stage match when they take on Trinidad & Tobago club Central FC on Wednesday, September 28. The Caps have already clinched a spot in the Champions League knockout round and will likely field a team of mostly second-stringers on Wednesday. The Caps will then host the Seattle Sounders on Sunday, October 2, at 8:00 PM ET. The Caps must beat the Sounders next Sunday to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. 

The Rapids will host the Portland Timbers next Saturday, October 1, at 9:00 PM ET. The Timbers are a pitiful (win-loss-draw) 0-9-6 on the road this season, which bodes well for the host Rapids, who are still undefeated at home in 2016. If the Rapids beat the Timbers next Saturday, they will move within two points of first-place FC Dallas with a game in hand. If the Rapids lose to or tie the Timbers, they will lose ground to FC Dallas and may even drop to third place in the West. Either way, it should be an entertaining match between the Rapids and the Timbers next weekend. 

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