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Gauld's penalty shot lifts Whitecaps to 2-1 victory over Real Salt Lake

VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Whitecaps showed their "never say die" attitude once again Saturday, says goalkeeper Cody Cropper.
Real Salt Lake's Sergio Cordova, left, and Vancouver Whitecaps' Erik Godoy vie for the ball during the first half of an MLS soccer game in Vancouver, on Saturday, June 4, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Whitecaps showed their "never say die" attitude once again Saturday, says goalkeeper Cody Cropper.

After battling Real Salt Lake through a tough second half, the 'Caps appeared poised to accept a 1-1 draw until defender Luis Martins was cut down while streaking into the penalty area in injury time. 

Vancouver was awarded a penalty shot and attacking midfielder Ryan Gauld sent a ball soaring into the top-right corner of the RSL net, clinching a 2-1 victory three minutes into added time.

"This team has an incredible belief," Cropper said. "And I think that that's showing. 

"We have great team camaraderie. Doesn't matter if we're down a goal. If we're up a goal if we, you know, give away a bad goal. This team has an ability to respond and we're going to continue to stay together, to stick together and carry this momentum forward."

The result moved the 'Caps (5-7-2) to a single point below the playoff bar in Major League Soccer's Western Conference. 

A month ago, the club was cemented at the bottom of the league's standings. 

"We pushed a lot," head coach Vanni Sartini said of his team's recent run. "I want to remind you that we did 13 points in the last six games. So we did very good. The problem is we started (the season) very bad."

Saturday's game turned in the 'Caps favour, Sartini said, with the club collecting all three points despite a disappointing second half. 

"Let's be completely honest, we didn't deserve to win," the coach said "Salt Lake, they go away now today with a bitter taste in their mouth because it is a good game. But it's a testament of how the group is really fighting and working at the moment."

Salt Lake controlled 59.6 per cent of the possession across the first half but didn't get a single shot on target. Vancouver outshot the visitors 4-2 across the first 45 minutes of the game and 2-0 in shots on target.

They went into halftime up 1-0 thanks to a well-executed throw-in that opened the scoring in the 31st minute. 

Jake Nerwinski — wearing the captain's armband in place of the injured Russell Teibert (eye) — sent a long toss into the box where 'Caps defender Florian Jungwirth headed it to the front of the net. 

Veselinovic got a right foot on the ball, sending it bouncing past the outstretched hands of the diving RSL goalkeeper Zac MacMath for his first goal of the year.

"I had some feeling, honestly, it was going to bounce there because even before that there was one good flip before that I almost got on it," the defender said. "But I didn't and now I got to it and I'm so happy I scored."

Cropper put in a big performance for the 'Caps, stopping three of four on-target shots.

The netminder preserved Vancouver's lead in the 52nd minute, stopping a point-blank header by Sergio Cordova. 

"For me that save was pure reaction. It's one that is instinctual," Cropper said. "I think every goalkeeper has a couple of those saves at some point in their career. And I can look at that one and say 'That was a great save.' At the time, it kept my team in the game."

Cropper's teammates couldn't get the ball out of their own end, however, and it ended up on Meram's foot. 

The veteran winger sent a rolling right-footed shot into the bottom left corner of the net for the equalizer. The goal was Meram's second of the season.

Less than 10 minutes later, Cropper was pressed into action yet again. 

First, he swatted a long shot by Jefferson Savarino out of harm's way in the 61st minute, then dove to deny substitute Cordova on a point-blank attempt from the side of the net.

MacMath stopped two of four on-target shots for Salt Lake.

Tosaint Ricketts appeared to beat the RSL goalie and give Vancouver a 2-1 lead in the 83rd minute with a sliding shot from the top of the box but the goal was ruled offside. 

The 'Caps tested MacMath early. Just four minutes in, Cristian Gutierrez sent a long cross in and Sebastian Berhalter blasted a shot from the top of the box, forcing MacMath — a former 'Caps goalie — to make a leaping save.

Maikel Chang had RSL's best chance of the first half when he sailed a shot well over the crossbar following some chaotic 'Caps play in the penalty area. 

The Whitecaps will be back in action on June 14 when they face the Sounders in Seattle. Salt Lake will host the San Jose Earthquakes on June 18.

FOOT NOTES: Midfielder Caio Alexandre played his first game at B.C. Place. The 23-year-old Brazilian signed with the Whitecaps in March 2021. … The game was the only one on MLS's weekend schedule due to an international break. … The 'Caps hosted 17,134 fans at their second annual Indigenous Peoples match.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 4, 2022. 

Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press