Kreilach scores late, Vancouver Whitecaps down Colorado Rapids 2-1

The Vancouver Whitecaps know they weren’t at their best Saturday night.

It didn’t matter.

Damir Kreilach scored in injury time, and the ‘Caps stole a 2-1 decision from the Colorado Rapids.

“Obviously a big win for us. We know we didn’t play our best game tonight — we were far from it,” said Whitecaps captain Ryan Gauld, who contributed a pair of assists in the victory. “But after the load of games we’ve had lately, it was nice to end it with three points.”

The ‘Caps (7-5-4) and Rapids (6-7-4) traded goals early in the second half and appeared poised to settle for a draw until Kreilach — who came on as a substitute in the 83rd minute — put a shot through Rapids goalkeeper Zack Steffen for the win.

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“You’re not going to be on top of your game every week,” Gauld said. “To be able to keep at it, to kind of grind it out, it wasn’t the most beautiful last 20, 25 minutes from us, but to be able to just grind it out, all be there for each other, it was a huge boost for the team.”

Colorado looked like it would get a prime opportunity in the 33rd minute after striker Kevin Cabral collided with Mathias Laborda in the penalty area. Referee Michael Venne called for a penalty kick, but after a video review, the call was overturned.

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The visitors then nearly got on the board in first-half injury time when Cabral fired a right-footed shot from the centre of the box. Whitecaps ‘keeper Yohei Takaoka stretched out and got a toe on the ball, sending it just wide to keep the game scoreless heading into the locker rooms.

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The Japanese netminder had two saves on Saturday while Steffen made one for Colorado.

Fans were still filtering back to their seats when Vancouver scored in the 46th minute.

Canadian Ali Ahmed sent the ball to Gauld near the penalty area and the Scottish attacking midfielder dished it off to Berhalter as he darted in. The American leapt up and deflected the ball in past Steffen with his right foot to give the ‘Caps a 1-0 lead.

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The advantage didn’t last long.

Colorado’s Omir Fernandez sent a pass to Djordje Mihailovic alone at the top of the six-yard box and the Rapids’ sniper fired a right-footed shot in to level the score at 1-1 in the 50th minute.

As the final seconds of regulation time ticked down, Gauld fed Kreilach at the top of the six-yard box and he unleashed a shot that hit Steffen before trickling in over the goal line.

It was Kreilach’s second goal of the season and came in his first appearance since suffering a sprained ankle at the end of April.

As he ran toward the sideline, the Croatian striker was mobbed by his teammates.

“Everyone was happy because it’s a very important game,” said Whitecaps head coach Vanni Sartini. “Also, I think Damir embodies a lot the spirit of the team, the leadership of the team, the fact that he put the team ahead. So it’s beautiful that he had this moment of celebration.”

Getting a win will always be more important than playing beautiful soccer, Kreilach said.

“At the end of the day, it counts only three points. And sometimes you, as a team, you have to realize what it is all about — it’s all about to get the three points to move on,” he said.

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“I’m going always to exchange bad game and three points instead of nice game with so many chances and you tie or even lose the game.”

Saturday’s result moved the ‘Caps into fifth spot in Major League Soccer’s congested Western Conference heading into next week’s international break.

“I’m really happy that we got these three points because they put us perfectly when we start again, but they also give us more clarity in what we need to work on,” Sartini said.

Both sides will return to action on June 15 when the Whitecaps visit the New England Revolution and the Rapids host Austin FC.

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