VANCOUVER — Frank Lampard, David Villa and Andrea Pirlo were the focus ahead of New York City FC’s game against the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday night. Afterwards, all anyone was talking about was referee Ricardo Salazar.
Villa scored a penalty deep in stoppage time after Vancouver captain Pedro Morales tied the game on another penalty in the 88th minute as New York City downed the Whitecaps 2-1 in an edge-of-your-seat encounter.
There appeared to be minimal contact — if any — between New York City defender Angelino on Vancouver’s Kendall Waston to set up Morales’ goal, and Whitecaps midfielder Matias Laba seemed to win the ball cleanly off Lampard on the edge of the 18-yard box at the other end on Villa’s clincher.
“I think it was two non-penalties,” said Lampard, who scored from open play in the first half. “I’ll be fair to the ref now because I was ready to be negative about him after he gave their one, but it’s not an easy job. I think he made a mistake with their one, and mine wasn’t a penalty either.
“I suppose it levels itself out, maybe not in the right way, but I’m sure the referee didn’t mean to get them wrong. At least we can say its levelled out.”
New York City head coach Jason Kreis, who went from despair to elation in a wild seven-minute stretch that kept his team’s Eastern Conference playoff hopes alive, could finally exhale afterwards.
“Mania. Pure mania,” said Kreis. “I honestly feel that both penalty kick decisions were very poor.”
Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson mostly bit his tongue when asked his view of Laba’s tackle on Lampard.
“He’s got the ball. I think everyone in the stadium can see it. I don’t know if it’s a makeup call or whatever,” said the coach, before adding later: “The call at the end is … crazy.”
Villa sent Whitecaps goalkeeper David Ousted the wrong way for his 17th of the season as New York (10-14-7) won its third straight game after Vancouver wasted a number of chances in front of Josh Saunders with the visitors throwing players forward in a desperate attempt to get the three points.
“It keeps our hopes alive,” said Lampard. “We’re in a must-win situation now for the rest of the season.”
Lampard, Pirlo and Villa — global superstars who have committed to big-money deals with New York City in the club’s inaugural season — showed their class throughout the night.
A former Chelsea and England midfielder, Lampard took a low cross from Angelino in the 29th minute after a great initial ball from Pirlo, firing a one-timed shot past Ousted for his second goal in MLS.
There was a group of Chelsea supporters with a banner in one of the corners at B.C. Place Stadium, while Lampard, Pirlo and Villa jerseys dotted the sellout crowd of 21,000.
Vancouver (15-12-3), which is in a battle for first overall with the regular season winding down, sits a point ahead of FC Dallas and the Los Angeles Galaxy for top spot in the West. Dallas and L.A., each with a game in hand on the Whitecaps, play Sunday.
“It’s devastating,” said Ousted. “At this point in the season losing it like that is definitely tough.”
The Whitecaps were coming off a 3-0 home loss to the Seattle Sounders in MLS last weekend, and fell to the same team by the same score on the road on Wednesday with a youthful squad in a game that ended Vancouver’s CONCACAF Champions League hopes.
Meanwhile, New York City seems to be coming together with the 37-year-old Lampard, 36-year-old Pirlo and 33-year-old Villa — who will make a combined US$14 million this season — all healthy and available.
“Vancouver have had a strong season and it’s big for us,” said Lampard. “It keeps our hopes alive.”
Notes: Morales’ goal was his sixth of 2015 and came after he was subbed on in the 67th minute. … Vancouver’s next match is Oct. 3 at the San Jose Earthquakes.
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press