VANCOUVER — Their dreams of the playoffs may be dashed but coach Marc Dos Santos says there's still a lot on the line for the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Before hosting the Houston Dynamo (10-16-4) this week, Dos Santos said he talked to his squad about needing to get a result for their teammates and for the fans who've persevered through a dismal season.
The 'Caps (7-15-9) responded to the call with a gutsy 2-1 victory over the Dynamo on Saturday.
"We have a lot to play for," Dos Santos said after the win. "And what I like is that even with a team that's already eliminated from playoffs, you didn't feel that on the field that there's guys on the field giving up and not trying. So that's the right mentality to have."
Whitecaps striker Fredy Montero came off the bench to play hero on Saturday, scoring in the 90th minute to snap Vancouver's three-game losing skid.
It was an important goal for the Colombian striker who's struggled to find his former offensive power since returning to Major League Soccer this season. The tally was Montero's seventh of the year and his first since June 22.
"He came in, he played his part. That's all a teammate does, that's what a professional does," Dos Santos said of the performance.
Vancouver's first goal of the night came in the 54th minute when Hwang In-beom sent a rocket into the bottom left side of the net on a penalty kick.
The goal was the South Korean midfielder's third of the year.
Minutes earlier, 'Caps striker Yordy Reyna had taken a free kick from outside the Houston box and the ball hit a leaping Manotas in the hand.
Officials on the field called a hand ball on the play but the call went to video review and a second look determined the original call was good.
Video-assisted refereeing has been a point of contention for the 'Caps this season. Saturday marked the 13th time the club has had a call reviewed.
The technology is changing the game, Dos Santos said.
"Am I for VAR? Yes, but limited things," he said. "What's changing is that those goals that when I was a kid, you saw players scoring, taking off their jersey, running in the crowd, now you score and there's always suspense. ... And that's killing the game. It's sad."
After the call and ensuing goal, the Whitecaps appeared to drop back, focusing on defending instead of pushing the play.
The response was normal for a squad that's struggled recently, said defender Scott Sutter.
"I think if you're a team that won five of the last seven games or something like that and you've got that belief and confidence then it's kind of easier to deal with," he said. "I think there's kind of that uncertainty in the team."
Houston put away the equalizer in the 78th minute when Whitecaps 'keeper Zac MacMath dropped to the turf to stop a long ball from Maynor Figueroa.
Prone on the ground, the goalie couldn't control the rebound and Dynamo striker Mauro Mantos popped an easy ball into the net for his club-leading 13th goal of the season.
Despite the concession, MacMath had a solid overall game, making five saves and earning his first win in a Whitecaps jersey.
The performance was no surprise to his teammate, Andy Rose.
"We all have so much belief in Zac," Rose said. "He's an excellent goalkeeper. Especially, I thought, his distribution tonight was excellent. He came up with a huge save at 1-0 at the near post. He was great."
Goalie Joe Willis stopped two-of-four on-target shots for Houston.
Saturday's loss complicates the Dynamo's path to the playoffs. Houston currently has 34 points and sits four spots back of a post-season berth.
The Whitecaps have already been eliminated from playoff contention.
Sutter said the team will continue to fight through their final three games of the year, however.
"It's our profession. We need to work at it," he said. "It's not always easy but at the end of it, there's a lot of pride on the line and everyone wants to win, everyone works hard."
Both the 'Caps and Dynamo are back in action next Saturday. Vancouver will host Columbus Crew SC and Orlando City SC will visit Houston.
NOTES: Jasser Khmiri made the Whitecaps 18 for the first time but did not come off the bench. The Tunisian centreback joined the 'Caps last November and has spent all season rehabbing a knee injury. ... A crowd of 17,382 took in the game at B.C. Place.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press