Whitecaps eliminated from playoffs with loss to Sporting KC

The Vancouver Whitecaps saw their wild season end with a 3-1 loss to Sporting Kansas City in the first round of the Major League Soccer playoffs on Saturday.

Defender Graham Zusi led Sporting with a goal and an assist, while Nicolas Isimat-Mirin and Khiry Shelton also scored for the home side.

Cristian Dájome had the lone goal for the ‘Caps, converting a penalty kick in the 39th minute.

Kansas City outshot Vancouver 12-6 (5-4 in shots on target), with goalkeeper Tim Melia making three saves. Maxime Crepeau had two stops for the visitors.

WATCH l Sporting KC’s Zusi seals win over Whitecaps with long strike:

Zusi’s long strike seals Sporting’s playoff win over Whitecaps

Graham Zusi’s second-half goal helped propel Sporting Kansas City to a 3-1 win over Vancouver. 1:10

The Whitecaps were making their first playoff appearance in four years after finishing the 2021 regular season sixth in the Western Conference with a 12-9-13 record.

Sporting, the No. 3 seed, will face either the No. 2 Seattle Sounders or No. 7 Real Salt Lake in the second round of the playoffs on Nov. 28.

The ‘Caps got a glimmer of hope in the 86th minute Saturday when striker Lucas Cavallini fired a shot into the back of the Kansas City net from in tight, only to see the offside flag raised moments later.

Vancouver nearly cut its deficit to a single goal in the 69th minute, too, as striker Brian White sent a header down toward the SKC goal but Melia batted the ball away with his fingertips just in time.

Zusi gave the home team a two-goal cushion in the 58th. He unleashed a rocket from outside the top of the box, sending the ball curling as it sailed into the back of the Vancouver net.

It was the veteran defender’s first MLS playoff goal and came in his 19th post-season appearance.

Sporting took a 2-1 lead into the locker room thanks to an injury-time goal from Isimat-Mirin.

Johnny Russell sent a ball swinging into the penalty area from a corner kick and the ‘Caps weren’t able to send the ball out of harm’s way. Instead, it bounced around inside the six-yard box before Isimat-Mirin kneed it in at the 45+3 mark.

Vancouver levelled the score after SKC’s Luis Martins was called for handball in the box. Dajome stepped up to take the kick, looking calm and patient as he waited for his moment, then sending a low ball rolling into the bottom left corner of the net in the 39th minute.

Cristian Dájome tied the game for Vancouver in the 39th minute by converting a penalty kick just minutes before the Whitecaps would concede again. (Charlie Riedel/The Associated Press)

The Colombian was second in scoring for the ‘Caps during the regular season, recording 10 goals and five assists in 33 appearances.

Kansas City opened the scoring in the 17th minute when Zusi sent a cross sailing into Shelton in the box and the American blasted a right-footed shot past the outstretched fingers of the diving Crepeau for his first playoff goal.

Sporting ended the year third in the West with a 17-10-7 record and is in the post-season for the 10th time in 11 seasons.

End of Vancouver’s roller-coaster season

Saturday’s loss follows a roller-coaster season that saw the Whitecaps start the campaign based out of Sandy, Utah, due to pandemic border restrictions.

The club struggled early and fell to the bottom of the Western Conference at the beginning of August. Later that month, ‘Caps head coach Marc Dos Santos was fired and director of methodology Vanni Sartini took over the role on an interim basis.

Vancouver went on a 10-2-10 run to close out the season and clinched a playoff spot with a 1-1 draw against the Sounders on Nov. 7.

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