Fernández scores stoppage-time stunner as ‘Caps battle back to earn 2-2 draw with Real Salt Lake

Whitecaps win RSLSANDYUTAH – A resilient Vancouver Whitecaps FC (2W-2L-4D) side battled back from an early two-goal deficit to claim a 2-2 draw with Real Salt Lake (4W-0L-5D) Saturdayevening at Rio Tinto Stadium.

After surrendering two goals in the first 10 minutes of the match, the ‘Caps hung around and clawed their way back into the match late thanks to a pair of second-half substitutes.

Uruguayan Nicolás Mezquida scored his first Major League Soccer goal in the 86th minute and countrymate Sebastián Fernández stunned RSL with a long-range strike in stoppage time to help the Blue and White come away with a gutsy point for the second straight week.

Whitecaps FC head coach Carl Robinson made two changes to his starting lineup on Saturday after last weekend’s 2-2 draw with LA Galaxy. Centre back Johnny Leverón and wingerKekuta Manneh drew into the squad, replacing Jay DeMerit and Pedro Morales (lower back).

Things didn’t start as planned for the Blue and White, however, as undefeated RSL showed their class from the opening whistle. It was a dream start for the home side, who opened the scoring in the second minute of play.

Joao Plata got things going for RSL in his first start since returning from a hamstring injury. A Luke Mulholland dummy allowed Plata to break into the left side of the box and the crafty striker hit a low strike cross the face of goal to give the Royals an early advantage.

Plata’s strike partner Alvaro Saborio got in on the action in the ninth minute. Again it was RSL’s build-up play in midfield that started the sequence. After Ned Grabavoy was tackled at the top of the box, the ball trickled to Saborio and he made no mistake with a quality left-footed strike into the top left corner.

After a few more RSL chances – midfielder Kyle Beckerman was stymied by Whitecaps FC goalkeeper David Ousted in the 16th minute – the ‘Caps began to settle into the match around the 20-minute mark.

Fullback Jordan Harvey, who looked lively along the left flank throughout the match, was involved in both of Vancouver’s first-half chances.

In the 26th minute, he sent in a cross that was deflected to Manneh, but the Gambian was dispossessed before he could get off a shot. And in the 36th minute, RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando tipped a Harvey header just over the goal.

At the other end of the park, Ousted came up with a big stop on Plata in first-half stoppage time to keep the score 2-0 heading into the half.

The visiting ‘Caps got off to a much better start in the second half, as they began to use their width and find space along the flanks.

Robinson used his full allotment of the subs in the second half, bringing on Fernández and Erik Hurtado in the 61st minute and then Mezquida in the 67th. Accordingly, a more urgent-looking Whitecaps FC side continued to push forward and create opportunities.

With their backs against the wall, the ‘Caps finally got their breakthrough in the 86th minute. That’s when Mezquida flicked home a rebound from in tight after Rimando saved the initial shot off Darren Mattocks, who started the play with a great run down the left side of the box.

Then, moments before the final whistle, Fernández completed the comeback with a wonder strike from 35 yards to cap off an inspired second-half performance. This was the second straight week Whitecaps FC had come back late to earn a 2-2 draw against one of the toughest teams in MLS.