A strong first half showing from Montreal Impact and a horrific defensive display from Vancouver Whitecaps put the home side in the ascendancy in their Canadian Championship semi-final second leg match up at Stade Saputo, and once they got there, there was no looking back.
Two Ignacio Piatti penalties in the space of eight minutes set Montreal on their way, and when Blerim Dzemaili added a third seven minutes before half time, it looked lights out for Vancouver.
But the Whitecaps fought back and Alphonso Davies gave them hope just before the hour mark, only for Anthony Jackson-Hamal to extinguish it again two minutes later. Kyle Greig re-lit it with a 77th minute header but Vancouver couldn’t find another, going down to a 4-2 defeat on the night, and a 5-4 on aggregate.
When the starting line-ups came out there already looked to be a big gulf in class and quality, with Montreal bringing Ignacio Piatti and Marco Donadel in to theirs for the home leg.
Vancouver made two changes from the team that got the 2-1 lead in last week’s first leg, bringing in Tim Parker to shore up the backline, at the expense of Sem de Wit, and moving to a flat back four and the more familiar 4-2-3-1 formation, after last week’s 3-4-2-1 experiment.
The other change came in attack with last week scorer and assister Alphonso Davies dropping to the bench in favour of Kyle Greig leading the attack, with Brek Shea move to his more familiar left wing role.
Vancouver nearly stunned Montreal early when Mauro Rosales played in Nicolas Mezquida who took a slightly heavy touch and fired over from close in after just 47 seconds.
The Uruguayan was busy in the early stages and had a dipping long range effort fly over in the 9th minute as the ‘Caps held their own in the early going.
A minute later though Mezquida was on the end of a horrific two footed tackle, that was worthy of a red card, but didn’t even get a free kick awarded, and it was a challenge that forced him to leave the game at the half with a high ankle sprain.
The game had gotten a little scrappy but it burst into life ten minutes later when Donadel played in Jackson-Hamal and as the Canadian tried to round Spencer Richey, the ‘Caps keeper brought him down and the referee had the easy decision of pointing to the spot.
Piatti stepped up and buried it with ease, sending the Montreal bellends into celebrations.
Jackson-Hamal nearly made it a quick second in the 23rd minute when he swivelled in the box and shot across goal but just past the far post.
And Vancouver’s night quickly went from difficult to disastrous when they gave up a second penalty in the 27th minute when Mauro Rosales brought down Piatti in the box. The Argentine picked himself up and just hit it past Richey this time to make it 2-0.
But one goal from Vancouver brought them right back level on aggregate, so it wasn’t all doom and gloom just yet.
That came in the 39th minute when the ‘Caps failed to clear the danger in their box and Dzemaili hammered in the killer third.
The ‘Caps managed to hold on to see out the rest of the half without conceding any more but the Impact continued where they left off at the start of the second, with Dzemaili forcing a 51st sprawling save from Richey.
Then, from nowhere, the ‘Caps got themselves back in the tie when half time sub Davies, turned in the box and fired low past Maxime Crepeau in the 59th minute to pull Vancouver back to within one goal of advancing.
But the visitor’s joy was to last less than two minutes before Jackson-Hamal restored Montreal’s three goal lead on the night, and two on aggregate, burying high into the net.
Richey pulled off a great leg save from Jackson-Hamal again in the 75th minute, and a follow up from Piatti, as Montreal moved the ball around for fun.
And it looked like they might have been crucial stops as the ‘Caps pulled themselves back to within one on aggregate two minutes later when Greig rose to brilliantly flick home a Cristian Techera cross.
Piatti nearly put the game to bed with seven minutes remaining with a great run through the ‘Caps, only to be denied by Richey.
Vancouver tried to push hard for the goal that would see them through, but Montreal managed the final minutes well, with the closest the ‘Caps came was a last ditch Greig header towards goal that was cleared by the Impact before Parker could put it away.
So a narrow defeat in the end, and a battling second half fightback, but that shouldn’t be allowed to overshadow what was a terrible first half performance, with some abysmal Whitecaps defending.
You also have to question Carl Robinson’s team selection, both starters and bench. You pretty much knew he would go with much of the same line-up as last week, but you also knew that Montreal would be going for it and pulling out their big guns.
Did the Impact simply want it more? Do they value the competition more? No-one within the Vancouver ranks will ever say that, but it looked pretty clear out there, especially in the first half.
No Champions League football again next year. Maybe a blessing, but sad none the less.
FINAL SCORE: Montreal Impact 4 – 2 Vancouver Whitecaps [Montreal win 5-4 on aggregate]
MONTREAL: Maxime Crepeau; Chris Duvall, Laurent Ciman, Kyle Fisher, Ambroise Oyongo; Blerim Dzemaili (Daniel Lovitz 85), Marco Donadel, Patrice Bernier (Adrian Arregui 72); Dominic Oduro, Anthony Jackson-Hamal (Nick DePuy 76), Ignacio Piatti [Subs Not Used: Evan Bush, Hassoun Camara, Victor Cabrera, David Choiniere]
VANCOUVER: Spencer Richey; Jake Nerwinski, Cole Seiler, Tim Parker, Marcel de Jong; Russell Teibert, Ben McKendry (Cristian Techera 68), Mauro Rosales (Marco Bustos 85), Nicolas Mezquida (Alphonso Davies 46), Brek Shea; Kyle Greig [Subs Not Used: Sean Melvin, Sem de Wit, David Norman, Gloire Amanda]
Thoughts on the first half performance:
“I actually thought we played very well for the first 20 minutes. I thought we were on top. We missed a chance literally in the first minute of the game, which was a good chance for us. I thought we’d need to score in the game and it’s like buses. You wait for one and then two come along in five minutes with two penalty decisions. I think the first one’s a penalty. The second one, it’s 50/50. I might have run over a black cat. At the moment every penalty given against me seems to be contentious. Then the third one came along, so I said to them at half time, it’s easy to go under, but let’s not go under. Let’s show how good we are, or can be, and let’s go and try and win that second half, and we did, and we kept fighting. Which is really positive for these young players because a lot of them haven’t played too many games.”
On Alphonso Davies not starting:
“The kid’s got a huge upside, we know that. It’s important that we just take our time with him. He’s been in and out of the team. I leave him out for certain reasons and the press ask me why. He’s 16. He still plays Playstation. He still goes to malls. He still does all these things. but his curfew’s 10 o’clock. It’s important he does his schoolwork or he doesn’t play. It’s important I manage him and you see today when he comes on for 45 minutes. I was only going to play him 30 minutes, but an injury fast tracked that. When he comes on, he’s exciting, he’s dangerous. He’s an exciting prospect.”
General take on the game:
“It was a great game really. Both games have been really enjoyable. From my side, and I’m sure Mauro will speak about his side, but from my side, we’ve got some valuable minutes from players who haven’t been playing in Major League Soccer and the travel this week has been difficult, which is why I left nine first team boys at home. but make no doubt about it, we came here to try and win. I think you saw that from the first 20 minutes that we played. We thought we could try and get an early goal and make it uncomfortable for them. I think we did at times, barring the 20 minutes in the first half where the quality came through. We know they’ve got good players. They’re got experience. They’re managing the clock at the end. I wish Montreal all the best in the final, but there’s always a few twists and turns in this tournament, and I’ve seen a lot of them.”
What have Spencer Richey’s performances shown over these two games:
“That he wants to become a MLS keeper. That he’s got a calm head on him. He works hard every day. It’s a big decision to put him in ahead of my number two goalkeeper Paolo Tornaghi, but with young players, you have to make decisions on them, which is why a number of them played today. They all want to play. Players want to play. And they all talk about playing, but very rarely do they get opportunities, and I use this tournament as a platform for them to get opportunities. I have to make decisions on players, and it’s easy to make decisions when they’ve played in big, big games and it certainly was a big game and a great atmosphere today… Spencer’s done himself a lot of good over the two legs, but he’s disappointed in there, he’s conceded four goals. But he’s also come up with one or two big saves in the last ten minutes because we were trying to chase that third goal.”
On Vancouver’s late push:
“There were some nervous moments at the end, for sure. I think you’ve got to learn from them but we’ve also got to live those moments. You’ve got to live those moments and come out of there by holding on, and that’s how you grow as a team. And for me, I think that’s a positive.”
On being able to field a strong line-up after having weekend off:
“We knew we were going to leave some guys behind when we flew out to Vancouver and do enough to make it close enough so that we could win it back home. And we felt that also the four days in between the New York game is enough to recover… For sure [Vancouver] had to mix the line-up to travel having played Saturday. But in the end, that’s the schedule, and it worked out for us. And now we advance.”