A dazzling first half display from Alphonso Davies saw Vancouver Whitecaps come out of their Canadian Championship semi-final first leg match with Montreal Impact with the slight upper hand after a 2-1 win at BC Place on Wednesday night.
Davies scored and added an assist for Nicolas Mezquida as the ‘Caps headed in to the break seemingly cruising with a 2-0 lead, but the Impact came out all guns blazing in the second half pulling one back from David Choiniere, before hitting the post, missing a penalty, and seeing a stoppage time effort saved off the line by Spencer Richey.
We’ll find out whether it’s the away goal or the penalty miss that will prove to be the most crucial in this tie next week in Montreal.
As expected, Carl Robinson rang the changes, with a completely different starting eleven to that seen in the last five MLS matches. That gave Brek Shea get his first since his injury against Tigres in April, a return to the line-up for Nicolas Mezquida and Mauro Rosales, and WFC2 centre back getting his competitive first team debut.
Montreal started fast, trying to possibly capitalise on some unfamiliarity with the ‘Caps line-up and formation, but Vancouver soon settled and were moving the ball around nicely and breaking quickly.
And the home side took the lead 13 minutes in when Shea crossed low from the right, Mezquida gave it a little helping backheel along the way, and Davies buried it under Maxime Crepeau in the Montreal goal to give Vancouver the 1-0 lead.
Vancouver nearly made it two minutes later when Shea did well to stay onside, powering forward before squaring the ball for Nicolas Mezquida, but his pass was cut out by the Impact defence with the Uruguayan waiting to pounce.
Ben McKendry was next to test Montreal, with Crepeau turning away his fierce shot at the near post for a corner in the 25th minute.
Vancouver doubled their lead in the 33rd minute and once again Davies was the catalyst, running at the Impact defence, before the third man got his foot in to block. The ball broke to Mezquida who rifled it home from just inside the box to make 2-0.
Montreal had their best chance of the first half five minutes before the break when the ball came through to a stretching Impact player but he just couldn’t get anything on it to direct it goalwards.
That was it for the half, and with no changes at the break, Montreal had to play much better in the second 45 minutes if they were to still give themselves a chance in the tie.
They tried to take the game to Vancouver from the restart, with Callum Mallace forcing Spencer Richey into a rare save. Davies responded with a lot shot on Crepeau, after a nice give and go with Shea.
Montreal switched to three up top, forcing Vancouver to switch to a flat back four again at times, pressing the ‘Caps defence hard in search of a crucial away goal. And they got it in the 61st minute when substitute Anthony Jackson-Hamal flicked a long ball back into the path of Choiniere, and the Canadian fired it past Richey to reduce the deficit to one.
The Impact now looked a much different beast from the tame one of the first half and they nearly tied the game up in the 68th minute when Chris Duvall’s long range strike rattled off the left post. The rebound fell to Jackson-Hamal, who miss hit his shot wide left with the goal gaping.
Montreal smelt blood and they were given the chance to pull themselves level when Cole Seiler was adjudged to have handled in the box after a tackle saw him trailing on the ground. It felt harsh but karma was in full force with Spencer Richey saving low to right to keep the ‘Caps lead intact.
And Richey came up huge again four minutes into stoppage time to produce a leg save on the line to deny Bernier once more and send Vancouver into the second leg with the narrowest margins.
The ‘Caps will feel confident they can score at least one on the road, but this tie is very delicately poised as Vancouver look to make it to their sixth Canadian Championship final in the past seven seasons.
FINAL SCORE: Vancouver Whitecaps 2 – 1 Montreal Impact
VANCOUVER: Spencer Richey; Cole Seiler, Sem de Wit, Marcel de Jong; Jake Nerwinski, Ben McKendry, Russell Teibert, Alphonso Davies (Deklan Wynne 71); Mauro Rosales (Kyle Greig 80), Nicolás Mezquida (Marco Bustos 70); Brek Shea [Subs Not Used: Sean Melvin, David Norman Jr, Gloire Amanda, Matthew Baldisimo]
Maxime Crépeau; Daniel Lovitz, Hassoun Camara (Wandrille Lefevre 77), Laurent Ciman, Chris Duvall; Callum Mallace (Patrice Bernier 55), Hernán Bernardello, Adrián Arregui (Anthony Jackson-Hamel 55); David Choinière, Dominic Oduro, Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla [Subs Not Used: Eric Kronberg, Michael Salazar, Nick DePuy, Shamit Shome]
Thoughts on the match:
“I’m really proud of them. You make eleven changes to a squad, it’s always going to be difficult. But I thought they were really, really focused. [In] the first half, some excellent football, wonderful football, two goals. Two halves are never the same, you know that in football. So we were prepared, and they dealt with it very well after conceding. They’re a good team, they’ve got good players, they’ve got players who played over the weekend. But some of these guys stepped up today and give me some nice issues.”
On Alphonso Davies’ performance:
“He was one of a number of players that’d done very found. He found space, he was direct, he was positive, he gets his goal. Nico gets his goal from him being positive as well. And he was a threat. Different role for him, but it was something we tried, and if you don’t try players in these games – we want to win these games, make no doubt about it – but if we don’t try and give him opportunities then you’ll never get to see them because Major League Soccer is very tough and every point is very crucial. So I wanted to try a different formation, which I did, and it worked excellently in the first half and they defended very well in the second. And individuals also done very well.”
On Spencer Richey:
“Listen, [goalkeeper coach Stewart Kerr] just said to me, ‘he makes saves, the boy makes saves’. My point to that was, isn’t that what the goalkeeper’s supposed to do? But he comes up with big saves, two key moments. Obviously the penalty save, I think it’s a penalty, so he has to deal with it and he did, he guesses right. And the save in the last minute. I’m glad he’d come up with two big saves, because the amount of work the group put in today, they deserved to win that game in front of our crowd. And it sets up the second leg very nicely.”
On Sem de Wit:
“I thought he did very well. I thought he defended very well. I thought he put himself in very good positions. Certain defenders have certain characteristics, and we know Sem’s an organizer and a talker. And when you play in a three, rather than a two, it becomes slightly different. He handled it very well. I put Marcel up to the left of him because Marcel’s got experience, I think that little niche for him today was very good as well. So he was able to cover Sem. He made some decisions wrong, as did all the players, but he’d done a lot of things right. He should be very proud of his performance because it’s not easy. You want to play at that level, you want to test yourself. When you get that chance, you’ve got to make sure it doesn’t pass you by and Sem certainly didn’t do that.”
On calling up USL players:
“There’s a number of USL players I’d put on the roster today because I wanted to see them. The easy thing to do would be not to do that, and put at risk some of my first team players, but we’re very thin at the moment, with squad. We’ve [got] seven, eight, nine injuries, so I can’t afford to take that risk. I didn’t want to, but in that as well I wanted to try these guys out. There’s a few young kids on the bench as well that didn’t get on that I wanted to actually see what they were about. Maybe I’ll do that now in the second leg with the game firmly in the balance. They’ve all done very well. [WFC2 head coach] Rich [Fagan] is doing a super job at the moment in USL, and we want our USL players to come through because Alphonso was in USL for six months, obviously Spencer stepping up now, Sem, Deklan. We can go on and on, but they all should be very proud.”
On Jake Nerwinski and his flexibility as a wingback:
“He’s very good going forward. He’s a fit boy and he likes to get up and down. When you play a back four, sometimes you leave yourself a little bit exposed, and we had two young boys at centre back – Sem and Cole – with Jake bombing on, and Marcel likes to do it as well. I just thought we had the security of three centre backs, which would allow Jake to get up and down and [Alphonso Davies] on the other side. I think he had an excellent game. I think he made wrong decisions in the final third. I think he had an opportunity to shoot in the first half and tried to cross, and then he had a chance to cross and tried to shoot. Young players do that, senior players do that. But he was strong, he defended well. The Montreal winger is a very good player, we know that, the young Canadian boy. There’s Canadians popping up all over the place, which is really good for all the clubs involved and the country. But he dealt with it very well.”
On European clubs showing interest on Alphonso Davies:
“Listen, good players are wanted by teams. He’s sixteen years of age and he’s playing in the first team. I’m not trying to protect him for any other reason than I want the boy to develop. And when he gets the chance to develop, and enjoy his football. I respect every job that every single one of you do in here, I really do. But when you build players up, unfortunately then there comes a time when you knock them down. And the young boy has to learn, and I want to protect him, for his own good, for Canada’s good, for everyone’s good. And at the right time, something will happen, no doubt about it.”
On who has the advantage going into the second leg:
“Well they got the away goal, so we know that. Our mindset is to go there and get a clean sheet and we win the tie. But I also like to score so we’ll try and get a goal just to protect us a little bit. The game’s in the balance, we know anything can happen in the Canadian Championships as we saw last year. These guys will get another chance next week, there are no secrets and other players will get chances.”
On Mauro Rosales and Brek Shea:
“Mauro is always good no matter in training or in games. He’s come off the bench a couple of times, he played in RSL in the snow and did very well when he came on. I thought for 60 odd minutes he was what I expected, he got tired at the end, one or two of the crosses he had in the first half he let go when we had opportunities and the time was right to bring him off. Alphonso and Nico protected as well for the weekend, and Brek Shea 90 minutes under his belt is good, how fit is that boy so he’ll be good to go as well.”
On tonight’s win:
“First one’s in the books, it’s nice to get a win in front of our home fans and keep our form rolling. The job’s not done, we got a lot of work to do. We got to go over there and get a result so we’ll be happy but not content.”
On Alphonso Davies:
“He’s outstanding, there’s so much more to come. We’re going to start to see that, week in, week out.”
On Spencer Richey:
“He was outstanding, for me, he was Man of the Match. He makes a big save on a very good Canadian player in Patrice Bernier. He made another kick save which was very impressive so I’m happy for Spencer. He showed what he’s got.”
On Montreal coming on in the second half:
“It shows how deep our squad is. We made a lot of changes and formation but we were able to handle it. First half, we came out flying. We scored two goals and got a hold of the game. Second half, it changed, obviously, because they can play with a little more freedom and go after the game so we had to weather the storm and we did just that.”
On the home crowd:
“We want to make this place not a nice place to play for teams. We want to make it a fortress like in years past, be a tough team to beat at home and we’ll look to attack teams here.”
On key saves:
“Yeah, honestly, I thought 10 minutes before the PK save where I wasn’t very good. I shanked a ball with my left, probably two I should’ve come for on a cross and a through ball, so I had to reset my mind there and obviously the PK helps.”
On Patrice Bernier’s penalty kick:
“He came on and that’s really the only guy I knew about. I knew he liked the stutter and get the keeper to commit one way, so I was just trying to stay as long as I could and not make it easy on him. I stayed long enough where once I guessed, he couldn’t change his mind, so happy to make the save.”
On last-minute save against Patrice Bernier:
“I didn’t see it come off his foot, a lot of bodies in the box, I was just trying to get across and get in line with the shot, and my foot was the closest thing to it. Big block to keep it at 2-1.”
On Alphonso Davies:
“He was electric in the first half, he had the crowd going. We had a lot of momentum, the crowd was buzzing. Once they had the majority of the play early in the second half, the PK save had the crowd going, and our guys back buzzing so Fonzie was huge for us in the first half. When he goes on those long runs and beats guys, it might not always come off, but the guys feed off that and the fans do as well, so it’s awesome.”
Thoughts on the match:
“It was a terrible first half, bad defending, very nonchalant. When we had the ball we didn’t decide to play, and in the second half we decided to play and we created chances, dominated. [We] should have actually won the game with the chances we made. The keeper makes two good saves, we had an open net. In the end we got the away goal, and now we need to win in Montreal.”
Thoughts on Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla and Alphonso Davies:
“Two exciting young players, a lot of talent. Davies on the other side, excellent player, a handful, physical, very direct in his play, scores a big goal. And Ballou has been exceptional for us all year. Again today, he was able to unbalance on the dribble, on the pass finding space. He created a lot of problems for Vancouver. Two great young talents. For Canada, to have two players like that, it looks good for them in the future.”
On David Choinière:
“He got hurt with the [Canadian] under-20s and wasn’t able to go with them to the qualifying. [He] had a really high ankle sprain. He’s just coming back now, but again it’s just another young talent that we have, and he scores a great goal today. Again along with him and Ballou, two exciting players able to beat you on the dribble, on the pass. They’re gaining experience now, they’re getting minutes, and these are real minutes. Hopefully they’ll be players that continue to help the Montreal Impact but also the Canadian national team.”
On tonight’s match:
“Considering this team beat us only a couple weeks ago, the first half is embarrassing. As competitors, we should want to go out there and get payback on a team that beat us so recently, and that’s just not what you saw. So yeah, it’s very embarrassing. But I think the second half was very important considering this is a two-leg series and I think that tonight we’re going to be thankful that it is two legs because we can’t afford to have another half like that at home.”
On the team’s preparations:
“I don’t think it would hurt but the preparation that the staff – from top to bottom, everyone involved – from the technical staff to the coaches to anyone that travels with us, they do such a good job preparing us for this game. You know, they aren’t the ones on the field. It’s us. And to show a lack of intensity, a lack of passion in that first half and just kind of a lack of will, it’s not enough. And we can’t ask for any more from our staff. It’s up to us.”
On the scenario heading into the second leg:
“It’s not ideal but I think getting the away goal definitely gives us a leg up. You know, we’ve been focusing on giving away less goals and being a little safer at the back so when we come home, if we can keep a shutout, we know that we’ll probably win. So getting the road goal and performing a little bit better in the second half is very important for us.”
On the young players:
“I mean Choiniere scored a goal and Balou did what he always does – he’s very dangerous. And Max [Crepeau] I think, we all know what to expect from Max. He’s very steady in the goal and his feet are great. I think all three of the young guys came in and did a really good job.”
On tonight’s match:
“I think there’s no question the first half was pretty bad on all counts, from us. And obviously the second half looked and felt a lot more like us and was different. And collectively, I think we have to look at things that could have contributed to that slow start but from a personal standpoint, we all felt good going into the game and it’s unfortunately a trend that we’ve been seeing where we kind of get kicked in the teeth before we act like we’re playing in a game. So we’ll address that and hopefully that won’t be the case at home. Obviously, we’ll see what happened but overall definitely not good enough. But you know, we understand how things could have been and how we came out of the game, and we’ll just move forward.”
On the slow start:
“Its apparently the nature of this group at the moment. We’re lucky that we still have time to correct it and I think that’s our main focus right now, unfortunately. We should be worrying about other things right now like winning games but if we’re in a hole constantly, we’re only going to use that fight to get us even in a game when we can come out that way in the beginning and hopefully get on top of teams and bury them which is what the good teams do. We’re capable of that. There’s no question so it’s only a matter of time before we sort it out. Were going to look to do so quickly.”
On getting the away goal:
“It’s better than not scoring, right? I think we put a lot of pressure on them in the second half. We were good to get the one goal. We had more pressure on them continuously and hit the post. A couple of good chances. Maybe we even win the game if we take our chances so that’s something we’ll look into as well. But we’re producing chances when we’re at it. And we’re playing with the right mentality. So I think it’s just about replicating that and making sure that’s the norm for us and not really something that we have to wait until the second half to put into play.”