This Wednesday night the Whitecaps have the chance to do something they have never done in their history: win the Canadian Championship in back-to-back years. It would be the first time anyone has done so since Toronto FC won three in a row from 2016 to 2018.
Their opponents? CF Montreal, who the ‘Caps have faced in the Canadian Championship final twice before, with Montreal winning in 2013 and Vancouver taking their first trophy in 2015. The ‘Caps have a historically dreadful record in the finals, losing in seven of the previous nine occasions that they’ve made it this far in the competition. But with home field advantage and a string of strong results in the competition, they should have plenty of belief.
Vanni Sartini has a perfect 6-0 record as a manager in the competition, with the ‘Caps outscoring their opponents 13-4 and winning two penalty shootouts (including last year’s final). This is the first time they’ve faced Montreal in this tournament at all since 2018, when Vancouver beat them 2-1 on aggregate in a two-legged semi-final.
Now, the biggest question for the ‘Caps is who will be the third Canadian in the starting lineup? Ali Ahmed’s injury looms large over this final as the ‘Caps only have two healthy Canadians who receive regular minutes (Russell Teibert and Ryan Raposo) but they must start at least three.
The options are as follows: Thomas Hasal or Isaac Boehmer in goal, Karifa Yao or Matteo Campagna at the back, or Levonte Johnson up front should the ‘Caps sign him to another short-term agreement (which as of Monday night, they haven’t). Also signed to the first-team roster are Max Anchor and Kamron Habibullah, but neither of them have been regulars in the matchday squad for the first team this season.
Yao could be an option to step in, as entrusting a cup final to a young, inexperienced goalie would be a risk especially when Yohei Takaoka has been a reliable presence at the back this season. Johnson could be an option if he’s part of the squad once again as he did score against York United in the quarter-finals, and if Sartini wants to focus on defensive stability, putting Johnson in the lineup would be a way to keep the rest of the first-choice defenders in.
The other question is the overall squad rotation, as the ‘Caps put out basically a first-choice XI against SKC on the weekend while Montreal rotated their lineup a little more for their match in Philadelphia. Tristan Blackmon has gone the full 90 in five straight matches, Ryan Gauld has done so in three straight, and both Julian Gressel and Pedro Vite have started four times in the last two weeks.
Given that all four of them have been important players this season, and it’s all hands on deck time in the final, you’d think they’ll be out there once again. Hopefully, their legs can hold up and put forth the performance they need to in order to get the win.
If the ‘Caps take the trophy it won’t be the first time they’ve beaten Montreal at home this season, as they destroyed them 5-0 at BC Place back at the start of April. This Montreal side is not the same as they were then, however, as they’ve crept a little up the Eastern Conference standings since their dreadful start to the year and currently sit in 10th.
They’re on a bit of a recent slump, picking up just four points from their last five matches, but four were on the road and all but one of those against teams currently in playoff positions. Montreal is one of the lowest-scoring teams in the league at just 15 goals in 16 MLS matches, but they’ve only been shutout twice in their last 10.
On the other side, the Whitecaps haven’t been shutout since their back-to-back scoreless draws against Austin and Colorado in late April, and they don’t have a shutout loss in MLS play this season (we don’t have to talk about the CONCACAF Champions League). They’ve shown they can put in goals at home this year, and will lift some silverware if they’re able to do it once more.