Vancouver FC made history on Saturday as they recorded their first ever goal and first ever win versus a makeshift York United side. With two goals courtesy of Shaan Hundal and Gael Sandoval, VFC got their first points on the board in their debut CPL season.
Stroke Of Karmic Luck
After the events that occurred early on in Wednesday’s Canadian Championship match between these two teams, one would be inclined to say that Vancouver were unlucky to suffer from a very controversial penalty call in that match. It seems that Lady Luck made the pendulum swing back the other way as Vancouver FC were very fortunate to have their first goal gifted to them, thanks to a very uncharacteristic mistake from York attacker Mo Babouli.
In the 6th minute, Babouli, being deployed in midfield due to York’s early injury problems, got the ball from his keeper at the edge of the box, but lagged in deciding what to do with the ball in face of some VFC pressure. That pressure then paid off as Hundal dispossessed a panicked Babouli, strolled up to York’s net, and slotted it past a rooted Niko Giantsopoulos. This sparked joyous celebrations from the bench and stands as Vancouver finally scored their first ever CPL goal after being goalless in over 180 minutes of play.
EVERY ANGLE 🎥
— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) April 22, 2023
With the pressure of that first goal from the club out of the way, Vancouver were able to focus on the task at hand in getting their first positive result. It was 12 minutes later where luck struck again for them, as good play between Hundal and Gabi Bitar allowed Bitar to go clean through on goal, only to then get tripped up by a diving Giantsopoulos.
The luck was in the fact that Bitar actually got the shot off before he was tripped, missing the goal entirely. The referee, however, was convinced enough to call the penalty even though the shot went through. Up stepped the star player of the team, Gael Sandoval, who sent the keeper the wrong way with a perfect driven shot.
Make it two for @vanfootballclub 👀
Sandoval from the spot and it is 2-0 👀🦅
— Canadian Premier League (@CPLsoccer) April 22, 2023
Gabi Bitar’s New Starring Role
While many players could be singled out for having a terrific match for Vancouver FC, one man in particular was distinctly electric. That man was Gabriel Bitar. The ex-Eddie seems to have found a new role in this VFC squad, moving further back in the attack than what he was used to back in Edmonton. This, however, seems to have been a genius move by VFC coach Afshin Ghotbi, as Bitar thrived in his more receded role, now as a creative outlet.
Bitar created two big chances, made four key passes, as well as six passes into the final third and six recoveries. He was finding those pockets in the half-spaces to exploit the stretched defence of York United, whose quite attacking lineup allowed such pockets to exist. Truly, by the end of the match, Vancouver should have had three or four goals to the good, thanks to the chances that Bitar created, leading Ghotbi to proclaim postgame that he was “the most valuable player of the match”.
“I think he was brilliant in his creativity, in playing between the lines, in spraying balls and connecting players,” Ghotbi added. “I think he’s come a long way, he’s still growing as a player, and I expect big things from him this year”.
Time will tell how this Vancouver side will actually fair in this ever-changing landscape of CPL, but it will likely have a player like Gabi Bitar at its forefront if they are to be successful.
Attack Wins You Games, Defence Wins You History
After a fantastic opening 20 minutes for Vancouver FC, York United began to put on the pressure. They broke through to half the deficit in the 35th minute, courtesy of a wonderful strike by the early substitute, Markiyan Voytsekhovskyy. From there, it seemed like one-way traffic in terms of possession, with York United throwing everything forward in search of an equalizer.
However, Vancouver FC were resolute in their defence. A tactical switch from a back four to a back five in the second half allowed VFC to become more stable in their defence, without even needing to make any substitutions thanks to the versatility of Kadin Chung. This made sure that threats like Paris Gee, who was arguably York’s best player in the first half, were nullified by preventing overloads on the wing. The three centre backs of Ibrahim Bakare, Rocco Romeo, and Eugene ‘Pele’ Martinez were especially on point today, combining to record four tackles, six interceptions, seven blocks, and 12 clearances.
The team overall was also impassioned to defend their narrow victory, sometimes verging on excessive aggression, resulting in them recording six yellow cards in one match. On the accumulation of various yellow cards, Ghotbi admitted that “obviously, no one wants to get a yellow card”.
“Sometimes the players go into tackles more aggressively than what the law allows it… but I don’t think [my] players are going into tackles studs up, trying to hurt somebody,” Ghotbi continued. “I also think that sometimes, referees can be [more] restrained in giving out yellow cards… because I’m not sure if all the yellow cards were really deserved today”.
With one last game against Halifax Wanderers next week before Vancouver FC’s home-opener, Ghotbi will hope that his players will remain disciplined so that he has everyone available for selection come May 7th.