What a difference a fortnight makes! Two weeks ago, Vancouver’s Canadian Championship semi-final match in Edmonton was called off due to snow. Tonight, the teams took the pitch at Clarke Field in glorious sunshine and 21 degrees.
It was also a difference from a week ago where an out of sort Whitecaps fringe side started slow and lacked chemistry before coming away with a late 1-1 draw. Tonight, Vancouver attacked from the start, taking the lead nine minutes in and seldom looking back.
But the action was reserved for stoppage time, as first Edmonton gave themselves a lifeline before Mati Laba scored his first ever goal for the ‘Caps in the 97th minute to send Vancouver through.
Here’s our match report and full postgame reaction from both locker rooms.
News of Vancouver Whitecaps’ Canadian Championship death was greatly exaggerated.
Canada’s finest are alive and kicking but they left it late before beating FC Edmonton 2-1 on the night and 3-2 on aggregate to advance to August’s final against Montreal.
Pedro Morales looked to have sent Vancouver through with his first half penalty before Edmonton tied things up with a penalty of their own in the 91st minute. But with everything’s thoughts on extra time, Matias Laba pounced on a scramble in the box in the 97th minute to fire home the winner through the legs of the Eddies’ keeper and send the ‘Caps dramatically to the final.
Carl Robinson made four changes to the team that drew 1-1 at BC Place one week ago, with four MLS regulars coming in the team in the shape of Kendall Waston, Russell Teibert, Cristian Techera and captain Pedro Morales.
The ‘Caps knew they had to score at least once on the night to make it to August’s final against Montreal Impact and they wasted no time in taking the game to the Eddies, forcing corner upon corner in the early going.
It certainly felt a case of when, and not if, Vancouver would find a way through the home defence and it only took eight minutes before they got the chance to do so.
Nicolas Mezquida sent a perfect ball to play in his countryman Techera, and as the wee winger tried to round Matt VanOekel, the Edmonton keeper brought him down and referee Silviu Petrescu had no option but to point the spot.
Morales stepped up and buried low into the bottom right corner to put Vancouver ahead on the night and most importantly in the tie, cancelling out Edmonton’s away goal from the first leg.
The NASL side should have tied things up in the 12th minute but last week’s goalscoring hero Tomi Ameobi couldn’t connect with Lance Laing’s cross in from the left, stepping on the ball six yards from goal after ghosting in unmarked.
Vancouver were looking fairly comfortable, but without looking like adding the killer second.
Techera nearly grabbed it six minutes before the half, curling an effort just wide left after being tapped a free kick on the edge of the box.
Edmonton knew they had to go for it in the second half and brought on sub Daryl Fordyce at the break, and the Northern Ireland striker had a great chance to tie things up as the hour mark approached but couldn’t get on the end of a dangerous Laing cross to the back post.
Techera had a couple of chances from outside the box, as the Whitecaps pushed for the goal to kill off the tie.
Injuries and substitutions broke up any rhythm in the play and the game became a little pedestrian, with the home side looking the more likely to find the back of the net.
And unsurprisingly they did.
With the game heading into seven minutes of stoppage time, Kendall Waston barged over Frank Jonke in the box and Ameobi stepped up to drill home the equalising penalty in the 91st minute.
The NASL side looked to be in the ascendency and were now favourites to take the tie, but with extra time looming, Vancouver grabbed the winner from the unlikeliest of scorers.
Morales sent a free kick into the box in the 97th minute and the ball broke to Laba who fired through the legs of VanOekel from a tight angle, sparking ecstatic scenes on the Whitecaps bench.
Vancouver now advance to an August meeting with the Montreal Impact in a two-legged final. With five MLS matches and their CONCACAF Champions League campaign getting underway, it’s going to be a busy month for the Whitecaps.
FINAL SCORE: FC Edmonton 1 – 2 Vancouver Whitecaps (Vancouver win 3-2 on aggregate)
EDMONTON: Matt VanOekel; Eddie Edward, Albert Watson, Mallan Roberts, Allan Zebie (Frank Jonke 88); Cristian Raudales, Tomas Granitto (Daryl Fordyce 46), Sainey Nyassi (Hanson Boakai 75), Ritchie Jones, Lance Laing; Tomi Ameobi [Subs Not Used: John Smits, Kareem Moses, Chad Burt, Michael Nonni]
VANCOUVER: Paolo Tornaghi; Ethen Sampson (Steven Beitashour 71), Kendall Waston, Tim Parker, Christian Dean; Gershon Koffie, Russell Teibert, Nicolas Mezquida (Kekuta Manneh 66), Pedro Morales, Cristian Techera (Matias Laba 79); Darren Mattocks [Subs Not Used: David Ousted, Kianz Froese, Mauro Rosales, Octavio Rivero]
“It was a very difficult game. I stressed to the guys after Wednesday’s game, last Wednesday’s game, that it is not an easy game against Edmonton. They got something to prove. They fight, they scrap and they run. And they’ve done that again today. They want to show us, an MLS team, what they’re all about. And they did that. I’ve got to give Edmonton a lot of credit today. They fought till the very end. I wasn’t happy that we conceded in the 92nd minute. I disagreed with the seven minutes of extra time, but I’m glad that that he actually showed seven minutes of extra time because we were able to get the win.”
“Ups and downs. Ups and down. I think that’s a fair assessment of being a coach. When they scored I think one of them were on the pitch and we got to deal with it. And then we managed to get the winner in the last minute. There’s things I was happy with and things I was frustrated with but I better not tell you what they are.”
“Coming into this game people said, ‘how serious do we take this tournament and do I take this tournament?’ We are in it this year in the CONCACAF, which is great. We saw Montreal last year. Beat Edmonton on a dodgy penalty, I believe, at the time and got through to the final. The first game, swapping the games from an away game to a home game changed the dynamics, but we’re taking this seriously and I think it showed from my players’ reaction in the last minute how serious we were. We want to play in the cup final. We are in a cup final against Montreal. I challenged them before the game and said, ‘let’s go an get the first goal.’ Edmonton have done it to us at BC Place last week and we’ve done it to them today, so they dynamic of the game changed. It just would have been nice if we had gotten the second goal a little bit earlier.”
“Heartbreaking. Easily the better team in the second half. I was very proud of my players. I have to say, I lost my temper a wee bit at half time. I said, ‘If we’re going to get beat playing the same way we did in the first half, we may as well go ahead and give the Whitecaps the tie,’ because we weren’t at the races. We didn’t tackle, we didn’t complete, there seemed to have no energy. The guys once again answered the bell. I honestly didn’t think we even deserved to draw. I thought we were far superior in the second half. The Whitecaps just kicked the ball out the park. They must have done it eight to 10 times because we were on the front foot for once. I thought we missed some really good chances. It’s just a shock in the second goal to give away at that period of time. I need to see it again, but in live play I was just in total disbelief it went through a whole rock of players. I think it went through Matt’s legs. Overall, the effort of the players and the crowd tonight were fantastic. Everybody pushed us on and the country wanted us to win and unfortunately we fell a bit short.”
“We’ve gone away from at least giving goals away in the first 90 seconds and it was eight minute when we gave it away this time. So that was a bonus. But I thought in the first half we continually gave the ball away and I think it was probably a bit of nervous tension between the players. It was a big crowd and everybody wants to do well and nobody wants to give the ball away. But I just thought we forced things and we made things difficult for ourselves and we actually gave the ball back to the Whitecaps far too many times. We made it too difficult for ourselves. In the second half, we were on the front foot. We tackled and we competed. If you don’t compete, you get beat. In the second half, we did that and I think we didn’t deserve a draw, to be honest with you, in the second half.”
“This game just doesn’t care about anybody and certainly not the head coach. We win together and we lose together, but the crowd tonight, you know they get behind the team and the guys feel it. For me there was only going to be one winner once we equalized. I thought we would go on and win. I really felt that. I thought the Whitecaps were on the ropes, to be honest with you. It was disappointing. We got into some great areas, some great chances. But unfortunately just didn’t hit the target. It is what it is. Hopefully we can get that crowd back to push us up the NASL.”
“In both legs, as well. It would be unfair to say that in 36 games we could compete with the MLS because of the size of their rosters. But I’ve said before and I genuinely believe it that on any given day any NASL team could beat any MLS side. The gap is definitely closing. We have real good players in our league and real good coaches in our league and real good clubs and real good organizations, well-run clubs and well-run organizations and another new franchise was announced today, which is fantastic for the league in Miami with some big hairs behind it. It is an exciting time for the North American Soccer League. But I genuinely believe it. I’m not getting carried away with a real good second half performance, but I felt last week we could’ve won it as well. We were six minutes away from getting a win there. We’ve done very well against MLS sides. We’ve beaten Montreal. We should’ve and could’ve won here tonight. But that’s the difference. They’ve got players that can punish you.”
“I won’t get involved with my opinions of the referee and the officiating because I can get in trouble and the CSA big brother is looking at us here so I could get in trouble. So that should be enough in that answer to give you my opinion.”
“I tell my players to ride the passion. This is what the game is about. As soon as the head coach, the staff and the players lose that passion, we have nothing. The game needs that passion. You see that passion tonight with the crowd, getting behind the team and pushing us forward.”
“I actually thought, ‘listen to the noise that is coming out of the stadium for our humble little team and this humble little stadium.’ It’s absolutely fabulous. If we can generate that interest… where I go out in Edmonton, people recognize myself and they recognize the logo. People are aware that there is a professional football team here in Edmonton. It’s just getting them to go from that recognition and into Clarke Park and support the team because I believe it’s the best soccer team we’ve had in Edmonton. And that’s including the NASL days of days gone by. I think the guys deserve a chance. Come and watch this team. Come and support this team. You can be a Rangers supporter, a Manchester United supporter or a Juventus supporter, but come and give this team a chance. This is our local team and look at how many Canadians played for us tonight — substitutes were Canadians. These are really exciting times for FC Edmonton and the city should be proud of that. This team is doing all it can in the community to better itself. We’ve got phenomenal ownership with Tom and Dave Fath and they deserve and enormous amount of credit for where we are as a club.”
“That’s the loudest I’ve certainly heard it. We’ve had some good days and some good nights here and some good crowds. There is always something special about playing under the lights in a cup-tie. The crowd deserves enormous credit here tonight and we’re very grateful and hope they turn up in their numbers on Sunday.”
“We’ve had that situation for about four or five weeks. We played on Sunday; we didn’t play on Saturday, we played on Sunday. Again a very quick turnaround against a very, very good MLS side. Our guys were full of running at the end, trying to get forward and trying to do the right thing. Our players deserve enormous credit here tonight. I’m very, very proud of our team, very proud of the owners and our fans that turned up. I thought it was great.”