The new Leagues Cup competition has had its detractors, but anyone who took in the thrilling match between Vancouver Whitecaps and Club Leon at BC Place on Friday evening had to have come away with an understanding of the excitement this tournament can serve up. It was a fantastic game that saw some top quality goals, penalty shootout drama, and a great atmosphere off the pitch from a crowd that had an excellent share of away support.
A red-hot Sergio Cordova was Vancouver Whitecaps’ lion tamer with a two goal performance, but strikes from Ivan Moreno and Elias Hernandez either side of the Venezuelan’s brace saw Leon take the ‘Caps to penalties. A staggering 19 rounds of spot kicks later, Leon ran out 16 to 15 winners in the shootout, with Luis Martins the unfortunate Whitecap to miss the decisive penalty.
It was a tremendous performance from Vancouver. One they should be proud off to a man. They may only have a solitary point to show for it all in the standings, but the match has certainly proven to be a great yardstick for what this team can become.
The first game since Julian Gressel’s departure saw Vanni Sartini go with the 3-1-4-2 formation that’s brought him some success of late, with J.C. Ngando being handed his first start at home.
The Whitecaps more than held their own in the early part of the match, going toe to toe with the Mexicans, while neither team really carved out any clear cut chances.
Leon were starting to dictate the play as the half went on, with their quick transition play causing the ‘Caps defence a few problems.
There was a controversial moment when the BC Place turf monster looked to have claimed another victim when Leon’s Jaine Barreiro went down holding his knee. Referee Fernando Guerrero Ramirez called play to a halt with Ryan Gauld set to streak clear through on goal.
The visitors took the lead in the 23rd minute when Moreno was left wide open inside the box and blasted home a deflected cutback from Barreiro.
Leon continued to take the game to Vancouver, but the ‘Caps defence was holding firm and they got themselves back on level terms a minute before half time.
A long ball forward was brought down well by Sebastian Berhalter, who cut inside his man and threaded a lovely through ball for Cordova to run onto and the Venezuelan striker finished with aplomb to send the teams into the break all tied up at one apiece.
#VWFC find the equalizer before half-time!
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) July 22, 2023
The goal was Cordova’s third in as many matches across all competitions and set up an exciting second half, after both teams’ only shot on target had ended up in the back of the net.
The Whitecaps made two changes at the half, with Brian White and Tristan Blackmon entering the fray as they looked to build onto a strong spell before the break and switched to a back four to try and contain Leon’s speedy attack.
White was immediately in the thick of the action, rising to meet an in-swinging free-kick from Gauld in the 47th minute, but heading wide when anywhere on target was likely to have led to the ‘Caps going ahead.
White had another chance five minutes later when Mathias Laborda sent in a beautiful cross to the back post but a deflection off a Leon head took White’s effort out for a corner.
Leon’s had an Angel Mena header into the side netting minutes later after getting onto a dangerous cross to the back post but the flag had also gone up quickly for offside.
The Whitecaps took the lead in the 57th minute and it was Cordova at the double that put them ahead.
A big boot from Gauld cleared a Leon corner. Following up, he nipped the ball away from Osvaldo Rodriguez del Portal. The Scot tore forward, with Cordova putting on the jets to get up in support. Gauld played a neat ball forward for the striker to run on to and he showed nice footwork in the box to tuck it away between the last defender and Leon keeper Rodolfo Cota.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) July 22, 2023
A fantastic goal and setting up what would be a fantastic result if it were to hold. The ‘Caps knew they would be under tremendous pressure though in the last half hour as the Mexicans pushed for an equaliser.
Despite that, the ‘Caps looked solid defensively, but they were undone by a stunning 20 yard strike from Hernandez in the 77th minute that flew into the top left corner and beat Yohei Takaoka all ends up.
🏔️ 2-2 🦁 | #LeaguesCup | ⏰’76
ELÍAS HERNÁNDEZ! My goodness! 🤯 pic.twitter.com/OIONRcxyC3
— Club León in English (@ClubLeonEN) July 22, 2023
Certainly one of the best goals you’ll see at BC Place all season and it set up a grandstanding finale as both sides pushed for the winner in regulation to avoid penalty kicks deciding things.
Rodriguez had another shot from the edge of the box minutes later for Leon, but this time it had nowhere near the power or direction of their equaliser and Takaoka handled it with ease.
The width of the right post denied Martins from giving the ‘Caps the lead again in the 86th minute after a fierce low strike from the edge of the box.
Both sides kept pushing for the late winner in a frenetic six minutes of stoppage time. Neither could find it and with both sides guaranteed a point, the match headed to a penalty shootout to see who would come away with the extra, and what could be crucial, second point.
Leon were up first through Adonis Uriel. Takaoka got a hand to it, but it agonisingly got away from him. Ryan Gauld replied with a clinical kick to restore the parity for Vancouver.
David Ramirez scored Leon’s second, with Deiber Caicedo replying in kind for Vancouver, before Elias Hernandez crashed Leon’s third off the bar and Andres Cubas saw Vancouver’s third crash off the left post.
The drama kept coming as Takaoka then produced a huge stop on Borja Sanchez and Cota came up with one too to deny Luis Martins and we were still tied at two apiece.
Takaoka nearly kept out Leon’s fifth spot kick from Brian Rubio, but it sneaked under him. Brian White then stepped up for the Whitecaps fifth, sending Cota the wrong way and sending the shootout to sudden death.
Osvaldo Rodriguez made it 4-3 with Leon’s sixth before Tristan Blackmon tied it back up once again.
William Tesillo was next up to make it 5-4 for Leon before Ranko Veselinovic calmly levelled.
Fidel Ambriz saw his penalty superbly saved by Takaoka, giving Mathias Laborda the chance to win it for the ‘Caps but his fierce strike crashed off the crossbar and the shootout continued.
23’ – LEO – Iván Moreno
44’ – VAN – Sergio Córdova (Sebastian Berhalter)
57’ – VAN – Sergio Córdova (Ryan Gauld)
77’ – LEO – Elías Hernández (Jaine Barreiro)
Possession: LEO 64.6% – VAN 35.4%
Shots: LEO 14 – VAN 8
Shots on Goal: LEO 4 – VAN 2
Saves: LEO 0 – VAN 2
Fouls: LEO 13 – VAN 13
Offsides: LEO 2 – VAN 4
Corners: LEO 11 – VAN 2
LEON: Rodolfo Cota; Iván Moreno (José Ramírez 85’), Adonis Frías, Jaine Barreiro, William Tesillo; Lucas Romero, José Rodríguez (Fidel Ambríz 56’); Ángel Mena (Borja Sánchez 85’), Omar Fernández (Osvaldo Rodríguez 50’), Elías Hernández; Víctor Dávila (Brian Rubio 56’) [Substitutes not used: Alfonso Blanco, Federico Viñas, Paul Bellón, Oscar Villa, Héctor Uribe, Sebastián Santos, Oscar García]
VANCOUVER: Yohei Takaoka; Mathías Laborda, Ranko Veselinović, Luís Martins; Andrés Cubas; Sebastian Berhalter (Tristan Blackmon 46’), J.C. Ngando (Déiber Caicedo 84’), Alessandro Schöpf (Russell Teibert 70’), Levonte Johnson (Brian White 46’); Sergio Córdova (Simon Becher 84’), Ryan Gauld [Substitutes not used: Thomas Hasal, Isaac Boehmer, Karifa Yao, Ryan Raposo, Matteo Campagna]
On his team’s performance vs Club Leon:
“I think we did very well for 70 minutes. The first 15, 20 minutes, and right after we concede the goal, we were very bad to be honest. We were a little bit in confusion and early on they could have scored the second goal. Then undeservedly, we tied and after the tie the second half was actually fantastic. The second half we smashed them, and we looked like the Champions League winner. The first half they looked like the Champions League winner so I think that at the end, the tie is right, I would say, score at the end. We could have scored a third one, we had a chance, it was a very good performance against a very good team and I’m pleased that we had one point on the board and then the [shootout], we had twice the chance to win and we missed the penalty. In the end it went so long, but okay, we have one point, we need to go to LA, make a result there and go through the competition, that’s it”
On Sergio Cordova’s hot-run of form:
“I would say the same, the first half was a little bit, I think, his position is the position he played in the second half, as a number ten on the right. He’s not a number nine in my opinion. The first half he scored a beautiful goal, but in the second half, in the 35 minutes he played, he was dominant in attacking, defending, pressing, having chances. And I think that this is the Sergio that we want to see every game. The last three games he scored four goals, I think he is on a good roll, and let’s hope that it continues”.
On the long penalty shootout:
“When it comes to that stage, you know, we’re all thinking ‘when’s it going to end’. It was a decent standard of penalties, and you know, it just comes down to a wee bit of luck at the end of the day.”
On the next match against LA Galaxy:
“Obviously its going to be tough against the Galaxy, they’re a really good team. We’ve seen them here, even with a man less they caused us problems, but I think there’s a lot of positives we can take from tonight. Leon are a top side, probably the best that I have played with my time at the Whitecaps. Even the fact that we were leading 2-1, is a good sign for us. Then we see the quality that they got with the second goal they scored. Its going to be tough against LA, but we’ve got to go there often and it’s a one-off game to get through the group… if we win chances are we go through, so that’s what it takes.”
On his record-breaking assist:
“Yeah, it’s a good feeling. I like basing my game on creating chances for the guys up top, and thankfully, 27 times they’ve put the ball in the back of the net, so hopefully there is a lot more to come.”
On the team mentality during the shootout:
“Just trying to stay present, and then, when you go up, just be focused, stay in the moment, and it’s something we’ve rehearsed quite a few times, so its just going up and picking your spot.”
On playing a Mexican team and having Leon fans at BC Place:
“Its definitely a really new experience for us, we saw it a little bit away in the Champions League this year. But its definitely important especially we have a lot of goals of winning cups, not only in MLS, but also in the Champions League, and stuff like that, so it’s a really good experience.”
On next week’s game vs LA Galaxy:
“Definitely an opponent we are familiar with, so just getting rest, preparing as best we can for going down to LA and picking up all three points.”