Report and Reaction: Whitecaps win back-to-back Canadian Championships despite nervy ending in victory over Montreal

Report and Reaction: Whitecaps win back-to-back Canadian Championships despite nervy ending in victory over Montreal

Second half goals from Brian White and Ryan Gauld saw Vancouver Whitecaps win back-to-back Canadian Championships for the first time in their history, securing a 2-1 victory over CF Montreal at a raucous BC Place on Wednesday night.

The narrow victory belies how the game played out, with the Whitecaps dominant in the first half and they could have easily gone into the break with a two or three goal lead, but found Montreal keeper Jonathan Sirois in inspired form, with six saves in the first 45 minutes. Two goals up heading into the final seven minutes, the ‘Caps then made life difficult for themselves, giving up a goal to the tournament’s leading scorer Sunusi Ibrahim.

That goal lit a previously missing spark in Montreal and they pushed hard for the equaliser. They nearly got it too, but were denied by a top drawer save from Yohei Takaoka and then a last second block from Javain Brown, as Vancouver held on to lift their second straight Voyageurs Cup and send their blue and white faithful into ecstasy.

Vanni Sartini had made it clear before the season had even begun that he was targeting winning back-to-back Canadian Championships and that the competition would be a priority when it came to squad rotation. Sartini made four changes to the team that drew at home to Sporting KC on Saturday, with Levonte Johnson earning his fourth and final call-up from WFC2 to get the start as one of the three necessary Canadians in the line-up.

This was always going to be a different performing Montreal side than the won Vancouver took apart 5-0 earlier in the season, but they were happy to be on the defensive in the first half, soaking up almost constant Vancouver pressure, while trying to hit quickly on the counter.

The ‘Caps came out strong and Tristan Blackmon forced Sirois into the first of a number of key first half stops six minutes in, with a header off a Gauld corner that was brilliantly turned away off the line by the Canadian stopper.

The Montreal keeper bettered that a minute later when the ball broke to Johnson in the box and his deflected effort brought a fantastic leg save from Sirois as he lay on the deck. Vancouver kept the pressure on and Sirois turned away a Gressel shot seconds later, as the ‘Caps laid siege on the visitor’s goal.

Gressel was in inspired form and brought another couple of saves out of Sirois before Gauld saw a shot deflected wide.

With the half ticking down, a rare Montreal foray forward in the 42nd minute was broken up and Vancouver countered quickly. Gauld broke forward and sent a lovely ball to Johnson to chase down. The young Canadian collected it and squared it for White and the striker’s first time effort was kept out again by Sirois, who got down superbly to his left to turn the ball past his near post.

The ‘Caps again kept the pressure on and a nice turn inside from Johnson saw him play the ball to White who in turn played it back to Gressel and the German unleashed a 25 yarder that Sirois acrobatically turned away.

Vancouver’s ascendency nearly came crashing down in spectacular style from the resultant corner as Montreal won the ball and broke quickly with a four-on-two counter as the ‘Caps were caught upfield. Mathieu Choinière played the ball outside to Ariel Lassiter who ran into the near post but with Ibrahim open at the back post he made the wrong decision to go for the weak shot, which Takaoka easily handled. It was to prove a defining moment in the match that could have seen a different outcome if a better decision had been made.

The teams headed in level, and the second half started as a bit of an uneventful affair until the game exploded into life in the 57th minute.

Gressel sent a long up and under ball forward which looked like it would be collected by Sirois, but the Montreal keeper was right on the edge of his box and couldn’t use his hands to deal with it for fear of handling outside his 18. Instead he fluffed his attempted kick under pressure from White, who showed great composure to take his time and sweep the ball home into the empty net for the opener.

Heartbreak for Sirois, who had been keeping his team in it by this point and there was more heartache to follow for Montreal when Vancouver doubled their advantage eight minutes later.

A Gressel corner was flicked on by Ranko Veselinovic. Montreal’s clearance only fell as far as Gauld just inside the box. The Scot had nipped in quickly ahead of Ahmed Hamdi who potentially didn’t see him but clumsily brought him down in the box and referee Filip Dujic pointed to the spot.

Gauld picked himself up to bury his spot kick, sending Sirois the wrong way and the ‘Caps had a two goal lead.

That lead nearly became three in the 71st minute when an attempted one-two by White bounced of a Montreal player, back into his path, but Sirois was out quickly to smother the danger before the ‘Caps striker could get his shot off.

Vancouver were cruising, but as has been the story at times this year, they fell asleep at the wheel and let Montreal get back into things in the 83rd minute.

Choinière played a lovely chipped ball forward for Ibrahim to run onto flanked by two Whitecaps defenders. The Nigerian ran into the box and finished past Takaoka to the far post to give the visitors a lifeline from out of nowhere.

The goal gave Montreal life and they threw everything they had at Vancouver to try and get the vital equaliser to send the game to penalties.

As the game headed into stoppage time, Ibrahim came so close to grabbing his second of the game to do just that.

Rudy Camacho floated a ball into the box from the left. Ibrahim rose well to meet it and his goalbound header was spectacularly turned away by Takaoka, with a flying save that Sartini described as being from a seventh century Samurai.

A Whitecaps save of the year contender for sure, and there certainly hasn’t been a more important one.

With six minutes of stoppage time added on, the drama wasn’t over yet.

Zachary Brault-Guillard brought down a Choinière cross but the ‘Caps got a foot on it before he could get off a shot, the Brown threw his body at the ball to block Mason Toye as he looked to fire home a deep free kick into the box with basically the last kick of the match.

It was a far more nervy ending than it should have been for Vancouver but that was soon forgotten when the postmatch celebrations got underway and the Whitecaps lifted their second straight Voyageurs Cup and the third in their history.

A well deserved win from a team that looked confident and assured throughout the competition. Ali Ahmed was named Canadian Player of the Tournament and Gressel the Player of the Tournament. Both also well deserved.

The victory secured Vancouver a spot in next year’s Champions Cup (the newly branded CONCACAF Champions League) and with a taste now for success they are now looking to push on and not just make the MLS playoffs, but be competitive in it.

Fun times.

FINAL SCORE: Vancouver Whitecaps 2 – 1 CF Montreal

ATT: 20,072

57’ – VAN – Brian White (Julian Gressel)
66’ – VAN – Ryan Gauld (penalty kick)
83’ – MTL – Sunusi Ibrahim (Mathieu Choinière)

Possession: VAN 48.6% – MTL 51.4%
Shots: VAN 20 – MTL 9
Shots on Goal: VAN 9 – MTL 5
Saves: VAN 4 – MTL 7
Fouls: VAN 9 – MTL 7
Offsides: VAN 0 – MTL 2
Corners: VAN 10 – MTL 2

VANCOUVER: Yohei Takaoka; Javain Brown, Ranko Veselinović, Tristan Blackmon, Ryan Raposo (Luís Martins 59’); Julian Gressel (Déiber Caicedo 89’), Andrés Cubas, Russell Teibert (Pedro Vite 59’); Levonte Johnson (Sebastian Berhalter 73’), Ryan Gauld; Brian White (Sergio Córdova 89’) [Substitutes not used: Thomas Hasal, Simon Becher]

MONTREAL: Jonathan Sirois; Gabriele Corbo (Bryce Duke 83’), Rudy Camacho, Joel Waterman; Aaron Herrera (Zachary Brault-Guillard 67’), Victor Wanyama (Lassi Lappalainen 67’), Mathieu Choinière, Ariel Lassiter; Ahmed Hamdi (Nathan Saliba 67’); Sunusi Ibrahim, Chinonso Offor (Mason Toye 78’) [Substitutes not used: James Pantemis, George Campbell]




On winning the Canadian Championship back to back:

“First of all we’re over the moon for the happiness of winning the trophy again, it’s the first time that it’s happened [back-to-back] to this club. I’m very happy for everyone, for the players, for all the people that work here, all the fans. I told them before the game, I’m proud to work with them and to share this journey with them. They inspire me every day on the way they want to work and they way they want to improve. Everyone from the players, to the kit manager, to the performance staff, to the analysts. I’m so happy that we win. The other thing is how happy we played for 80 minutes, I think the headline today would be ‘ok Messi is coming but the Whitecaps play even better than Messi’. For 80 minutes we were fantastic, Jonathan [Sirois] was the best player on the field by far, he was the only one who kept them in the game. Then we did things that we are doing too much, not mature enough to manage those situations, we did a very stupid thing, we conceded a goal where it’s like we went against our principles, our two centre backs stepped forward with a long ball in behind and then he goes behind to score. And then it becomes 15 minutes of us being scared. Basically, that’s what happened. They kicked the ball long, and being scared anything can happen. And we see in the end, they had a very big chance. Yohei [Takaoka] did something like a seventh century Samurai. At the end it was very very scary, so if it means even sweeter to win the cup like this ok, but the real result should have been like 4-1 for us, easy.”

Vanni on adding to his Voyageurs Cup tattoo:

“It will be very easy, just adding a year underneath. I still have a lot of parts of my body that is free. There’s Leagues Cup, there’s MLS Cup, Champions Cup now, not Champions League next year. So, why not? The sky is the limit.”

On how the team can now push on in the league:

“Let’s go win the MLS. We’ll start probably after Cincinnati because we might be a little bit drunk. But I think it would be a crime against ourselves, a crime against football, a crime against everything if we don’t make the playoffs. We are a very, very good team. This year can be special. We harvested less than what we’ve planned so far. This year it will be very, very, very special. I know I told you already that, but it’s going to be true.”

On his message to the fans:

“We love them, we love to celebrate with them, that we love when they help us and when we are in trouble. And also we do a good product guys, we play well. I’m talking since I’ve been the coach, since August 2021 we’ve won the most games in MLS at home than any other MLS team. So you know that when you come here you’re going to have fun and also you’re going to see a crazy man on the bench doing things like this. So that’s it, you’re going to have fun also for the thing, so that’s the thing. We know that luckily, we live in a fantastic city. There’s a lot of things to do here and sometimes you can even say ‘Okay, maybe I can go to the Whitecaps game or doing something else.’ But, you know the Whitecaps need them, and we love to be with them.”


On winning a second straight Voyageurs Cup:

“I think in my two years here, we’ve seen a big improvement, I think in the team and winning trophies is what all players want to do. That’s what you want to do in your career, so to win it back-to-back is a good feeling.”

On his penalty kick decisions:

“Not to sound too basic but the day before, I always decide if there’s a penalty. I decide where I’m going to hit it. As soon as as soon as the referee has given a penalty, since I get the ball, I know that’s where I’m going and I just try to hit it as best as I can, I kind of try to make sure that if the if the goalie saves it, it’s going to be a great save. I think he maybe watched my penalty last week and so you know, if it goes to penalties, I would go that way so that’s where he went. Thankfully it’s ended up in the back of the net.”



Thoughts on the loss:

“We played with lot of pride and commitment tonight. We believed it was possible until the very end. In a final, its about details. Its all or nothing. We had to be focused. At the end, with six minutes of extra time, we gave it our all. The draw was close but tonight was not meant to be. We will keep working and try again next year. Jonathan played a great game. If we had won, Jonathan was the player of the match. He is growing every week and in moments thanks to him, we remained in the game. It’s great for players in our roster to be part of a game like this. Not many players have a chance to play a final. You learn a lot and it’s a beautiful experience. For young players, its something to carry with them.”


Thoughts on the game after a strong individual performance:

“It is a difficult result to digest. I’m very disappointed because it was a final with an opportunity to win a trophy. It is not an opportunity that comes along every year. Vancouver were better than us for most of the game, so hats off to them. Collectively, we need to turn the page quickly and get over it as soon as possible because the season continues.”

Authored by: Michael McColl

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