(Photo Credit: Juan Luis Díaz / Mexsport / CONCACAF.com)
He’s done it before and he very well may do it again, but there’s no denying the quality of André-Pierre Gignac as he once again broke Vancouver Whitecaps’ hearts with a stunning free kick equaliser two minutes from time as Tigres salvaged a 1-1 draw at Starlight Stadium, Langford in CONCACAF Champions Cup action.
The goal deprived the Whitecaps of a famous victory in their first competitive game of 2024 and they put in an assured performance against the in-form Mexican giants at their home away from home on Vancouver Island. The ‘Caps went toe to toe with Tigres, and felt comfortable for the majority of the match, opening the scoring in the 32nd minute with Damir Kreilach’s first goal for the club.
They had chances to add to their tally too, but Brian White’s goal eight minutes into the second half was ruled out for offside, and instead of heading into Monterrey next Wednesday with a multiple goal advantage, they now trail in the tie thanks to the away goal rule, but with all to play for.
After trying a couple of different formations in preseason, Vanni Sartini went with a 3-4-1-2 line-up for the ‘Caps first competitive game of the year, with new addition Kreilach leading the line with White, and Ryan Gauld tucked in behind.
The first look on goal fell to Tigres five minutes in, with Luis Quinones pulling a shot wide right.
The Whitecaps got their best chance of the game so far in the 17th minute when a quick break from Gauld saw him play the ball out to White and the American’s first time square ball was just inches away from the in-rushing Kreilach. A positive sign of things to come from those three you have to feel for the season ahead.
Tigres responded in the 20th minute with a fierce Gignac strike from 20 yards out that was acrobatically turned away by Yohei Takaoka in the Whitecaps’ goal.
Rafael Carioca was next to try his luck for Tigres with a low long ranger in the 27th minute but Vancouver went straight up the field and Gauld fired a dipper over.
The Mexicans were enjoying the better of the possession, but weren’t overly testing the ‘Caps and were being kept to efforts from outside the box.
The Whitecaps upped the intensity and were causing Tigres a lot of problems with their pressing play, and after a couple of dangerous crosses into the box that came to nothing, they got their reward in the 32nd minute when Kreilach swept the ball home after White headed on a pinpoint cross field ball from Gauld.
GOAL 🏔️@WhitecapsFC STRIKE FIRST 💥
— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) February 8, 2024
The blue and white contingent at Starlight were sent into sheer joy, but the goal sparked a new life into Tigres.
Ozziel Herrera brought another fantastic sprawling save out of Takaoka with two minutes of the half remaining, but the ‘Caps held firm and went into the half with the narrow one-goal lead.
The Whitecaps thought they were in dreamland in the 53rd minute when White fired home what everyone thought was a Vancouver second goal, but an excruciatingly long video review ruled it out for offside.
Herrera fired narrowly past the right post for Tigres in the 63rd minute after a strong run before Carioca did the same a few moments later after a free kick was laid off to him on the edge of the box.
Pedro Vite flashed one just wide for the Whitecaps 10 minutes later after another quick Vancouver breakway from a Tigres turnover caused by some great Gauld hustle.
Takaoka made a near post save from Herrera in the 83rd minute as Tigres pushed, but the Whitecaps were still looking dangerous on the counter and substitute Fafa Picault tore forward moments later, playing the ball neatly outside to Vite whose centred cross was just inches away from being put away by White in front of goal.
It felt like only a moment of magic could deny the Whitecaps and that’s what it took in the 88th minute when Gignac buried an absolute stunning free kick into the postage stamp corner to tie things up on the night and give Tigres what could be a crucial away goal.
— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) February 8, 2024
Both sides had half chances in the closing moments without looking like adding to the scoreline and the teams head to Mexico next week all tied up at one apiece.
The Whitecaps will feel heartbroken to not be heading into the second leg with the advantage after a tremendous team performance that saw them comfortably deal with their in-form, mid-season opponents for most of the match. Their defensive and lines structure never wavered and they looked quick and dangerous in transition.
It sets up a tantalising second leg now, where Tigres will be clear favourites but the Whitecaps will feel if they can nick a goal, they have a real shot to break some hearts of their own on Valentine’s Day. There’s everything still to play for and if this is the Whitecaps in game one, I think we are in for an exciting season in Vancouver.
FINAL SCORE: Vancouver Whitecaps 1 – 1 Tigres UANL
VANCOUVER: Yohei Takaoka; Mathías Laborda, Ranko Veselinović, Tristan Blackmon; Ryan Raposo (Javain Brown 85′), Alessandro Schöpf (Sebastian Berhalter 70′), Pedro Vite, Luís Martins; Ryan Gauld (J.C. Ngando 77′); Brian White, Damir Kreilach (Fafà Picault 70′) [Substitutes not used: Isaac Boehmer, Max Anchor, Bjørn Inge Utvik, Levonte Johnson, Jeevan Badwal, Jay Herdman]
TIGRES: Nahuel Guzmán; Jesús Garza, Guido Pizzaro (Juan José Purata 90’+1), Diego Reyes, Jesús Angulo; Juan Vigón (Fernando Gorriarán 65′), Rafael Carioca; Luis Quiñones (Nicolás Ibáñez 80′), Sebastian Córdova (Juan Brunetta 65′), Ozziel Herrera (Diego Lainez 90’+1); André-Pierre Gignac [Substitutes not used: Felipe Rodríguez, Miguel Ortega, Samir Caetano de Souza, Eduardo Tercero, Marcelo Flores, Sebastián Fierro, Fernando Ordóñez]
On the match:
“I think we did a very good performance against a very good team, to be honest. We basically applied everything that we talked about during the week and trying to do our game. I think defensively we’ve been really, really good. We were always very structured and it was really hard to break us down, and besides the goal they had another big chance in the first half and Yohei [Takaoka] made a very good save, but those are the only two big chances that they had. We were able to always be compact and even if they are really good at playing this ball behind the line, and they always control the ball really well, the numerical superiority and the interchange were working very well. We could have been better, in my opinion, on the ball. The first half was a little bit, you could see that it was our first game in the sense that we always needed an extra touch to do something and that extra touch helped them to press. Also we were a little bit too, I would say frantic sometimes, to try to break the line immediately while we talked that we had to move the ball from side to side in order to move them and have more possibility. In fact, that 15-20 minute spell in the first half that we did it, we were in control of the game. And then the second half was actually really good. Unfortunately, you know, the goal offside, we had another couple chances that were really, really good. So we are very confident to go there and try to win in Monterrey. That’s going to be very hard, but I think we’re up for it.”
On the fans on Vancouver Island:
“First of all, I really want to thank all the people that came here today and made this environment buzzing. Of course, the Tigres fans were amazing, but we know that every time that a Mexican team comes there are always people. But our fans and the people, all the ones that came from Vancouver, that came with the ferry and did a lot of sacrifice to come today. But also the ones from the island that were happy to see, I would say a high level clash between us and a very good team. They made us feel at home, and they made us feel like we weren’t away from BC Place to be honest. So I really thank all the people that came and we are really happy that this little inconvenience of not having our stadium, it became an opportunity to engage more people here. So I am proud that tonight we were the Vancouver Island Whitecaps FC.”
On Pedro Vite’s performance:
“I was very happy, but not that impressed because I know that he can do it. To be honest between me and him, I think that Pedro is a midfielder. I think we discovered and what we did last year, he established himself as a real midfielder. He can play as a number eight, he can play as a double six. Today, when we were in possession, he was our number six basically. So he’s a guy that if you play deeper on the field, he touches more the ball, and the more and the more he touches the ball I think the more the team plays better because he’s really good. Defensively, he’s such, I would say an intelligent guy in the sense that he picks immediately what we want on him tactically. He really matured a lot last year and I hope he continues his maturation this year, and being a player that if we play a diamond midfield can play all four positions. I think Pedro, his career if he continues to be like this is going to be a really, really impressive one.”
On the debuts of Damir Kreilach and Fafa Picault:
“I think they were both good. Fafa came on when the game was a little bit stretched, and we were a little tired. So it was hard for us to play a game that he likes, that is like breaking the first line and then playing in the space when he can go one-v-one. But he had a couple of chances to do it. Damir was really good. He gave what we expect from him. He’s not the most dynamic player in the world, but he can combine very well if you play with two strikers with Brian like we did today. He was very calm and collected in the occasion of the goal, which by the way was top. I hope it’s going to make the CONCACAF highlight reel or something because it’s a great goal. I think they both did very well.”