Somehow the cool breeze that blew in off False Creek wasn’t enough to slow down the UANL Tigres and open the door for an upset of mammoth proportions. All week the Whitecaps were praying for rain to make life uncomfortable for the Mexican team, and for once they didn’t get their wish. However, the ‘Caps wouldn’t need it, because, while they ultimately lost the game and were eliminated from the CONCACAF Champions League semi-finals by a 4-1 aggregate score, the Vancouver Whitecaps showed up and were in it right near the end.
You could tell from the opening whistle the game would not be a repeat of the ball possession dominance Tigres showed in the opening leg. The ‘Caps took early touches and quickly forayed into the attacking zone. In the third minute they shocked everyone in the building when Cristian Techera’s strike rebounded off the keeper and right to Brek Shea who slotted in the goal. They got their early goal and suddenly, ‘mission impossible’ seemed very possible. Unfortunately, Shea’s celebration would be short lived as he soon left the game only minutes later in what looked like a knee injury. He was replaced by Alphonso Davies.
The ‘Caps continued passing the ball and moving forward. As the game settled and Tigres began to control the ball again, we began to see the ‘Caps give the ball away more easily. But despite their hovering around Ousted’s penalty box, UANL weren’t able to put many shots on the Whitecaps keeper. A number of Vancouver players put in impressive performances. Bolaños controlled the ball in midfield as he did so successfully against LA on Saturday, and Jacobson had a very strong 60 minutes in a box-to-box role. Davies showed he would not be intimidated as he repeatedly took on Tigres’ defenders, sometimes beating a defender two or three times on the dribble, very impressive for such a young man. And perhaps in his best game in some time, Jordan Harvey was a determined, physical defender at the back, and showed skill and vision while pushing forward. His seemed to raise his game another level.
The strong play of Waston and Parker kept the score at 1-0 by the halftime whistle and the seed of an upset was starting to sprout. The second half opened as the first, with a flurry of activity in front of Guzmán’s goal, where a loose ball squirted out right and onto an onrushing Bolaños’ foot. His quickly hit shot forced a fine save from the UANL keeper. The second half went back and forth with the ‘Caps looking to break the fine Mexican defense, while keeping the chances against them at bay.
It looked as if the ‘Caps could hold them off until, André-Pierre Gignac showed his world class quality, found a moment of space cutting across the top of the box and curled a perfectly placed shot inside the far post. After that goal the ‘Caps would need three more goals to win the series, and at the 63rd minute, it would be like starting the game over.
Vancouver continued to press for goals. As their offensive push opened up the back, Tigres should have surely scored two or three more goals if not for some fine saves by Ousted to keep the score respectable. Tigres put the game away in the 84th minute, if the game wasn’t already lost, with a goal by Damian Álvarez.
The Whitecaps showed up and competed with a vastly superior team. They showed some quality of their own, but mostly determination. And while it would have been a huge upset for them to win, they made us believe the impossible was possible for much of the game. They have to be congratulated for finishing with the first seed after the qualifying rounds, emerging victorious against the Red Bulls in their quarterfinals, and making it to the CCL semi-finals, where they played respectably against a top Mexican team blessed with world class talent and quality depth.
Perhaps, the real Vancouver Whitecaps have begun to emerge from these last two games. A team with a little more bite and where-with-all than we were initially led to believe.