Heading into the Amway Canadian Championship semi-final away leg with a 2-1 advantage, you couldn’t blame a youthful Vancouver Whitecaps side to embody tension and apprehension in holding on to their slight advantage over the Montreal Impact.
And yet, once the tension was broken, the Impact were able to apply pressure to a point where the Whitecaps could not recover, proving to be victorious on the night 4-2, and 5-4 on aggregate, to face the winner of Ottawa Fury and Toronto FC.
The Whitecaps started with a formation similar in personnel, if not formation, when compared to last week’s ACC match-up:
Spencer Richey; Jakob Nerwinski, Tim Parker, Cole Seiler, Marcel de Jong; Ben McKendry, Russell Teibert; Mauro Rosales, Nicolás Mezquida, Brek Shea; Kyle Greig.
By moving back to the 4-2-3-1, VFC2 defender Sem de Wit fell to the bench in favor of Tim Parker, while Kyle Greig’s move up front put Alphonso Davies in with the reserves.
Meanwhile, the Impact sustained their 4-3-3 formation, not necessarily with the same personnel:
Maxime Crepeau; Ambroise Oyongo, Kyle Fisher, Laurent Ciman, Chris Duvall; Patrice Bernier, Marco Donadel, Blerim Dzemaili; Ignacio Piatti, Anthony Jackson-Hamel, Dominic Oduro
On it’s own, the Montreal “formation” found a way to persevere but by comparison, the assembled lineup was far more similar to their MLS lineup, as seven changes were made compared to last week’s ACC starting eleven:
OUT: Hassoun Camara, Daniel Lovitz, Adrian Arregui, Hernán Bernardello, Calum Mallace, Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla, and David Choiniere;
IN: Oyongo, Fisher, Bernier, Donadel, Dzemaili, Piatti, and Jackson-Hamel
Nevertheless, the Whitecaps were ready to go at the first whistle. Knowing that the Impact away goal from last week could be a deciding factor, the Whitecaps made a point of pressing immediately:
In all fairness, the effort was deserved. A quick ball back off the kick off to de Jong allowed for the ‘Caps to press an unaware Impact backline, but Mezquida’s sailing volley kept the tie from bending early on.
Not that they needed a waking from their slumber, what with a one-goal deficit to overcome, but the Montreal attack nevertheless came alive after this first press. Despite a fluttered Donadel effort in the 12th minute, and an Oduro blast well-wide in the 14th, the Impact made their found their breakthrough on the 20th.
From the center of the pitch, Blerim Dzemaili was able to thread a fantastic ball ahead to Jackson-Hamel. Though Jackson’s touch into the penalty area was a strong one, it was enough to force Richey into reacting, diving for the rolling ball and instead catching Jackson’s ankle.
Translation or not, the turn of events speaks for itself.
The official made no hesitation in pointing to the penalty spot, and Piatti made no mistake in putting Montreal up 1-0, having Richey incorrectly guess to his left.
So what? The aggregate at that moment puts the Impact ahead, but there was still 70 minutes to decide the match, right? Plenty of time for the Whitecaps to find a breakthrough, right?
Well, knowing that a single goal may not be sufficient, the Impact continued to press the Vancouver backline, looking for an appropriate amount of “aggregate insurance”. And they found it soon enough.
After earning a free kick outside the Vancouver penalty area on the 27th, Ciman quickly fed Piatti inside, rather than shooting. All things considered, it was an ingenious pass, which appeared to be thwarted by Mauro Rosales:
I say “appeared,” as I felt like the tackle itself was successful. However, anyone watching the match live would have seen the referee motion as though there was a bit of shoulder tugging going on, hence the penalty shout.
After watching this B.S. from Saturday, I can understand how one would feel confused in judging what may or may not be a “shoulder tug.” Jose Ortiz is baseline flimsy.
Still, there was far more going on with today’s Rosales tackle, and it was enough to put Piatti to the penalty spot a second time. Richey did well in guessing the correct side on his second effort, but Piatti’s low blast persevered to put Montreal ahead 2-0.
Despite Montreal now being firmly ahead on aggregate, even a single Whitecaps away goal would neutralize everything the Impact have created so far. The downside? Montreal was still keenly aware of this fact, and the team swiftly went in for the kill.
Off a throw deep in the Whitecaps’ end, Oyongo whipped a low cross into the Whitecaps defense. In spite of how it caromed off both Seiler and Teibert, the ball quickly fell to Dzemaili from 12 yards out, who emphatically buried the third goal for the home side before halftime.
Honest to goodness, a 4-2 aggregate isn’t a death knell, and good on the Whitecaps for attempting a rally. Carl Robinson substituted Alphonso Davies for Nico Mezquida at half time and, after a deft Spencer Richey save in the 52nd minute, “The Phons” got into the match:
Admittedly, this dogged determination quickly earned Davies a yellow card in the 59th minute, but that bit of labor wasn’t without its fruit.
After pressing the Montreal backline, Jakob Nerwinski was able to get around Oyongo and lay back to Davies who, after a bit of a drag on the ball, was able to turn & bury:
Suddenly, the Whitecaps were back in the match!
Emphasis on, “Suddenly.”
In seemingly identical fashion, Patrice Bernier was able to gain the Whitecaps end line behind Marcel de Jong only two minutes later. Though his soft cross met the head of Tim Parker, the redirect fell to a wide open Jackson-Hamel, who chested & volleyed for a fourth Montreal goal.
With twenty-nine minutes left, the Whitecaps were left with a significant deficit. And yet, the resolve remained.
Following two big stops for the Whitecaps, with a Richey rebound leading to a big defensive block, the Whitecaps moved up-field to gain the Impact back-right corner. Once sub Cristian Techera was able to work in a cross off a throw-in, Kyle Greig made no doubt about his header:
As it had for much of the match, the Amway aggregate demanded a second goal from the Whitecaps. And although there was plenty of fight left for the remaining twelve minutes, the blue-and-white could do no more, falling 5-4 on aggregate to the Montreal Impact.