Looking to reverse course of some less than stellar MLS results, the Vancouver Whitecaps opened their campaign for the Canadian Championship and the Voyageurs Cup with a trip out east to visit the Montreal Impact. Though the away leg did see the positive return of some previously absent Whitecaps starters, Vancouver couldn’t match that positivity with a result, falling 1-0 Wednesday night.
Because the Canadian Championship lends itself to a certain flexing of roster spots, I think a quick recap of the Starting XI fielded by each side:
Vancouver Whitecaps - Marinovic; Nerwinski, Ghazal, Maund, Levis; Techera, Teibert (C), Norman, Shea; Blondell, Mezquida.
Montreal Impact - Diop; Petrasso, Cabrera, Camacho, Lovitz; Krolicki, Piette (C), Taider; Silva, Jackson-Hamel, Vargas.
Nearly every player on the pitch has seen MLS action in their respective careers with the exception of David Norman, which was a bit of an oddity for the Canadian Championship compared to years passed, as we’d typically seeing younger or less MLS-familiar players take the pitch. Nevertheless, it was great to see the New Westminster-born Norman get a start.
Just as encouraging was the return of Stefan Marinovic from a longstanding knee strain. Also returning for the Whitecaps was Christian Techera, though rather from MLS exile due to his offensive language suspension.
For Montreal, tonight was also the first match for Clement Diop as a member of the Impact, since coming over from the LA Galaxy in the offseason.
The early minutes saw Montreal with the balance of the possession, earning a quick corner kick in the 1st minute, and Anthony Jackson-Hamel testing Marinovic shortly afterwards.
Possession remained fairly even, with no team truly finding a breakthrough into the other club’s penalty area, with Alejandro Silva forcing Marinovic into pushing a long, tight-angle shot for a corner that amounted to little.
At this point, passing for each club settled into the conservative, occasionally evolving into the overly-ambitious, with a just a pinch of sloppiness. Regular stuff, I’d think, in a two-legged cup semi-final, where no club wants to be the first to concede.
In the 16th minute, however, the Whitecaps nearly found a goal. With Nico Mezquida earning the endline on the left side, a cutback ball found its way to Anthony Blondell, though his shot couldn’t find its way past a Canadian wall named Samuel Piette.
Going the other way, the Impact started to break into the final third, continuing to pinpoint Jackson-Hamel, with efforts ending in a Marinovic collection & Jackson-Hamel skying a shot.
The Impact pressure kept coming, again through Jackson-Hamel, with the striker’s header glancing off the base of the Whitecaps’ post as a short-lived onslaught kept Vancouver buried deep in their end.
At the one-third mark of the match, a certain pattern was emerging, with the Impact content to play the ball around their backline as the Whitecaps patiently waited for an errant pass. Once that pass came, the ‘Caps would quickly offer their own truant ball, and the process would start anew.
That is, until the Whitecaps nearly poached off a cross/shot.
With Brett Levis having taken a hard knock near center, Mezquida collected the ball to continue play and found Techera along the left side. El Bicho carried the ball into the Montreal penalty area and struck an off-foot cross (shot?) into the far post, as the sliding Blondell could only watch it pass him by.
The B-Plot throughout the match so far was the surprising number of innocent-seeming, hard knocks struck against both teams, culminating with the substitution of Montreal right back Michael Petrasso for Jukka Raitala in the 38th minute.
The sudden change in personnel led to a brief burst of possession for the Whitecaps, but soon enough the Impact found their comfort zone again. That is, until Norman picked up the first yellow card of the match in the 41st minute.
That’s it! Show ‘em how the Hyacks play footy!
The half ran out with Montreal having their way with Vancouver, with Marinovice kicking away a Jackson-Hamel shot (on an offside run)...
...Saphir Taïder sliding a cross to no one in the six, and Levis showing his mettle with a strong tackle deep in the corner. There was also a Techera shot from about 40 yards of which I’d love to show a gif, if there was one readily available.
The second half started with Jackson-Hamel switching spots with Jeisson Vargas along the left flank, but it was the Whitecaps with the first true chance in the second forty-five.
A Techera cross to the top of the eighteen found Levis for a shot, that immediately caromed off the arm of a sliding Rudy Camacho within the penalty arc. On the ensuing free kick, Mezquida’s bent strike found its way around both the wall and the far post.
Again, the Impact began to carry the bulk of the possession, with the home side finding their breakthrough in the 58th minute.
Working it from right to left, the ball found its way to Taïder in the top right corner of the Whitecaps’ penalty area. The French midfielder casually slid the ball back to Silva, who left-footed a shot through the legs of Aly Ghazal and inside the far post:
Strangely, a goal prompted immediate action from Carl Robinson, something not often seen from the Whitecaps’ gaffer, as a quiet Blondell made way for Erik Hurtado.
And yet, it was the Impact with the next great chance, as Jackson-Hamel was again beaten by the woodwork.
Or should I say chances? Off a quickly taken free kick, Marinovic seemed to be the only Whitecap without slumped shoulders as he reactively pushed wide a headed attempt from Taïder.
That seemed to wake the Whitecaps somewhat, as quickly afterwards Aaroun Maund pushed high a headed free kick:
With twenty minutes remaing, the Impact looked content with letting their guests come to them and waiting for an opportunity to counter. It nearly worked, as a long ball Ken Krolicki along the right side worked its way outside the Whitecaps penalty area. Were it not for the offside flag, Jackson-Hamel would have found the anti-venom to his snake bite.
Immediately after, there seemed to be a punch/counterpunch of substitutions, as David Norman made way for Sean Franklin in the 71st minute, while Nacho Piatti made an appearance to help ice the match, coming in for Jackson-Hamel and moving to the left flank, pushing Vargas to the #10 position.
Not to be outdone, Robinson quickly threw in his last substitution, subbing Brett Levis for Alphonso Davies.
Wait, I mean... Bernie Ibini?
Maybe Robinson is looking to the weekend when it comes to his utilization, and with all due respect to Ibini, but I would have assumed Davies would play out the last fifteen minutes or so, to help net Vancouver a valuable away goal.
It nearly paid dividends right away as Shea gained the left edge of the Impact penalty area, only for his cross to fly just over the head of Ibini.
With the game approaching its last, the positive energy on the pitch leaned towards the Impact, culminating in poor possession by the Whitecaps, allowing Piatti to spring Taïder, only for the Frenchman to sky his shot.
One final sub for the Impact saw homegrown midfielder Mathieu Choinière come in for Taïder, just before Shea clobbered his way to a frustrated/frustrating yellow card in the 87th against Krolicki.
Gifted four minutes of added time, the Whitecaps could not make use of the leeway granted them, as the clock ran out the game to a 1-0 victory for the Impact.
By no means is all lost in the Canadian Championship for Vancouver. There’s still plenty to play for next Wednesday at BC Place, as there’s only a one-goal deficit for the Blue ‘n White to overcome. Expect to see some firepower in the form of Davies and Kei Kamara, while Montreal do their best to hold on for a result.