Last week may have earned the Vancouver Whitecaps a draw, but the away trip to Monterrey will be an entirely different beast.

Affectionately nicknamed The Volcano (or unsympathetically, for away fans), the Estadio Universitario, the stadium for Tigres UNAL, can feel exactly like one.

Fresh off a 3-0 win against Santos Laguna in Liga MX, Tigres have moved into a three-way tie for the top spot in the Clausura. In fact, they have not lost a competitive match since Dec. 17.

But the Whitecaps have experience in Monterrey before. In the 2015–2016 season of the CONCACAF Champions League, the Whitecaps made it to the semi-finals, losing 4-1 on aggregate to Tigres.

The Whitecaps also faced Tigres in the inaugural Leagues Cup last year in the Round of 32, taking the tie to penalties. But similar to their previous encounter, they were not able to win.

This time around, the Canadian club is hoping to advance past their Mexican opponent.

“We need to keep the momentum in this game to try to focus on what we want to do on the pitch,” Whitecaps head coach Vanni Sartini said. “We know it is a very important game. We know it’s a Champions League game. We know it is an elimination game in a very difficult environment.”

One match under their belt

The Whitecaps came into the first leg of the first round as the undeniable underdog. True, they were playing at home in front of their fans, but it was not really their home.

They were forced to play at Starlight Stadium in Langford on Vancouver Island rather than at their actual stadium at B.C. Place.

But from the shots of the ferries travelling over the Georgia Straight, full of fans from both clubs, as well as local supporters who welcomed them, Starlight Stadium did give a ‘12th man’ feel. Attendance was placed at 5,763 in the 6,000-capacity stadium.

Of the match itself, the Whitecaps showed they were not willing to concede without a fight.

Scoring the first goal, a debut from new signing Damir Kreilach, the Whitecaps fought not only to hold onto their lead but to add to it.

And save for a brilliant free kick from André-Pierre Gignac in the 88th minute, it may have been their night. The Whitecaps had to settle for the draw, one they may have felt a little stung by, but they would have taken it if offered it before the match.

Besides Kreilach, several other Whitecaps’ players stood out. Pedro Vite did well in a new role, playing as a deeper playmaker. Brian White had a goal chalked off by VAR, but he did provide the assist for Kreilach’s earlier effort.

Ryan Gauld continued to show why he is the best player at the club. He covered ground in all areas of the pitch, providing the initial cross that created Kreilach’s goal and helping out in defence.

But of all the players on the pitch, it was goalkeeper Yohei Takaoka’s night. Starting his second season with the Whitecaps, Takaoka provided five saves including a couple pure reactionary ones.

He was the calm presence behind the back line and helped the Whitecaps in their attempts to quickly transition.

In their approach to this match, Sartin said it is simply a week further into the preseason.

“The intensity of training has been better than the week before,” the head coach said. “I think we are in a good moment. We are going to the maximum state of form in a couple weeks. We are still not there yet.”


Ali Ahmed is still recovering from sports hernia surgery and will not play. Sam Adekugbe is likely to miss out as well as he mends from a knee injury.

Kickoff is at 5 p.m. on Feb. 14. The match will be shown on OneSoccer.