Win you’re going to win a competition, you may as well keep winning it.
That’s the sentiment that must have been going through the minds of the Vancouver Whitecaps as they defeated their Canadian Championship finalist opponents, CF Montréal, by a score of 2-1. It was the second Voyageurs Cup in a row for the Whitecaps.
Head coach Vanni Sartini called the win “better than sex.”
“We’re over the moon for the happiness of winning the trophy again,” he said. “I’m very happy for everyone—all the players, all who work here, all the fans. I told them before the game, I’m proud to work with them and to share this journey with them. They inspire me every day.”
Sartini fielded a strong lineup for the final of the competition. However, he was forced into starting Levante Johnson, who signed a one-week short-term contract from Whitecaps 2, in order to have enough Canadian players in the starting XI.
Johnson, along with captain Russell Teibert and left-back Ryan Raposo, filled out the Canadian contingent.
Early pressure from the Whitecaps had Montreal pushed back into their defensive end. Vancouver was finding movement through Johnson and Teibert, midfielders playing out wide, and crossing the ball into the 18-yard box.
Both Tristan Blackmon and Johnson had clear chances in the first ten minutes: Blackmon’s header off a Ryan Gauld corner and Johnson’s from near the penalty dot, catching Jonathan Sirois moving in the wrong direction.
Julian Gressel also had a double of chances, but besides the movement of play going in the Whitecaps’ direction, they could not get anything behind Sirois.
Johnson was again part of a late chance for the Whitecaps. The young midfielder received the ball as it moved fast from Gauld. His cross into the box was pinpoint for Brian White, but the striker was stymied by the Montreal goalkeeper as he had done throughout the first half.
“Jonathan [Sirois] was the best player on the field by far. He was the only one who kept them in the game,” Sartini said of the performance by CF Montréal’s goalkeeper.
The Whitecaps kept up the pressure in the second half. And it finally paid off as White pushed through Sirois and the lone centre-back to get on the end of an overhead ball. He was the only man left on his feet as he slotted in the easy empty netter in the 58th minute.
It was the opening Vancouver needed.
Gauld was taken down in the 18-yard box mere minutes later. The Scot stepped up to take the penalty, and he drilled it into the back of the net, doubling the score.
But just when things seemed to be going well for the home side, they took the foot off the pedal. It was the chance Montreal needed.
Sunusi Ibrahim latched onto the end of a free ball in the 18-yard box and pocketed one for the visitors in the 83rd minute.
The shock changed the entire atmosphere of the building. Suddenly, Montreal was on the front foot and the Whitecaps were the ones playing with panic.
The late pressure from Montreal was strong and if not for Yohei Takaoka making a stunning stretch save and Javain Brown providing a well-timed tackle, this match could have ended very differently.
The Whitecaps were able to hold on and win their second Voyageurs Cup is as many years, booking their ticket to next year’s CONCACAF Champions Cup.
“I’m very happy on how we played for 80 minutes,” Sartini said after the match. “I think for 80 minutes it’s like, I don’t know, the headline today would be, ‘Okay, [Lionel] Messi’s coming, but Whitecaps play even better than Messi.'”
But he questioned the final ten minutes. The head coach chalked it off to a lack of maturity, failing to manage games effectively for a full 90 minutes.
Best Young Canadian Award: Ali Ahmed
George Gross Memorial Trophy (MVP): Julian Gressel
NOTE: The Whitecaps will most assuredly filling their cups tonight in celebration, but the turnaround to MLS action is quick. They face FC Cincinnati, the league’s hottest team, on June 10.