In their first opportunity to defend their Canadian Championship title from last year, the Vancouver Whitecaps did not disappoint.

Carrying on their newfound goal-scoring ability from their win over Minnesota United, the Whitecaps put four past York United goalkeeper Niko Giantsopoulos on their way to a 4-1 win.

Head coach Vanni Sartini said that for 60 minutes, the game was an even affair.

“We know we could have been on the opposite side,” he said. “But in the end, I think we won comfortably, 4-1 is even too much against them. I think two goals lead would be the right, I would say, distance for the game.”

The Whitecaps made seven changes to the starting XI that took to the field last weekend against Minnesota. The requirement of Canadian players obviously made some changes a necessity, but with more than half the lineup being new, it left a few questions about whether the team on the pitch could gel.

Of those that did start on the weekend and tonight, the centre-back pairing of Tristan Blackmon and Ranko Veselinović remained to ensure the defensive stability that had been a part of the Whitecaps’ defensive stability so far this season.

“This competition is very important, and it doesn’t matter if you play against a CPL [Canadian Premier League] team, a League1 team, you need to play the best team possible that you can play. So, all the rotation that we did, it was to put the player that was readier to play today,” Sartini said.

With 45 minutes done, neither side had made any inroads. The Whitecaps narrowly edged out York in terms of possession, but they did make more use of what they had, outshooting the home side 12-2.

Unfortunately for the visitors, they were plagued by the same story that had affected them throughout their MLS season: opportunities abound but a clear lack of precision.

“The game didn’t present anything we didn’t expect,” Sartini said of the first half. “I think we were too slow in moving the ball…and that’s why we, I think we threatened them maybe a couple of times. We had a couple of chances but nothing more. I think after the first half a tie was a fair result.”

And for 64 minutes, York did admirably to hold off the defending Voyageurs Cup champions. But they were undone by a quick series of events: a brilliant run by Ali Ahmed, a strong shot from Russell Teibert and a bizarre bounce off the crossbar.

That goal forced York into chasing a game in which previously, they had done well to be in. It also gave the Whitecaps the breach in the dam they had been waiting for. 

And several more followed the first.

Simon Becher doubled the tally just over 10 minutes later. Giantsopoulos make the mistake of coming out of his 18-yard box to sweep the area, but his header did not go far. The ball fell to the feet of the striker, who lobbed it high and over York’s goalkeeper and defenders.

A more bizarre gal he may never score.

Levante Johnson, a new Whitecaps’ signing on a short-term contract from the club MLS NEXTPro side, Whitecaps 2, put a third past Giantsopoulos in the 88th minute. It was a first-team debut goal for the 2023 Whitecaps SuperDraft pick.

“Levante’s a very good player,” the head coach said. ” We had him in preseason, and he’s a player that all the tools and skills to become an important MLS player in the future. He’s fast. He’s good on 1v1s. He can score goals. And also, he listens a lot. If you tell him to do something on the field, he does it.”

York United clawed one back in extra time, an absolute bomb from distance by Austin Ricci.

But the Whitecaps did not relent. They netted a fourth goal in the 92nd minute, a Julian Gressel penalty after Becher was brought down in the 18-yard box.

Sartini was asked about the importance of the Canadian Championship, and he responded emphatically, saying

“I think its fundamental,” he said. “I think the fact that, for us, having a cup competition is literally bringing the culture of the game to the country. The possibility that a small team can beat big team. The fact that CPL players can put themselves in front of MLS players and maybe impress them. I was in Burnaby when TSS [Rovers] beat Valour. It was a fantastic night. And, you know, with all the community behind a small team there…I think we’re going in the right direction in this country with the CPL, with the League1. We need to have opportunities for players to play and grow. And I hope even more League1 teams are going to play in this cup.”

The Whitecaps do not have much time to rest on their laurels. They face the Portland Timbers on Saturday in MLS action in Portland. The Timbers were also busy tonight in the U.S. Open, so neither team will be able to take the advantage of an added rest. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m.