The Vancouver Whitecaps bowed out of the CONCACAF Champions League after a brace from Carlos Vela and a magical goal from José Cifuentes sealed the deal at BMO Stadium.
The three goals, added to the three the Californian side already had from the first leg at B.C. Place meant they defeated Vancouver 6-0 on aggregate and now move on to the semifinals.
Whitecaps head coach Vanni Sartini said everyone knew it was a daunting task to try and win, but it was one they were all up for.
“We knew we had to do something special,” Sartini said after the match. “We actually had the chance at the beginning to score the first goal. Then, we’ve been a little bit naive in conceding the first penalty.”
He credited the experience of the Champions League, saying that it has left everyone hungry for more.
“We want to be here next year too. So, now it’s up to us to do a fantastic league or fantastic Canadian Championship or the Leagues Cup because this was our first dance. And in the first dance maybe you’re a little bit even shy in asking someone to dance. And next year, we [will be] ready. We’ll learn some moves.”
But there were also plenty of questions about whether the lineup up put forth by the Whitecaps was even prepared for that first dance. Sartini chose to heavily rotate his squad and showed a few surprises.
“The reason was we had a lot of games,” he said. “We had to manage players.”
Ali Ahmed was placed into his natural role as left-back, but it meant that Ryan Raposo was moved to the right-back position. While Raposo is right-footed and it would seem like a positive move, he has been learning the defensive position and switching the sides seemed like it may have been too much for the player.
Sartini said the decision to play both Ahmed and Raposo was to use attack-minded full-backs pushed high up the pitch to try and get the early goal and change the nature of the tie.
Also on defence, Javian Brown was at centre-back, a position he played in college but very little since.
Déiber Caicedo was given his first start in almost 10 months after suffering a serious injury in late July 2022. However, he was only cleared for 45 minutes of play, which meant a substitution had to be pre-built in for him.
Sebastian Berhalter also came on for Andrés Cubas, who went off with an injury against Portland.
But with attack in mind and necessary to overcome the first-leg deficit, the Whitecaps plan did not execute as desired.
“The three guys up top, they didn’t attack the space like I wanted them to do, especially on the left side,” Sartini said.
Early pressure from the Whitecaps was quickly squashed after Raposo brought down Denis Bouanga in the 18-yard box with a late challenge. Carlos Vela converted the easy penalty kick to put the home side up a goal within the first 10 minutes.
“We had two chances to score two goals [in the first 10 minutes], and we didn’t do it,” Sartini said.
Vela continued to be the bane of the visiting side. He completed the brace in the 31st minute, chesting the ball down from an excellent pass from Ilie Sánchez into the centre of the 18-yard box. Vela’s run behind the Whitecaps’ centre-back pairing caught them off-guard, and the Mexican D.P. passed the ball easily beyond the reach of Thomas Hasal.
Sartini surprised with a quadruple substitution to begin the second half. While there was never likely any belief that the Whitecaps could dig themselves out of the hole they had created, there was an understandable desire to play for pride.
But LAFC did not care, or at the very least, were unconcerned. José Cifuentes completed an excellent passing sequence with a beautiful shot off the near post, into the far post and finally into the net. The goal, LAFC’s third, put the home side up by six goals on aggregate in the 65th minute.
“We have to use this game, what we did well and what we didn’t do well in order to keep improving and keep trying to score points in the league,” Sartini said.
The Whitecaps, three goals conceded at home last Wednesday and three more in Los Angeles, simply had no answer for the defending MLS Cup champions.
Vancouver has no time to sit on this loss as they head to Austin for Major League Soccer play on April 15. Kick-off is at 5:30 p.m.
NOTES: LAFC managed an attendance of 18,688 for this second leg.