NUEVO LEÓN, MEXICO – Vancouver Whitecaps FC stood ground against mighty Tigres UANL for over an hour, but a 66th-minute own goal off Kendall Waston, and an insurance score from Eduardo Vargas gave the defending Mexican champions a 2-0 win in the first leg of the 2016-17 CONCACAF Champions League semifinal series on Tuesday evening in Nuevo León.
The series moves to Vancouver on Wednesday, April 5, for the second and decisive leg, with a finals berth on the line. The ‘Caps, who keep within striking distance with the first leg result at Estadio Universitario, will need a three-goal difference to win the series, or a 2-0 scoreline to extend the matchup into extra time if they are to pull off the historic upset.
Head coach Carl Robinson made eight changes to his XI from Saturday’s MLS match, with only Waston, David Ousted, and Jordan Harvey getting the repeat starts, as the ‘Caps fielded an experienced lineup against the five-time Liga MX champions.
The decision paid off dividends early, as the trio led a disciplined ‘Caps defence to stymie the vaunted Tigres attack in the first half. With the home side pressing on and manufacturing chances, Ousted came through with a pair of big saves on headers from the dynamic duo of Vargas and André-Pierre Gignac in the 32nd and 35th minutes, respectively. Gignac had another chance to put Tigres up in the 37th minute off some crisp passing on the left wing, but the French national striker could not get enough of the ball as his attempt went wide of the near post, keeping the match scoreless heading into intermission.
Tigres UANL looked primed to open the scoring in the 57th minute when Gignac headed a well-placed cross right in front of the Vancouver net, but Luis Quiñónes nodded the ball high of target as the Colombian midfielder collided with Ousted.
Shortly after the ‘Caps were unable to convert on a Brek Shea breakaway where the forward lost his footing, the Mexican side’s persistent offence was rewarded.
After Tigres kept the possession alive on the other end by picking off a half-clearance just outside the Vancouver box, Gignac resumed the Tigres attack on the left wing. Fighting past a ‘Caps defender, Gignac sent in a cross that deflected off a sliding Waston and straight into the ‘Caps net, giving the home side the 1-0 lead in the 66th minute.
Ousted kept the match close with a pair of diving saves, denying Quiñónes’ left-footed half-volley in the 70th minute, and then Argentinan midfielder Lucas Zelarayan’s header just five minutes later.
The ‘Caps would get a glorious opportunity at an all-important away goal when substitute Nicolás Mezquida telegraphed a soft pass between Tigres defenders and found space in the open field, but his attempt from the left went just wide of the far post.
Tigres UANL would double their lead in the 87th minute. After a ‘Caps defender blocked an initial attempt from the right side, the ball bounced straight to the top of the box, where Vargas was lurking. The Chilean national striker teed off on the rebound, sending it right back into the net for the final score, 2-0.
The ‘Caps proved their mettle in front of a boisterous crowd of 31,197 Tigres fans for much of the match and now have a home crowd at BC Place to back them up in the decisive leg in three weeks.
For now, they return to MLS play this Saturday when they host rival and MLS Cup finalist Toronto FC. Kickoff at BC Place is at 1 p.m.
Referee: Oscar Moncada
66′ – UANL – Kendall Waston (own goal)
87′ – UANL – Eduardo Vargas
Possession: UANL 79.4 – Vancouver 20.6
Shots: UANL 14 – Vancouver 4
Shots on Goal: UANL 7 – Vancouver 0
Saves: UANL 0 – Vancouver 6
Fouls: UANL 7 – Vancouver 13
Offsides: UANL 0 – Vancouver 1
Corners: UANL 12 – Vancouver 2
19′ – VAN – Marcel de Jong
22′ – VAN – Kendall Waston
60′ – VAN – Brek Shea
64′ – VAN – Sheanon Williams
1.Nahuel Guzmán; 16.Luis Advíncula (18.Ismael Sosa 64’), 4.Hugo Ayala, 21.Francisco Meza, 6.Jorge Torres Nilo (8.Lucas Zelarayan HT); 29.Jesús Dueñas, 19.Guido Pizarro ©; 25. Jürgen Damm, 26.Eduardo Vargas, 23.Luis Quiñónes; 10.André-Pierre Gignac
Substitutes not used
22.Enrique Palos, 3.Juninho, 27.Alberto Acosta, 28.Luis Rodríguez, 84.Jair Diaz
Vancouver Whitecaps FC
1.David Ousted; 25.Sheanon Williams, 4.Kendall Waston ©, 26.Tim Parker, 2.Jordan Harvey; 15.Matías Laba, 8.Andrew Jacobson; 67.Alphonso Davies (13.Cristian Techera 78’), 12.Fredy Montero (11.Nicolás Mezquida 64’), 17.Marcel de Jong (7.Christian Bolaños 56’); 20.Brek Shea
Substitutes not used
70.Paolo Tornaghi, 19.Erik Hurtado, 22.Christian Dean, 23.Kekuta Manneh