VANCOUVER, BC – Alphonso Davies and Nicolás Mezquida scored in the first half to give Vancouver Whitecaps FC a nail-biting 2-1 win over Montreal Impact in the first leg of the Canadian Championship semifinal series. David Choinière tallied an important away goal for the visitors at BC Place on Tuesday evening.
WFC goalkeeper Spencer Richey recorded five saves, including a pair of massive stops against Patrice Bernier – first on a penalty kick, then on a short-distance stab in the dying moments.
The result sets up what should be an exciting decisive second leg next Tuesday, May 30 at Stade Saputo in Montreal (TSN, TSN Radio 1410).
The ‘Caps can advance to their third consecutive Canadian Championship final with any win or draw in Montreal. Choinière’s second-half tally may come into play with the away goal rule but it will depend on the aggregate scoreline.
Head coach Carl Robinson, who had used the same XI in the previous five MLS matches, made wholesale changes to his lineup for the midweek fixture and unveiled a new 3-4-2-1 formation. Vancouver fielded a mix of experience and youth with an average age of just over 25 years, including Canadian citizens Marcel de Jong, Ben McKendry, and Russell Teibert, as well as permanent resident Davies. Whitecaps FC 2 centre back call-up Sem de Wit patrolled the middle of the three-man backline for Vancouver.
Just like Saturday, the ‘Caps got on the board off a brilliantly played team goal, this time coming on a breakaway. Mauro Rosales initiated the chance out wide on the right side, playing the ball forward to Brek Shea. Without breaking his long stride, Shea sent a cross to the middle of the box, getting a slight redirection off a soft Mezquida flick, and right to Davies, who stroked the ball into the net with his left foot for the 1-0 lead in the 13th minute.
The fireworks continued as Davies and McKendry kept Impact goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau on his toes with persistent shots. In the 33rd minute, Davies broke down the Montreal defence on the left side, splitting three defenders, and penetrating into the corner of the 18-yard box. The ball sprung loose after Davies collided with Impact midfielder Hernán Bernardello, and Mezquida was there to pounce, burying the ‘Caps second goal to pad the lead, 2-0.
On the other end, the Montreal attack was largely stymied for the opening hour, with Richey calm in net, making saves against Dominic Oduro, Callum Mallace, and Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla.
Montreal would strike in the 62nd minute, however. Daniel Lovitz launched the attack with a forward pass over the top to a leaping Anthony Jackson-Hamel, who headed the ball to Choinière. The Quebec native teed off from just left of the spot, cutting the lead in half.
The visitors had a number of chances to equalize. Chris Duvall’s long-distance strike found the left post in the 68th minute, and Jackson-Hamel’s rebound attempt from point-blank range went wide of the near post.
Then four minutes later, Montreal was awarded a penalty kick when Cole Seiler was whistled for a handball while on the ground after a clean sliding tackle against a sprinting Table inside the box. Richey came up with the huge stop on the ensuing penalty kick, diving right to deny Bernier’s attempt.
Bernier would have another crack in the last minute of added time, when he sent a shot through traffic from close but he would not be able to solve Richey once again, as the match came to a thrilling end at 2-1.