Vancouver Whitecaps News Release - www.whitecapsfc.com
Sunday, October 5, 2008
VANCOUVER, BC -- Vancouver Whitecaps FC have reached their second USL First Division Championship Final in three seasons after defeating Canadian arch-rivals Montreal Impact 2-1 on aggregate following a 2-0 home win in the second leg of their playoff semifinal series on Sunday afternoon.
First-half goals by Whitecaps captain Jeff Clarke and former Impact striker Eduardo Sebrango secured Vancouver's place in the final next Sunday afternoon. They will host USL-1 regular season champions Puerto Rico Islanders at Swangard Stadium on Thanksgiving Sunday, October 12, with kickoff set for 4:00 p.m. in Burnaby, BC.
It was a spirited display by The Blue & White, who made the most of a fine first-half performance to erase the disappointment of Friday's 1-0 defeat in the first leg at Saputo Stadium. Though Montreal pressed hard in the second half to turn things around, solid defending and good goalkeeping by back-up Tyler Baldock ensured the Whitecaps had the chance of repeating their USL-1 championship success of 2006.
Whitecaps head coach Teitur Thordarson made two changes to the side that started Friday's first leg. With number one goalkeeper Jay Nolly suspended following his well-publicized red card in Montreal on Friday, Baldock made his first professional start in the Vancouver goal on Sunday, having made his Whitecaps debut as a second-half substitute at Saputo Stadium. The other change for Thordarson came in midfield, as Whitecaps Residency youngster Ethan Gage replaced Mason Trafford for the home side. Former Impact strikers Sebrango and Charles Gbeke started in the Vancouver attack.
Impact head coach John Limniatis, meanwhile, made another six changes to his starting line-up, as he looked to keep his squad as fresh as possible through USL-1 playoff and CONCACAF Champions League play. Adam Braz returned from suspension to join Stefano Pesoli in the visitors' backline, while Felix Brillant and former Whitecaps player David Testo came into the Montreal midfield. In attack, ex-'Caps player Joey Gjertsen joined Roberto Brown up front for the Quebec-based outfit.
On a pleasant overcast afternoon, a Swangard crowd of 4,992 saw an up-tempo first half of soccer between these two rivals, with Sebrango forcing Impact goalkeeper Matt Jordan into a save with his deflected shot after just five minutes.
Four minutes later, Gbeke stumbled at the most inopportune time in front of the Montreal goal after Lyle Martin had found the forward in the box with a low cross, while on 14 minutes, Matt Jordan did well to claim possession of Gbeke's flick towards the charging Sebrango in the Impact box.
Montreal's first reply came on 20 minutes, but Sandro Grande's low shot flew wide of the target, as Baldock had very little to do during the opening 45 minutes.
A goal down on aggregate, the Whitecaps kept pushing forward, with Alfredo Valente forcing Pesoli to clear his dangerous low cross in front of the Montreal goal on 23 minutes. A minute later, Gage played a good cross into Sebrango, but the Cuban's header flew wide of the target.
On 25 minutes, the Impact had their best chance of the half, but Mauro Biello's low shot brought a simple diving save from Baldock after Gjertsen had found his Montreal teammate with a cross-field pass near the edge of the Vancouver box.
On the half-hour mark, Valente took a Steve Kindel pass before hitting a byline cross that Sebrango headed wide, while at the other end, Brown was unable to direct Braz's cross from the right on the Whitecaps goal.
The home side kept pushing in search of the first goal, and Whitecaps fans were awarded with one in spectacular fashion on 37 minutes. Clarke took a Kindel pass on the left-hand side before making a run towards the edge of the Impact box. Under little pressure, the Whitecaps captain teed up a blistering right-foot strike that flew past Matt Jordan to pull the Whitecaps level on aggregate at 1-1.
Four minutes later, Vancouver took a decisive 2-1 aggregate lead. Martin Nash played a forward ball to Gbeke, who then did well to turn away from Impact centre back Nevio Pizzolitto in the Montreal box. Gbeke reached the byline before cutting the ball back to Sebrango, who eluded the challenge of Pesoli to finish past Matt Jordan and give the Whitecaps a 2-0 lead in the match at halftime.
With Montreal now trailing in the series, Limniatis introduced Rocco Placentino for Biello to start the second half, as the Impact looked to turn things around. On 47 minutes, the visitors made animated appeals for a penalty after Placentino went down in the Vancouver box, but match referee Dave Gantar waved those appeals away before booking Impact captain Pizzolitto for his protestations.
Three minutes later, Matt Jordan needed to make an important save to deny Sebrango a second goal after Nash and Gbeke had combined well near the edge of the Montreal box to set up the Vancouver goalscorer, while at the other end, Placentino sliced a shot wide of Baldock's goal for Montreal.
The middle stages of the second half saw Limniatis increase his attacking options by introducing striker Peter Byers, first-leg goalscorer Antonio Ribeiro, and former Whitecaps midfielder Tony Donatelli to the match.
With the Impact pressing forward to find a crucial aggregate equalizer, Thordarson introduced three substitutes of his own in Omar Jarun at centre back, Takashi Hirano on the left side of midfield, and Nicholas Addlery in attack, with Clarke, Moose, and Gbeke all making way. In fact, Clarke, Gbeke and Moose received standing ovations from the Swangard crowd for their efforts on Sunday.
On 78 minutes, Whitecaps fans had their hearts in their mouths when Testo hit a rasping shot from the edge of the Vancouver box, but unlike his goal at Swangard in the Nutrilite Canadian Championship back in June, Sunday's effort flew right into the assured arms of Baldock.
The tension and excitement continued to rise, as the match entered the final stages, with the Whitecaps having a glorious chance to all but end the series on 85 minutes. Valente's cross from the right found substitute Hirano in the Montreal box, but the Japanese defender's header struck the near post and bounced away to safety.
The match then entered a nail-biting five minutes of stoppage time, with Montreal doing all they could to pull the series back to level terms, but Placentino and Donatelli wasted two good opportunities to take the match into extra time.
The final whistle finally came from referee Gantar and brought delight to Whitecaps players, coaches, staff, and fans alike, as they secured a spot in the league's Championship Final for the first time since winning the title in Rochester in 2006.
The Whitecaps will now face Puerto Rico on Thanksgiving Sunday at Swangard after the Commissioner's Cup winners overcame a two-goal deficit to defeat fourth-seeded Rochester 3-2 on aggregate in the other playoff semifinal. Trailing 2-0 from Friday's first leg in Upstate New York, the Islanders took the series to extra time in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, on Sunday after goals from Fabrice Noel and Taiwo Atieno in the first half of the second leg at the Juan Ramon Loubriel Stadium. Colin Clarke's side went on to win the series when Cristian Arrieta struck the decisive goal for Puerto Rico in the second period of extra time for a 3-2 series victory.
The Islanders, along with the Impact, will be in CONCACAF Champions League action this coming week, with Puerto Rico in Mexico on Wednesday for a Group D clash with Club Santos Laguna before heading to Vancouver for the USL-1 final. Montreal, meanwhile, head to Trinidad & Tobago for an important Group C clash with Joe Public FC on Wednesday evening.