Whitecaps rally past Impact to advance to USL final - National Post
VANCOUVER -- The Vancouver Whitecaps rolled with the punch on Sunday and finally delivered a knockout blow to the resilient Montreal Impact.
Playing without standout goalkeeper Jay Nolly, who was red carded in Friday's semifinal opener for allegedly throwing a punch at Impact player Antonio Ribeiro, the Whitecaps rallied from a 1-0 first-leg deficit to defeat Montreal 2-1 on aggregate in front of 4,992 fans at Swangard Stadium.
Second seed Vancouver advances to host the top-seeded Puerto Rico Islanders in the United Soccer Leagues First Division championship final next Sunday, as word came down right after the game that the Islanders didn't meet the league's minimum requirements for hosting a final.
Montreal, meanwhile, will narrow its focus after a hectic five weeks filled with USL-1 and Champions League games, and several improbable victories.
Sunday marked the 14th game for the Impact since Sept. 2 and it was their third in five nights, including a trip to Honduras. Now the Champions League Group C leaders are off to Trinidad and Tobago to face Joe Public on Wednesday.
"Obviously we don't feel good but we didn't have enough to win," said Impact head coach John Limniatis. "I don't think you blame that (hectic schedule) but certainly when you're second to the ball some fatigue has come in.
"The four or five guys that we had that didn't play the last game should have brought more energy and didn't, and once that happens the guys that have played a lot can't feed off that."
Jeff Clarke and Eduardo Sebrango scored four minutes apart late in the first half as the Whitecaps were rewarded for a convincing opening 45 minutes. Clarke's strike brought the crowd to its feet as the defender twice made cuts toward the middle of the field, then ripped in a shot from just inside 30 yards that beat Montreal goalkeeper Matt Jordan.
Three former Impact players combined on the 2-0 goal, as Charles Gbeke chased down a Martin Nash pass and, just before the ball crossed the end line, centred for Sebrango who finished from close range.
A tired-looking Impact side failed to place much pressure on Nolly's replacement, 24-year-old Tyler Baldock, who was making his professional start.
When Montreal did come calling in the final 20 minutes, Baldock and the Vancouver defenders were up to the task. Wesley Charles just beat Impact midfielder Tony Donatelli to a dangerous ball in the box in stoppage time, and Donatelli missed from 20 yards out seconds later.
"It was a poor first half," said Impact forward Joey Gjertsen. "We gave up two goals and couldn't recover.
"At least we have (Champions League) to look forward to."
After a sluggish start at Swangard Stadium this season - the Whitecaps were 3-3-4 in their first 10 home games including Nutrilite Canadian Championship action - Vancouver went 7-0-2 at home down the stretch.
Vancouver was 0-1-2 against Puerto Rico this season, drawing 0-0 at Swangard then tying 1-1 and losing 1-0 on the road.