BURNABY, B.C. — The Vancouver Whitecaps advanced to their second USL First Division Championship Game in the last three years after beating the Montreal Impact 2-0 in the second leg and 2-1 on aggregate. Jeff Clarke and Eduardo Sebrango tallied for Vancouver in the 37th and 41st minutes respectively.
The Whitecaps were already shorthanded with starting keeper Jay Nolly suspended for a red card he received in the first leg. In his place was 23-year-old Tyler Baldock, making his first career USL First Division start.
The Whitecaps enjoyed much of the early possession but were unable to mount any meaningful attacks until midway through the first half.
Vancouver's first real attempt came in the 23rd minute, when Steve Kindel played Alfredo Valente through on the left hand side but the midfielder's low cross was unable to find any Whitecaps attackers.
Less than a minute later Ethan Gage fed a long cross in from the right flank and Sebrango was left unmarked but his free header sailed wide of the target.
Sensing that their 1-0 aggregate lead would not withstand Vancouver's pressure for long, Montreal picked up the tempo. Mauro Biello had a strike at goal in the 25th minute from the left side but it rolled wide.
Vancouver took the lead in the 37th minute when defender Clarke corralled a loose ball in the middle of the park and hammered a shot into the corner to keeper Jordan's right from 25-yards out.
The 4,992 fans roared to life after Clarke's goal. The attendance was a fraction of the 12,000 fans that attended the first leg in Montreal on Friday but Clarke credited them for making things difficult for the Impact.
"If you look at the last five years, Swangard (Stadium) has been a fortress for us," he said. "We worked hard all year to finish second and it was good to play the second leg in front of fans like this."
Montreal looked lost after the goal. They were every bit the team that had played three games in the last nine days and nine games in the past 17 days.
Vancouver took advantage of Montreal's lack of focus in the 40th minute. Vancouver had a free kick near the half way line following a foul by Montreal's David Testo. Veteran Martin Nash took the free kick and found striker Charles Gbeke on the left side. Gbeke held off Montreal defender Nevio Pizzolito and swung a low cross into the box. Sebrango was able to beat Stefano Pesoli to the cross and poked the ball home from the edge of the six yard box.
Montreal held the bulk of the possession in the second half with Vancouver leaving most of their players in the defensive third of the field. The best the Impact could muster was in the 78th minute when Testo took a shot from 25-yards out but it was right at Baldock and he held on easily.
Whitecaps coach Teitur Thordarson admitted he was nervous seeing the Impact with the bulk of the possession in the second half and praised the composure of his young goalkeeper's performance.
"They pushed us back (in the second half). That was not the plan. But we've shown that we can defend and I'm very happy for the boys. Tyler did well both when he came on in Montreal and here."
The Whitecaps almost put the game beyond doubt in the 80th minute when Valente found substitute and former Japanese international Takashi Hirado with a cross from the right side but the defender's header struck Jordan's left post.
The Impact mounted a few more attacks in the final ten minutes, but none of them troubled Baldock in the Vancouver goal.
Baldock was surprised that Montreal had trouble applying pressure in the attacking third.
"Seeing as it was my first start, I thought they'd be throwing the ball at me more. The guys in front helped a lot. We've always played tight defensively."
The Whitecaps will now the Puerto Rico Islanders in the final. The Islanders beat the Rochester Raging Rhinos 3-0 in the second leg and 3-2 on aggregate. Puerto Rico earned the right to host the final, but their stadium did not meet CONCACAF requirements. Instead, the final will be at Swangard Stadium in Burnaby on Sunday, October 12th.
The one consolation for the Impact is that now they can focus on the CONCACAF Champions League. They head to Trinidad to play Joe Public on Wednesday in their fourth game of the group stage.