By Ian Walker
It goes without saying that Ethan Gage's goal on Wednesday was the biggest of his career. The fact he just turned 18 and it was his first as a professional doesn't diminish anything. Gage's right-footed strike from the top of the box not only gave the Whitecaps a 1-0 victory over the Montreal Impact in their Nutrilite Canadian Championship matchup at Swangard Stadium, but it put Vancouver that much closer to being the country's representative in CONCACAF Champions League. The victory set up a showdown with Major League Soccer's Toronto FC on Tuesday at the Burnaby facility while eliminating the defending champion Impact from tournament contention.
Gage also had Vancouver's best chance to score in the first half, but his unchallenged header from 4-yards out soared over the crossbar.
"I had a chance to score in the first half so the rest of the game I was thinking I have to get that back," said the native of Cochrane, Alta. "The attacking part of my game isn't so good, I'm trying to work on it."
Gage's goal came in the 67th minute after Impact striker Eddie Sebrango's attempted to clear Marcus Haber's flick off Wes Knight's throw in from the far side. The game marked the return to Swangard for Sebrango, who signed with the Impact in the off-season after helping Vancouver to a pair of United Soccer Leagues First Division championships, most recently last season. The 36-year-old Cuban led the Whitecaps in scoring last season, but has just one goal in league play and Nutrilite competition since joining the Impact.
"It was a bad clear by me and he was in the right spot and let go a good shot," said Sebrango. "It's disappointing. I wish I could take it back, but I can't."
The game was scoreless after the first half, but not without drama. Martin Nash was given a yellow-card in the 36th minute as a result of engaging in a shoving match with Adam Braz after the Impact defender tackled the Whitecaps captain near the top of the Montreal box. The yellow card is Nash's second of the tournament and will prevent him from playing in Vancouver's crucial matchup with Toronto. Nash's first booking came in the 90th minute of the Whitecaps 2-0 victory in Montreal last week.
"It was a little stupid on my part, but I didn't think it deserved a card," said Nash. "It's very frustrating, more so that I let my team down. But we got great players and I'm confident we have guys who can step in and do the job."
Vancouver (2-1) is now tied with Toronto (2-0) atop the Nutrilite Canadian Championship standings with six points. The two teams are tied with a plus-two goal differential. Whitecaps striker Charles Gbeke could have given Vancouver a little bit of a cushion, but his penalty kick to the low left corner from 12-yards out was stopped by a diving Matt Jordan in the Montreal net.
At the other end, Vancouver goalkeeper Jay Nolly was forced to make a pair of back-to-back stops in the 88th minute to preserve the shutout, his second in as many games.
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