VANCOUVER, BC – Vancouver Whitecaps FC’s historic run in the CONCACAF Champions League came to a heartbreaking end on Wednesday night at BC Place.
The ‘Caps left absolutely everything on the pitch in a David vs. Goliath showdown with Mexican Liga MX side Tigres UANL, one of the top teams in the entire CONCACAF region, but it wasn’t enough to overturn a two-goal deficit from the first leg in Monterrey, Mexico.
Ultimately, the reigning Mexican champions prevailed with a 2-1 win (4-1 on aggregate), ending Vancouver’s Champions League journey at the semifinal stage.
The ‘Caps certainly didn’t go down without a fight.
Brek Shea opened the scoring for Whitecaps FC in the third minute and the ‘Caps came close to tying the aggregate score through Christian Bolaños early in the second half, but it was not to be.
Instead, French international André-Pierre Gignac delivered the dagger with a world-class strike in the 63rd minute before Damián Álvarez provided the insurance in the 84th minute with Vancouver pushing numbers forward.
It wasn’t the storybook ending Vancouver had in mind, but it was still a heck of a ride for Whitecaps FC, who were just the seventh MLS team to qualify for the Champions League semis.
"There’s nothing to be ashamed of in that locker room," said Whitecaps FC head coach Carl Robinson. "This two-year journey, we’ve never been in this territory before. We’ve gone toe-to-toe and we’ve just come up a little bit short. So we have to be honest about it, and I will, and we will. But we’ll use that as motivation for next time."
There was no shortage of action in this one from the opening whistle.
Just 17 seconds into the match, Ismael Sosa broke into the box from the right but Tim Parker – who didn’t put a foot wrong in the opening frame – saved the day with a last-ditch sliding block.
It was a near-disastrous start for Vancouver, but it quickly turned into a dream one.
Shea got Whitecaps FC on the board in the third minute, finishing from the centre of the box after a cross from Cristian Techera. Unfortunately for Shea, he was forced to leave the match due to knee injury just a few minutes later, but all of a sudden we had a game.
Tigres went on to control 60 per cent of possession in the first half, threatening at times. But the ‘Caps defended with their lives knowing one Tigres goal would all but seal their fate and managed to get out of the half with everything to play for.
And they nearly brought the aggregate score level in the first minute of the second half.
After starting the play in midfield with a nice feed into the top of the area, Bolaños picked up a loose ball at the corner of the six-yard box only to see his off-balance strike parried away by Tigres goalkeeper Nahuel Guzmán.
Then, just after the hour-mark, Gignac found a little space at the top of the box and took full advantage, effortlessly curling one into the top right corner. As expected, the game opened up from that point forward, forcing David Ousted into a couple big-time saves.
There was nothing he could do in the 84th minute, however, when Álvarez buried a cross from the right as Tigres struck on the counter.
And that, unfortunately, was all she wrote.
"I think in the first leg, in the first half it was nil-nil. We had one or two clear chances and didn’t take them and they scored two goals," Robinson said. "And the first half of the second leg, we’re one-nil up, we have another chance with Bola at the start of the second half and we don’t take it. When you play against good teams – and Tigres are a top, top team, with top, top players, and a top coach – you have to make those defining moments and take those chances."
"Unfortunately we didn’t, so we have to accept it," he added. "We’ll take the experience, because it’s a great experience playing against a good team and good players, and we’ll bottle it and go again for next time."
Tigres will now go on to face fellow Mexican side CF Pachuca in the two-leg final later this month, while Whitecaps FC will shift their focus squarely on league play – starting Saturday night at Real Salt Lake Lake (6:30 p.m. PT on TSN1).
Referee: Javier Santos Escobar
3’ – VAN – Brek Shea
63’ – TIG – André-Pierre Gignac (Javier Aquino)
84’ – TIG – Damián Álvarez (Javier Aquino, Lucas Zelarayán)
Possession: Vancouver 42.8% – Tigres 57.2%
Shots: Vancouver 3 – Tigres 17
Shots on Goal: Vancouver 2 – Tigres 7
Saves: Vancouver 5 – Tigres 1
Fouls: Vancouver 14 – Tigres 8
Offsides: Vancouver 3 – Tigres 4
Corners: Vancouver 2 – Tigres 4
43’ – VAN – Matias Laba
Vancouver Whitecaps FC
1.David Ousted; 25.Sheanon Williams (47.Kyle Greig 78’), 4.Kendall Waston ©, 26.Tim Parker, 2.Jordan Harvey; 8.Andrew Jacobson (16.Tony Tchani 61’), 15.Matías Laba; 13.Cristian Techera, 7.Christian Bolaños, 20.Brek Shea (67.Alphonso Davies 10’); 12.Fredy Montero
Substitutes not used
70.Paolo Tornaghi, 11.Nicolás Mezquida, 17.Marcel de Jong, 31.Russell Teibert
1.Nahuel Guzmán; 28.Luis Rodríguez, 4.Hugo Ayala, 3.Juninho © (21.Francisco Meza 86’), 6.Jorge Torres Nilo; 18.Ismael Sosa (11.Damián Álvarez 83’), 29.Jesús Dueñas, 19.Guido Pizarro, 20.Javier Aquino; 26.Eduardo Vargas (8.Lucas Zelarayán 78’), 10.André-Pierre Gignac
Substitutes not used
22.Enrique Palos, 17.José Francisco Torres, 27.Alberto Acosta, 34.Jonathan Espericueta