Playing their first match in the 2011 Nutrilite Canadian Championship, Vancouver Whitecaps FC defeated North American Soccer League side Montreal Impact 1-0 in the first leg of their two-match semifinal series on Wednesday evening.
Terry Dunfield's second-half strike at Montreal's Stade Saputo gave the Blue and White a one-goal aggregate advantage, with the Whitecaps FC captain's marker serving as an invaluable away goal for next Wednesday's decisive second leg on Bell Pitch at Empire Field.
Vancouver's quality as a Major League Soccer club showed in the number of quality chances they created against their Quebec-based hosts, who are playing their final season as a North American second division club before joining MLS in 2012. It was the second victory of the season for Teitur Thordarson's squad and Vancouver's third-straight win over the Impact at Stade Saputo - going back to last season when the 'Caps played in the USSF D-2 Pro League.
"I'm delighted that we won tonight, as it is a good start in the tournament for our club. It hasn't been easy to come here and win in Montreal, so I'm obviously happy for that," Thordarson said after the first leg. "I thought we deserved the win, especially for the way we played in the second half. We controlled things better after halftime, as the first half was a bit back and forth. To come away with a result from here is good for us and the next game at home."
Thordarson made two changes to the side that started last Saturday's 2-1 home defeat to FC Dallas in MLS. Mouloud Akloul earned his first start of the season in central midfield, as he replaced youngster Jeb Brovsky. Budweiser Man of the Match Russell Teibert came in on the left-hand of midfield, with Davide Chiumiento moving over to the right side of midfield. As a result, Wes Knight made way for Teibert's inclusion. Only goalkeeper Jay Nolly had Voyageurs Cup experience in Vancouver's starting XI on Wednesday. Impact head coach Marc Dos Santos, meanwhile, played former 'Caps players David Testo in midfield and Zurab Tsiskaridze at left fullback.
A crowd of 8,412 took in this important first leg on an overcast and windy spring evening in Montreal, with the home fans hoping to see the Impact upset their Canadian rivals in this lone Stade Saputo meeting between both clubs this season. What they witnessed was a Vancouver side that created more of the better chances in the first half of this midweek derby clash, while the Impact struggled to remain onside with several of their attacking forays.
It did not take long for Whitecaps FC to threaten the Impact goal. On nine minutes, Dunfield just missed the target with a left-footed strike after taking a pass from Camilo. Two minutes later, Camilo himself had a great chance to give Vancouver the lead, but the Brazilian was unable to connect properly with Teibert's cross from the left.
Camilo seemed keen to open his account in the competition, and on 20 minutes, the South American forward unleashed a powerful strike that Impact goalkeeper Bill Gaudette did very well to tip over the crossbar for a 'Caps corner.
The Impact, meanwhile, showed they were keen to cause problems against their MLS visitors. Nolly did well to gather Luke Kreamalmeyer's dangerous cross in his six-yard box in the first half, while Ali Gerba was unable to properly connect with Tsiskaridze's dangerous run and cross from the left. Montreal's best chance before the break fell to Tsiskaridze from a blocked Gerba free kick in the one minute of time added on. His powerful shot from the edge of the 'Caps box struck the side-netting before both sides went into halftime tied at 0-0.
With the match well poised at the start of the second half, Thordarson's side had more purpose to their play from the restart. On 56 minutes, Camilo was unlucky not to get on the end of Blake Wagner's ball into the Impact box, as Gaudette made a good save to keep matters scoreless.
It was a sign of things to come, as Whitecaps FC applied good pressure on Montreal shortly after the hour mark. Striker Eric Hassli forced Gaudette into a save with a low strike on 62 minutes before centre back Michael Boxall had a close-range effort deflected wide after Montreal failed to clear a Chiumiento corner two minutes later. From Teibert's ensuing corner, Gaudette saved Akloul's goal-bound header.
As the match neared the midway point of the second half, the 'Caps made the decisive breakthrough by taking advantage of a poorly-struck Gaudette goal kick on 67 minutes. The ball found its way into the Montreal box, where Hassli passed the ball out left to an unmarked Teibert. With time and space, the Whitecaps FC Residency graduate curled over a fine cross to an unmarked Dunfield on the edge of the six-yard box. The Vancouver captain's well-placed header found back of the net, as the two Canadian internationals teamed up to give the 'Caps a 1-0 lead. It was Dunfield's second goal of the season and his first in the Canadian Championship.
Though it was a slim margin, Whitecaps FC were full value for the first-leg lead, as the Impact struggled to create many chances after halftime. Nolly made routine saves off Anthony Le Gall and substitute Antonio Ribeiro, while Testo hammered a shot wide of Vancouver's goal on 86 minutes.
With substitute Shea Salinas getting a late run-out in place of Chiumiento for his Whitecaps FC competitive debut, the match entered three minutes of time added on, with the Impact searching for a late equalizer. Their best opportunity ended up being a half chance for Montreal substitute Idriss Ech Chergui, as his header from Philippe Billy's forward ball went wide of the target.
In the end, it was a confidence-boosting win for Whitecaps FC after a challenging early-season spell in MLS. With the second leg still a week away at Empire Field, Vancouver will turn their attentions back to league matters and Saturday's trip to the Ohio state capital, where they meet MLS Eastern Conference side Columbus Crew. The Impact, meanwhile, head to Alberta to face Canadian rivals FC Edmonton in NASL action on Sunday evening before travelling to Vancouver next week.
67' - VAN - Terry Dunfield (Russell Teibert, Eric Hassli)
Shots: Montreal 12 - Vancouver 13
Shots on Goal: Montreal 8 - Vancouver 8
Saves: Montreal 7 - Vancouver 8
Fouls: Montreal 18 - Vancouver 14
Offsides: Montreal 5 - Vancouver 1
Corners: Montreal 4 - Vancouver 6
62' - MTL - Kevin Hatchi
1.Bill Gaudette; 21.Philippe Billy, 5.Nevio Pizzolitto, 99.Kevin Hatchi, 77.Zurab Tsiskaridze; 8.Luke Kreamalmeyer (30.Pierre-Rudolph Mayard 75), 12.Amir Lowery (23.Antonio Ribeiro 75'), 17.Anthony Le Gall, 7.David Testo, 11.Leonardo De Lorenzo (28.Idriss Ech Chergui 68'); 10.Ali Gerba
Subs not used: 22.Evan Bush; 2.Hicham Aaboubou, 3.Richard Pelletier, 24.Simon Gatti
Vancouver Whitecaps FC
18.Jay Nolly; 25.Jonathan Leathers, 2.Michael Boxall, 4.Alain Rochat, 19.Blake Wagner; 20.Davide Chiumiento (22.Shea Salinas 78'), 7.Terry Dunfield, 50.Mouloud Akloul, 31.Russell Teibert; 37.Camilo (16.Nizar Khalfan 68'), 29.Eric Hassli
Subs not used: 1.Joe Cannon, 8.Wes Knight, 14.Greg Janicki, 23.Long Tan, 32.Kevin Harmse