After weeks of misfortune, Vancouver Whitecaps FC were desperately in need of a little bit of luck. And they got it in a big way on Wednesday night.
It was another crazy game at the asylum that is Empire Field. With Vancouver clinging to a 2-1 aggregate advantage in their Nutrilite Canadian Championship (NCC) semifinal, ‘Caps fans gasped as Montreal Impact striker – and former Toronto FC player – Ali Gerba was left wide open in what was essentially the final moment of the match, given a clear opportunity to win the series on 'away goals'.
This time, though, the home team’s prayers were answered, as Gerba hit the far post to preserve the win and advance Whitecaps FC to the NCC championship final against Toronto FC.
“We were a bit lucky in extra time, but I definitely would have felt it hard if we wouldn’t have gone through because I felt we deserved it,” Whitecaps FC head coach Teitur Thordarson said after the match. “I’m just delighted that we’ve gone through and now we get the opportunity to play two good games against Toronto.”
While Thordarson couldn’t have been happy with a mental lapse by his team at such a crucial stage of the match, he also reflected from a fan perspective, fully aware that his side had added another classic to the Canadian soccer history vault.
“It’s a great rivalry with Montreal,” said Thordarson. “This tournament is great, there is some nerve in it and that’s good. I like that. These games are always interesting.”
Thordarson’s side was the aggressor for most of the match and could have easily scored during regulation. Montreal, meanwhile, didn’t have any clear scoring chances through 170 minutes against the ‘Caps.
“We felt like we defended well through the first 90 minutes,” said goalkeeper Jay Nolly. “We just gave them crosses from the outside and long shots, nothing too dangerous, and we were definitely the most dangerous attacking team.”
But as has been the case this season, the pressure wasn’t converted to goals.
“Against good teams, if we don’t score then sooner or later, they will get their opportunities,” said Thordarson.
That was precisely the case on Wednesday, as Montreal capitalized on Vancouver’s inability to score with a late equalizer.
Whitecaps FC, though, regained their composure in extra-time and pressed for a winner, which eventually came from the foot of Mouloud Akloul before Gerba missed his golden opportunity.
“There was a little bit of relief in the changing room,” said midfielder Terry Dunfield. “We got away with one at the end, but we controlled most of the game, and we needed to dig deep and show some character. Sometimes in soccer, you need that little bit of luck to get you through. Hopefully, we didn’t use it all up tonight.”