VANCOUVER, BC – Make history.
That was Vancouver Whitecaps FC’s goal heading into the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals. They said it all week. Actually, they said it all offseason.
The 'Caps defeated New York Red Bulls 2-0 in the second leg of the quarterfinals on Thursday night at BC Place to secure their first-ever semifinal berth with a 3-1 aggregate victory over the two legs. Sixteen-year-old Alphonso Davies and new Designated Player striker Fredy Montero, who made his Whitecaps FC debut as a second-half sub, provided the scoring on the historic night.
What a way to start the season.
Whitecaps FC will now continue their Champions League journey against reigning Mexican Liga MX champions Tigres UANL, one of the top teams in the entire CONCACAF region, in the two-leg semifinals beginning mid-March in Mexico and concluding the first week of April at BC Place (tickets on sale NOW).
An MLS team has never won the CONCACAF Champions League – a 24-team competition between the domestic champions from North America, Central America, and the Caribbean.
Certainly, the odds are still heavily stacked against them. But never say never.
Whitecaps FC head coach Carl Robinson made a pair of changes to his starting lineup on Thursday after a 1-1 draw in the first leg, inserting newcomer Brek Shea up top as a striker and winger Marcel de Jong in place of the suspended Erik Hurtado and Cristian Techera.
And they both had a role in Vancouver’s opening goal.
After some nice interplay between Shea and fullback Jordan Harvey on the left wing, de Jong whipped in a ball that Davies won at the top of the six-yard box. The 16-year-old then outwaited the defender and finished from close range to give Vancouver the advantage with what turned out to be his second-game winner in this edition of the Champions League.
Davies and fellow speedster Kekuta Manneh looked extremely dangerous in the early going playing off of Shea, who wreaked havoc as the target man.
They nearly combined in the 25th minute on a blistering counter from deep in their own end, but Red Bulls keeper Luis Robles made a diving save off Manneh’s strike from the top of the box. Robles came up big again in the 34th minute, this time denying a heavy blast from de Jong.
The 'Caps looked the more lively side early, but New York also had their chances on a pair of set pieces delivered by 2016 MLS assist-leader Sacha Kljestan. First, he nearly found Daniel Royer at the back post and then he had a dead ball flicked on to Bradley Wright-Phillips at the top of the six, but Whitecaps FC goalkeeper David Ousted rushed off his line to make the save.
Ousted was called upon again early in the second half, tipping a Royer header over the bar as New York poured on the pressure.
The Red Bulls ended the night with over 70 per cent of possession – a natural product of Vancouver defending the lead.
In the end, the ‘Caps back line held firm.
And that set the stage for a late Montero insurance marker. In the 76th minute, the Colombian striker fired one in from the centre of the box after a Davies corner was cleared, opening his Whitecaps FC account just 10 minutes after entering the match.
It was a dream debut for Montero – and a historic night for the club. Certainly, one that will be remembered for a long, long time.
For now, though, Whitecaps FC will quickly turn their attention to Sunday’s MLS season opener against Philadelphia Union (6:30 p.m. PT at BC Place – tickets still available).
Referee: Valdin Legister
5’ – VAN – Alphonso Davies
76’ – VAN – Fredy Montero
Possession: Vancouver 27.4 % – New York 72.6 %
Shots: Vancouver 13 – New York 6
Shots on Goal: Vancouver 7 – New York 2
Saves: Vancouver 2 – New York 5
Fouls: Vancouver 22 – New York 20
Offsides: Vancouver 3 – New York 5
Corners: Vancouver 4 – New York 7
17’ – NY – Aurelien Collin
36’ – VAN – Matias Laba
57’ – VAN – Russell Teibert (suspended for semifinals first leg due to caution accumulation)
76’ – VAN – Alphonso Davies
Vancouver Whitecaps FC
1.David Ousted; 28.Jake Nerwinski, 4.Kendall Waston, 26.Tim Parker, 2.Jordan Harvey; 15.Matías Laba, 31.Russell Teibert; 67.Alphonso Davies, 23.Kekuta Manneh (8.Andrew Jacobson 82’), 17.Marcel de Jong (12.Fredy Montero 66’); 20.Brek Shea
Substitutes not used
70.Paolo Tornaghi, 22.Christian Dean, 25.Sheanon Williams, 32.Marco Bustos, 47.Kyle Greig
New York Red Bulls
31.Luis Robles; 15.Sal Zizzo, 78.Aurelien Collin, 33.Aaron Long, 92.Kemar Lawrence; 8.Felipe, 27.Sean Davis (13.Mike Grella 80’); 16.Sacha Kljestan ©, 77.Danny Royer (19.Alex Muyl 60’); 30.Gonzalo Verón (7.Derrick Etienne 8’), 99.Bradley Wright-Phillips
Substitutes not used
18.Ryan Meara, 20.Justin Bilyeu, 55.Damien Perrinelle, 62.Michael Murillo