VANCOUVER, BC – It all started with a snowstorm.
On Wednesday night at BC Place, when Vancouver Whitecaps FC host reigning Mexican champions Tigres UANL in the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals (7 p.m. PT – tickets still available), they will be continuing a journey that’s been almost two years in the making. A journey that – yes, you guessed it – started with a snowstorm.
The ‘Caps, of course, qualified for this edition of the Champions League by winning the Voyageurs Cup in the 2015 Canadian Championship. And that process began on May 6, 2015.
Well it was supposed to, at least.
The ‘Caps were set to face FC Edmonton in the first leg of the Canadian Championship semifinals, but Mother Nature had other ideas. In a somewhat serendipitous moment, the match was postponed after a blast of snow in Edmonton left the pitch unplayable.
Yes, snow in May.
“I think I posted something on Instagram saying, ‘spring in Edmonton,’” midfielder Russell Teibert told whitecapsfc.com. “I actually made a snowman. It just feels so long ago."
It was a fitting start to the Canadian Championship.
And it kicked off Vancouver’s historic run to the Champions League semifinals, which comes to the forefront on Wednesday night. A total of 44 different players have appeared for Whitecaps FC dating back to the start of that Canadian Championship.
There have been no shortage of highlights – and heroes – along the way.
There was a 97th-minute winner by Matias Laba against Edmonton. There was Pedro Morales’ sublime free kick from a nearly impossible angle against Montreal. Then, after years of heartbreak, there was the club’s first-ever Voyageurs Cup, which they got to lift in front of their home fans.
For the first time in club history, the ‘Caps were Canadian champions.
And the magnitude of that achievement was certainly not lost on the players, who spent over half an hour on the pitch following the match celebrating with supporters. Pa-Modou Kah rode around the pitch on a hoverboard, dancing to the tune of “Up Town Funk.”
That song will never be the same.
“I had been in the final a few times before that,” said defender Jordan Harvey. “It’s been heartbreaking. And even after that one. For that to have happened, it will definitely be one of those games you look back at and smile about. It was a team effort. We made history, brought some silverware to the club, and that’s a group that will go down in history as one that brought home the championship.”
In a way, that was only the beginning for Whitecaps FC, who by virtue of winning the Voyageurs Cup earned Canada’s lone Champions League berth.
And so the journey continued.
There was a long (like, really long) trip to Trinidad & Tobago. There was the birth of “Churcherdo.” There was an unforgettable first goal for then 15-year-old Alphonso Davies, who clinched Vancouver’s quarterfinal berth with a 93rd-minute winner after a two-hour weather delay in Kansas City. There was a David Ousted penalty save at Red Bull Arena – yes, another one.
And then, there was an unforgettable first goal for new Whitecaps FC striker Fredy Montero, who scored on his debut after entering the match as a substitute just minutes prior en route to a 2-0 quarterfinal win over New York.
“I was just excited to play my first game,” Montero said. “I wasn’t thinking about anything else. I was 100 per cent focused on the field. The first few minutes I didn’t even touch the ball … then there was a corner kick. You always expect the big boys to score on a corner kick, but the ball came right to me. I hit it as hard as I could and it went in. It was an honour for me to be a part of that history just a few weeks after joining the team, but the job is not done.”
No, it certainly is not.
The ‘Caps fell 2-0 to Tigres UANL in the first leg of the Champions League semifinals, which means they have to overcome a two-goal deficit on Wednesday night.
It’s a tall task, but one the ‘Caps are relishing.
“I don’t care if we’re the underdog,” said Whitecaps FC goalkeeper David Ousted, who made six saves in the first leg. “We’re going out to win that game.”
“No one probably would have given us a chance to get to this stage,” Whitecaps FC head coach Carl Robinson told whitecapsfc.com. “Now we’re one game away from creating the next bit of history. We have to give everything we’ve got and leave nothing on the field for the 90 plus minutes. Strange things happen. Incredible journey. We don’t want it to end. We’ve still got 90 minutes left in us to give absolutely everything to continue this journey.”