CANCHAMP ROUND-UP: Whitecaps, Montréal dodge potential 'cupsets' to reach final
Ultimately, they huffed and puffed, but couldn’t topple the favourites.
On what had the potential to be a historic day for the Canadian Premier League, as Forge and Pacific FC looked to become the first CPL teams to qualify for the final of the Canadian Championships without earning a bye, there was a lot to be excited about as Forge took on CF Montréal and Pacific hosted the Vancouver Whitecaps in the semi-finals of this cup on Wednesday.
Yet, despite the potential for an upset, however, the favourites managed to get through without much worry in the end.
As a result, two teams that know each other very well will rekindle an old rivalry in a few weeks’ time, when the Whitecaps host Montréal in the final.
The first meeting between the two in the Canadian Championship since 2018, this is also the first time since 2015 that they’ve met in the final, and just the third time they’ve met in a final since this tournament shifted to a knockout format in 2011 (for context, Vancouver has played TFC in five finals since then, while Montréal has faced TFC in four finals across that span).
Two teams whose rivalry extends back to their days in the USL in the 2000s, and has remained fierce since both sides entered MLS in the early 2010s, their past meetings in the Canadian Championship are a big reason why.
There, they’ll look to wrap up what has been another entertaining edition of the tournament, even if the cup magic was left at home in the semi-finals in terms of potential upsets.
Montréal outlasts Forge with strong second half surge:
After falling to Montréal in their previous two meetings in this competition in the 2021 semi-finals and 2022 quarter-finals, could the third time be the charm for Forge?
For 45 minutes, it looked possible, as Forge came out with a perfect road half at Stade Saputo. As a result, they made it to half time with the score still 0-0, with the shots being just 4-2 for the hosts, with an xG of 0.12 to 0.07, respectively.
Safe to say, it was a low-event first half, which was perfect for Forge, because if they kept that up, it felt like it’d be reasonable to imagine them taking the game to penalties.
Yet, with 45 minutes to go, they still had a lot of work to do, especially defensively, as it was going to require a near-perfect performance off the ball for them to even stay in the game until the 90th minute, much less be in the hunt for penalties.
Then, Ariel Lassiter reminded them of as much in the 54th minute, as he did well to cut inside and unleash a shot, one that’d take a vicious deflection off Alessandro Hojabrpour and into the net to give the hosts the lead.
From there, it was all one-way traffic for Montréal, as a weight seemingly lifted once they got that lead, allowing them to play more freely.
Despite that, though, the game remained 1-0 for over 20 minutes, as Montréal’s Chinonso Offor missed a few chances that probably should’ve iced the game, but instead left the guests to stick around until the last 15 minutes.
Yet, unable to turn some bright spells on the ball into any dangerous actions in the box, Montréal made them pay for that in the 78th minute, as Sunusi Ibrahim slashed home a shot after a nice dribble in the box. His fourth goal against Forge since last year, and his fifth in five Canadian Championship games, he continued his reputation as a player that loves this tournament, doing so at a huge time for Montréal.
With that two-goal lead intact, Montréal cruised to the finish line, and although a late Forge foray did almost make things interesting, in the end, a comfortable 2-0 win was enough to get Montréal to their third Canadian Championship final in five years.
Vancouver rides hot start to exorcise Ferryside demons:
A rematch of the now-famed 2021 preliminary round matchup between these two teams, there was a lot at stake as the Vancouver Whitecaps visited Pacific FC for a second-ever installment of the Ferryside Derby.
Having lost that game 4-3, in a match that led to head coach Marc Dos Santos getting fired, this was a huge chance for the Whitecaps to avenge that night, one that has arguably served as a huge catalyst for all of the progress that they’ve made since.
Safe to say, that was clear from the first whistle, as they came out strongly from the jump. For the first 10 minutes, Pacific pushed them right back, but in the 14th minute, a ball fell to the Whitecaps’ Julian Gressel at the edge of the box after a great counter-attack, and he absolutely leathered a ball into the low corner to give his team a lead.
Something they’d never held at any point of that first Ferryside match, that lead was a huge boost to the Whitecaps, as they immediately hit another gear. As a result, Ali Ahmed did well to double his team’s lead off a tricky finish in the 17th minute, giving his side what seemed to be an insurmountable lead.
There, however, disaster struck. On the ensuing kick-off, eager to grab a third, the Whitecaps stole the ball, putting Ahmed on a counter-attack that saw him nutmeg Amer Đidić to create a potential breakaway opportunity.
Sensing his team needed a bit of a reset moment before going down 3-0, that led to a big tackle from Cédric Toussaint, who stopped Ahmed with a hard challenge to clear the ball, allowing his team to reset. Unfortunately, the force of the challenge got the better of Ahmed, however, as he then fell to the turf awkwardly, losing consciousness in the process.
Due to that and the fear of any other potentially serious injuries, that led to a stoppage of almost 20 minutes to get Ahmed safely off the field and to a hospital, putting a hush over the crowd.
Understandably, the Whitecaps were quite shell-shocked after that incident, as the health of their teammate was front of mind for them. Because of that, the tempo of the game slowed down for the rest of the half, with Pacific sitting in the ascendancy as half time neared.
Following a robust speech from Whitecaps head coach Vanni Sartini, however, who urged his team to go and win the game for their teammate, Vancouver came out strongly in the second half. Meanwhile, frustrated with their start to the game, Pacific also responded well in the second half, leading to a more active second half overall.
Yet, despite having some decent attacking moves, Pacific weren’t able to turn enough of them into dangerous looks, and as a result, that allowed Whitecaps super sub Simon Becher to nab his seventh goal of the season (all competitions) to put the game on ice late.
As a result, the Whitecaps were able to overcome the bad memories of their last trip to the Island, while booking a second straight ticket to the Canadian Championship final, a feat they last achieved in 2015 and 2016.
Plus, they got the good news that Ahmed would be able to travel home with them that same night, as he was later diagnosed with a concussion, which was a pretty positive outcome given how things looked after the challenge.
Now, the Whitecaps will look to evoke their memories of 2022, where they snapped a seven-year trophy drought in front of over 25 000 at BC Place, as they look to win trophies in back-to-back years for the first time in their history.
Team of the Matchday:
Golden Boot: Simon Becher, Julian Gressel, Sunusi Ibrahim, Noah Jensen, Matteo Polisi (2 goals)
Clean Sheets: Jonathan Sirois, Yohei Takaoka, Kieran Baskett, Logan Ketterer, Niko Giantsopoulos, Triston Henry (1)
Now, the tournament will come to a close on June 7th, when the Whitecaps host Montréal at BC Place in what should be an entertaining final.
There, Montréal will look for a sixth Canadian Championship and record 12th Voyageurs Cup, while the Whitecaps remain in the hunt for their third-ever Canadian Championship and Voyageurs Cup crown.
And if history is to be any indication, this should be a good battle. As mentioned earlier, this is just the third time they’ve met in the final of this tournament, showing how unusual it is to see both of these teams at this stage together.
Plus, in those previous two finals, each team has won one, as Montréal got to lift the Voyageurs Cup in Vancouver in 2013, before the Whitecaps won this tournament for the first time in 2015 when they beat Montréal at home in the second leg of that final.
Along with the historic rivalry that these two teams have, a final is a great way to rekindle those sorts of battles they used to have. Unlike in MLS play, where games between these sides often have low stakes, a match like this can be a way for both teams to show why that in the 2000s, this rivalry used to be the derby to watch in Canada, mainly due to the sheer amount of times they played each other, especially in big games.
So while it might not be the final that would satisfy those rooting for an underdog story of a League 1 Canada or CPL team making it, make no mistake - this should be an entertaining way to cap off this 2023 edition, setting the table nicely for what’s to come in 2024.