VANCOUVER—There was never any curse. Let’s get that straight.
It wasn’t because they were cursed—or because the soccer gods had it in for them—that the Vancouver Whitecaps never managed to win the Amway Canadian Championship.
The cold, hard truth is the Whitecaps continually shot themselves in the foot, repeatedly coming up with unique ways to let the title slip from their hands, and finishing runners-up in five of the last six seasons. They simply could never close out the deal.
Two years ago they had to watch the Montreal Impact hoist the trophy in their stadium after crumbling in the second leg of the final. Last season, Vancouver watched from afar as the Impact beat Toronto FC to repeat as champions. And it irked the players and coaching staff to no end whenever you reminded them of the team’s futility.
That’s why Wednesday night will go down as a landmark moment in the history of this franchise. Vancouver finally got it done after so many near misses, beating Montreal 2-0 in the second leg of the Canadian Championship final before 19, 616 fans at BC Place. Not only did they claim the Voyageurs Cup for the first time, but the Whitecaps also qualify for the group stage of the 2016-17 CONCACAF Champions League.
Goals by Octavio Rivero and Tim Parker sunk the Impact, who were forced to play the final 60 minutes a man down after defender Victor Cabrera was sent off for earning his second yellow card.
Coach Carl Robinson was beaming with pride in the post-match press conference, happy to finally dismiss talk of the Whitecaps not being able to win the big win.
“We’re trying to build something here at this club,” Robinson stated. “People kept reminding me that we hadn’t won it. So today we made a little bit of history which is fantastic, and hopefully it’s the first of many.”
This was an important moment for Robinson, too, as the Welshman also won this tournament as a player with Toronto FC. But asked for his feelings on the victory, he immediately paid tribute to his deceased father, instead of touting his personal accomplishment.
“Eighteen months ago when I took this job I lost a big part of my life. I said I was going to do everything to make him proud of me. … I miss my dad. I’m a little bit sad, but it doesn’t take away from how important this trophy is for the club because it’s not about me—it’s about (an amazing) group of players,” Robinson said.
Canadian midfielder Russell Teibert was awarded the George Gross Memorial Trophy as the tournament MVP.
“(We’ve had) too many heartbreaks with this tournament—disappointments for the fans, disappointments for us. It’s about damn time we won it,” Teibert stated.
He later added: “We gotta get used to winning trophies. We gotta get used to winning championships. This team, it’s our time now.”
Montreal was missing forward Didier Drogba (toe), midfielders Ignacio Piatti (calf) and Patrice Bernier (heel). Starting goalkeeper Evan Bush stayed home to be with his wife who recently gave birth. Nicolas Mezquida (hamstring) was out for Vancouver.
Even with the absences, both coaches fielded strong sides. Robinson made only one lineup change from the league win over FC Dallas on the weekend, subbing in Teibert (the only Canadian to start in this game) for Matias Laba. Robinson also started David Ousted—he used backup goalkeeper Paolo Tornaghi in the first leg of the final.
Vancouver had the advantage ahead of this one by virtue of the two road goals they scored in a 2-2 draw in the first leg earlier this month in Montreal. A 0-0 or 1-1 result on Wednesday night would have been enough for the Whitecaps to finally end their Canadian Cup drought.
But Robinson’s team went for it right from the start, with Rivero linking up effectively with fellow attackers Kekuta Manneh and Cristian Techera in terrorizing Montreal’s flat-footed defence. In the second minute, Techera made a great spin move, leaving his defensive mark in his wake, and played a great ball for Manneh whose shot was blocked inside the box.
Rivero used his place to get in behind the Impact’s back line, and forced Cabrera to lunge into an ill-advised tackle in the 30th minute. With that, Montreal was down to 10 men.
The Whitecaps took full advantage nine minutes later. Some effective pressure by Manneh led to a turnover and the ball landing at the feet of Techera. The tiny winger fought of a few defenders and fired a shot that was partially saved by Eric Kronberg. But the Montreal goalkeeper couldn’t get all of it, and as the ball slowly trickled towards the open goal, Rivero rushed in for the easy tap in.
Vancouver poured on the pressure to start the second half. A swift move down the middle saw Manneh run in on goal, cut inside of defender Nigel Reo-Coker and force Kronberg into making a great finger tip save on a low shot.
Parker made it 2-0 in the 53rd minute, scoring on a free header inside the box off a Pedro Morales corner kick.
That was it. Game over. Montreal was never going to come back at that point.
NOTES: As tournament champions the Whitecaps receive the Voyageurs Cup, which was originally funded and awarded by the Voyageurs, a Canadian soccer supporters group founded in 1996… The Impact won every Voyageurs Cup from 2002-2007 when it was given to the best Canadian team in the old USL First Division. A formal tournament was first held in 2008, a year after Toronto FC entered MLS. Montreal won the 2008 Cup to continue its dominance, but TFC won the next four tournaments in a row. The Impact claimed the next two titles… Vancouver resumes its MLS campaign on Saturday when it visits the Houston Dynamo. Montreal will make its way to BMO Field for a date with Toronto FC… Drogba is expected to return to action for Montreal on Saturday against TFC.