VANCOUVER — Vanni Sartini sank to his knees as the final whistle was blown, fist pumping to the crowd as the Whitecaps celebrated a late winner to end a three-game losing streak with a win over fellow struggling Canadians Toronto FC.
Tosaint Ricketts, a substitute, latched onto a pass from fellow substitute Lucas Cavallini to tuck the match-winner past Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono.
“I think we played very well,” said Sartini, the Whitecaps’ head coach, in a post-match press conference. “We (were) the better team on the field.
“I’m also very happy that the protagonists of the win have been guys who came off the bench to remind everyone that the group is the leader.”
Ricketts celebrated the winner as a crowd of 17,709 cheered at BC Place on Sunday afternoon.
“It’s always special to score against your ex-team,” he said after the match.
Ricketts played for Toronto from 2016 to 2018, scoring 13 times in 51 appearances.
The match finished with some controversy as Jayden Nelson thought he had bagged the opener in the 66th minute after Whitecaps (2-6-1) goalkeeper Thomas Hasal spilled a shot from Toronto’s Alejandro Pozuelo.
The goal was called back for a foul on Hasal, who left the game after the sequence with an injury to his left hand.
Head coach Bob Bradley called the decision to rule out the goal “a mistake,” adding that it was clear to players and coaches that it should have stood.
“I feel bad for the group,” Bradley said after the match. “To come away with nothing and some of the different calls, I feel bad for these guys. It’s a reminder that sometimes it’s just unfair.”
Substitute goalkeeper Cody Cropper was immediately forced into action after the restart with a diving save to deny Jordan Perruzza.
Toronto defender Shane O’Neill said he thought his club deserved something from the match.
“It’s tough. That was a really tough game. I thought we had a lot of control for most of it. Obviously the game was there to be won. Maybe if we raised our level a little bit, we would’ve won that game,” he said. “It was so frustrating to give up a late goal.”
Sartini, who opened his press conference with a video call to his mom at home in Italy, said his team played “like mothers” on Sunday, which was Mother’s Day.
“Mothers care, mothers fight for their kids, they’re tough when they need to be tough. So I’m really happy that they showed on the field that we played like a bunch of mothers.”
Pozuelo had the best chance of the first half to open the scoring for Toronto after a video review flagged a handball in the box by Ranko Veselinovic, but his tame penalty kick resulted in an easy save from Hasal.
The save seemed to spark the Whitecaps. Six minutes later, Deiber Caicedo fired a shot from just outside the 18-yard-box that was punched away by Bono.
Nelson followed that up at the other end with a free look from 12 yards out, only to clip it over.
Gauld was the main outlet for Vancouver in the first half, including forcing a block by Bono and O’Neill to deny the Scottish playmaker an opening goal.
Vancouver (2-6-1) next faces off against Valour FC on Wednesday in the Canadian Championship. Toronto (3-6-2) returns home to play Orlando City at BMO Field.