• Canadian Championship – Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 (Davies 59’, Greig 77’), Montreal Impact 4 (Piatti 20’, 28’, Džemaili 38’, Jackson-Hamel 61’)
GAME RECAP IN A SENTENCE
A goal down in the aggregate semifinal series following last week’s 2-1 loss in the opening leg in Vancouver, the Impact fielded a close-to-full-strength lineup to overcome a young Whitecaps side at home and advance to the tournament finals.
HOW IT UNFOLDED
Montreal coach Mauro Biello brought out the big guns for this return match, calling in Ignacio Piatti, Blerim Džemaili and Marco Donadel (they didn’t dress for last week’s match), and Patrice Bernier (who came off the bench) into his starting lineup. His counterpart Carl Robinson went with a fairly inexperienced side, as he did in last week’s win a home, and the Whitecaps nearly pulled off a shocking result that would have sent them through to the final.
Vancouver looked the sharper team for the first 18 minutes, and nearly opened the scoring in the early seconds of the contest through Nicolas Mezquida. But a cutting through-ball by Piatti sliced open the Whitecaps’ back line, forcing goalkeeper Spencer Richey to bring down Anthony Jackson-Hamel. Piatti slotted home the penalty, and then converted from the spot a second time just a few minutes later. It got worse. Vancouver completely turned off during a Montreal throw in, and Dominic Oduro scampered down the end line before the ball landed at the feet of Džemaili, who powered it home. 3-0 after 38 minutes. It appeared to be all over.
To its great credit, Vancouver battled back, buoyed by the introduction of young Canadian Alphonso Davies at the start of the second half. With Montreal dropping back deeper, Vancouver had more time on the ball and space to operate within, and Davies found the back of the net to give the visitors a life line. That woke up the Impact, who quickly stormed down the field and scored through Jackson-Hamel to make it 4-1.
The Whitecaps refused to play dead, and continued to press the issue, with Kyle Greig scoring on a header. With Montreal holding onto a slim 5-4 aggregate lead, the Whitecaps bombed forward in search of a third goal that would have been enough to see them advance on away goals. Some last-ditch defending by the Impact, highlighted by an exquisite headed clearance from Ambroise Oyongo deep into injury time, allowed Montreal to hold on and move on to the final.
20’ GOAL! Vancouver Whitecaps 0-1 Montreal Impact: Some patient and devastating buildup play in midfield led to the opening goal. Marco Donadel was allowed to linger on the ball and pick out Ignacio Piatti, before the Argentine delivered a sublime, defence-splitting pass for Anthony Jackson-Hamel. The young Canadian latched onto the pass, and was brought down inside the box by Whitecaps goalkeeper Spencer Richey. Piatti stepped up to the spot and sent Richey the wrong way. The floodgates quickly opened, and it was all uphill for Vancouver at that point.
Why did coach Carl Robinson field such a weakened side?
Tuesday marked the Whitecaps’ fourth game in 11 days – and they’re in action again on Saturday – so it hardly came as a surprise that Robinson heavily rotated his side and went with a very youthful, inexperienced starting line-up. All in all, the youngsters showed well, with Alphonso Davies coming off the bench at the start of the second half to ignite what had been a pretty lifeless Whitecaps attack up until that point. It’s pretty clear from the line-ups that Robinson used over the course of the two legs that this tournament wasn’t a top priority, and that getting back on track in MLS was foremost on the Welshman’s mind. Instead, Robinson played the “long game,” using this competition as an opportunity to test some young players and give them some game experience that could prove invaluable down the road.
Swiss international Blerim Džemaili displayed his class in this game – only his third appearance for the Impact – with his deft touch, his on-field vision and his ability to expertly unlock Vancouver’s defence. He also showed that he is incredibly comfortable on the ball, and it’ll be interesting to see how his ability while in possession will open up spaces for teammates such as Ignacio Piatti and Dominco Oduro, and whether they will be able to exploit those opportunities. Keep in mind, though, that the on-loan Swiss star is coming off nearly a full season with Serie A side Bologna. Montreal coach Mauro Biello will have to wisely manage his minutes going forward so that he’s in top shape down the regular season stretch.
The last time the Montreal Impact reached the Canadian Championship final was in 2015, when they lost to the Whitecaps.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Ignacio Piatti, Montreal: Difficult to pick between Piatti, Blerim Džemaili and Anthony Jackson-Hamel – they were all brilliant for the Impact on this night. But the nod goes to Piatti, not just because he scored two goals, although that certainly did no harm to his cause. Just as important, the Argentine’s hold-up play was outstanding, and he served as the midfield reference point in a rampant Montreal attack that shredded the Whitecaps’ defence in the first half.