The Vancouver Whitecaps are on their way to a second straight Canadian Championship final but the proceedings against Pacific FC at Starlight Stadium took a backseat following a horrific injury to Ali Ahmed, who the club later reported sustained a concussion and briefly was knocked unconscious following a hard tackle.
The 3-0 victory was flattering to the away side but the Caps did just enough to exorcise their demons in the Ferryside Derby, punishing Pacific for some poor finishing and goalkeeping.
Our #CanChamp 𝙎𝙏𝘼𝙍𝙏𝙄𝙉𝙂 𝙓𝙄 vs @Pacificfccpl 🍁🏆
Kickoff is set for 7:06pm PT on @onesoccer & @AM730Traffic ⚽️#VWFC | #PACvVAN pic.twitter.com/T0DHsQdnFB
— Vancouver Whitecaps FC (@WhitecapsFC) May 25, 2023
As expected, there were some tweaks to comply with the Candian player rule (welcome Russell Teibert and Ryan Raposo) and some attempts to rotate to give guys some rest (Alessandro Schopf playing further up the pitch in lieu of Ryan Gauld comes to mind). The other big change was Ali Ahmed shifting out of the midfield and slotting in at left back, a move we’ve not seen in some time.
The Caps came inches away from taking a very early lead. After Pacific couldn’t clear their lines, a little dink from Gressel kicked off the turf kindly for White but his half valley bounced off keeper, then off the bar and over the net, rather than across the goal line.
Vancouver went from nearly conceding to striking first. Pacific got their first test in on Yohei Takaoka after a one time hit from Ayman Tellouf was palmed away and the break was on. A well worked break led to Schopf laying it off for Julian Gressel, who hit a stunning one-time finish from outside the box that was perfectly placed in the bottom corner. It was exactly the kind of football the Caps haven’t played in recent years.
Julian Gressel converts on the counter-attack to give @WhitecapsFC the lead! 🍁#CanChamp pic.twitter.com/Ae8KP5xf1g
— Canada Soccer (@CanadaSoccerEN) May 25, 2023
It was another brilliant one time hit to double the Caps lead inside 16 minutes. A long throw pinged around the box and Ali Ahmed had a go from range and it was again perfectly placed, giving Emil Gazdov no chance.
GOAL 🏔️🏔️#VWFC GO UP 2-0 👀
Ali Ahmed stuns his #CanPL opponents in this #CanChamp clash with a sweet volley shortly after his team opened the scoring ⏲️
🔴 https://t.co/7JFAUhgRAE pic.twitter.com/Klk3DjGI55
— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) May 25, 2023
Ahmed sustained a serious injury literally just moments later, landing horribly after a tackle from Cedric Toussaint. Ahmed didn’t move for some time and the incident visibly shook the other players and coaching staff, while requiring lengthy attention from club doctors and paramedics.
The whole situation was utterly horrifying, reminding me of Christian Eriksen’s injury during the 2021 European Championships where you watch, sick to your stomach and anxious about whether you watched someone’s life permanently changed before your very eyes. It appears that won’t be the case here but it was clearly still something that affected everyone on the pitch quite deeply.
It seemed almost cruel that the players were forced to press on and complete the match but things resumed after about a 15-minute stoppage. Pacific FC began initiating much more pressure, getting a few good chances in succession against an understandably shaken Caps team. A couple of times, the home side really let the Caps off the hook for some sloppy giveaways, free headers and defensive miscues.
Vancouver regained their footing somewhat in the second half, finding some real space but seeming to make poor final decisions, sometimes playing one too many touches or passes rather than taking a shot.
Meanwhile, Pacific continued to hit back, catching Tristan Blackmon on the ball and finding some space with defenders out of position but not really testing Takaoka. The bad habits from the first half stuck around and put the Caps under way more pressure than needed.
Pacific just kept had success catching the Caps’ fullbacks out and smartly increasing the pressure with fresh legs, forcing some juicy turnovers. Takaoka was forced to go full stretch to deny Manny Aparicio a near-certain goal off a well-struck shot from range.
Where Brian White struggled, Simon Becher came on and had a near instant impact after some nice build up from Sergio Cordova and Pedro Vite. Becher hit a pure strike from a tight angle and Gazdov had a bit of a howler to let it slip through his palms and into the back of the net. Despite being on the back foot for much of the match, the goal gave the Caps one foot into the final.
Becher’s goal celebration also included a nod to his friend and teammate, a fitting end to an emotional night.
The Simon Becher goal to put away the game for #VWFC. Also note the celebration. 22 is Ali Ahmed’s number. pic.twitter.com/fpNwS00J5z
— Manuel Veth (@ManuelVeth) May 25, 2023
- It is hard to evaluate this one after a traumatizing injury and it goes without saying but our thoughts are with Ali Ahmed. The club announced at halftime that Ahmed is conscious and in hospital, following up after the game to share that he will return to Vancouver with the squad. With concussions, there certainly is a long way to go in recovery but this is excellent news.
The club is pleased to share the following and most important message of this evening, Ali Ahmed is cleared to travel with the team back to Vancouver.
Ahmed suffered a concussion with a momentary loss of consciousness. He regained consciousness and was transported to the…
— Vancouver Whitecaps FC (@WhitecapsFC) May 25, 2023
- It is easy to think that players are robots who just go out and play football but the pain that both the players and Vanni Sartini were in shows that there was no way things were going back to business as usual. You hope their mental health is being cared for and Ahmed’s teammates can get the support they need as well. Given all of that, I give the team a pass for their play. It frustrated me that the announcers were wondering aloud as to why the Caps’ play had slipped — really? Many of the little errors seemed to stem from a lack of concentration and it makes sense as to why the players’ minds might have been elsewhere.
- But full credit to Pacific, who had a really savvy tactical strategy and some nice build up. Aparicio really sparkled and, frankly, if they had even average finishing and goalkeeping, we may well have been looking at a cupset. The Caps relied a bit too much on having superior players at times, letting speed and athleticism bail them out of some poor giveaways and being caught out of position. The fullback play was particularly concerning and gave Pacific a lot of space to work and attack, putting the CBs under a lot of pressure to make good decisions, which they didn’t always.
- We’ve long since passed the point where Becher’s super sub status is a cute aberration — Becher is a brilliant change of pace, who even by virtue of shooting and putting something on frame made himself an improvement at striker. And it seemed a bit of karmic justice to see a player so close to Ahmed add his name to the scoresheet and celebrate accordingly.
- With the draw opening up for the Caps, anything other than a second straight trip to the finals would have been a disappointment. A rematch with CF Montreal sounds pretty good to me.
Man of the Match
Seems almost perverse to give the award out given the circumstances but Julian Gressel probably gets it — he gave Pacific a lot of problems in the first half. Andres Cubas stepped up to cause a lot of turnovers and chaos in the center of the park and credit to Takaoka, who stepped up with a big save or two.
One thought on “Scary Ali Ahmed injury overshadows Whitecaps’ Canadian Championship win”