In a busy week, things can change quickly.
Just one week ago, the Vancouver Whitecaps were frustrated. Fresh off a strong pair of matches, as they dispatched the Seattle Sounders 2-0 at home in MLS play before brushing aside Pacific FC away 3-0 in the semi-finals of the Canadian Championship, they headed to St.Louis filled to the brim with confidence.
There, however, they fell 3-1 to St.Louis City in a frustrating result, as they allowed three goals that they’d have wanted back, and weren’t overall fans of the officiating on the night.
Because of that, they headed into a midweek clash with the Houston Dynamo eager to put that behind them. And to their credit, they certainly did that – after a mixed first half, one that finished 2-2 after Vancouver and Houston scored a pair of goals each by the 18th minute, they managed to pull away in the second half en route to a 6-2 scoreline.
Their highest goal output in an MLS game in their history, it was a huge statement from their offence, who for most of the season, has battled an inability to finish their chances on a consistent basis, making it a huge relief to see the likes of Brian White, Ryan Gauld, Julian Gressel and Pedro Vite all score in the same game.
“It’s good, finally,” Whitecaps head coach, Vanni Sartini, said with a smile after that game’s outburst, “I don’t know how many times we spoke about creating a lot of chances but not scoring, I think during the week I said we wanted to outperform the Xg for this game, and I think we did it, which is beautiful.”
Therefore, it had felt that they’d turned a corner right at the perfect time, as a home clash with Sporting KC awaited them this weekend.
Turns out, not so much, as the Whitecaps then had to settle for a 1-1 draw, one they were only able to salvage in the 88th minute in a match filled with frustration and more contempt towards referee decisions.
Ultimately, those decisions will continue to be discussed and debated, but what isn’t up for debate is that it was a much quieter performance than what they showed in midweek, as they just couldn’t break the doors the same way that they did against Houston.
“I think that we’re a little bit frustrated because we could have won,” Sartini then admitted afterwards.
And that's the match, one of the most frustrating points the Caps will ever have earned
— The Third Sub (@The3rdSub) June 4, 2023
Credit has to be given to Sporting KC in that regard, as they only allowed 1.2 xG on the night despite sitting deeper after their 20th-minute goal (reflected in the fact that Vancouver finished with 55% possession), but Vancouver still had several chances to break things open.
Instead, their 1.2 xG came off just 11 shots (three on target), one of which was that 88th-minute penalty (which accounted for 65% of that xG with a value of 0.78). After generating 1.9 xG from 16 shots (seven on target) against Houston, they’ll feel that although they weren’t going to get a heavy xG overperformance like that two games in a row, they could’ve at least put themselves in a better position to make it possible.
Alas, that wasn’t the case, and it’s left them to have the mixed record of one win, one draw and one loss over this last week.
Brian White: "Frustrated we didn't the three points but we'll take the point but we'll move forward to the Canadian Championship final." #VWFC
— Joshua Rey (@JoshuaRey00) June 4, 2023
That’s of course relevant as their most important game of the season has now quickly quietly crept up on them, as they now turn their attention to CF Montréal in the final of the Canadian Championship.
As the holders of the Voyageurs Cup, it’s a huge game for Vancouver, as they’ve only won that trophy twice in its history, and those came far apart from each other in 2015 and 2022, meaning that they’ve never won it back-to-back. They had a chance to do so in 2016, but a late Will Johnson goal denied them of that opportunity, and since then, they’d only endured heartbreak in that tournament before breaking through last season.
Now, however, they’ve got a chance to put that all behind them. And no better time to do so, either – despite their mixed record as of late, they’re still the Canadian MLS team with the most points this season, which along with their status as holders, makes them the favourites for this matchup.
Against a Montréal team that is currently rebuilding with a young squad, leading to a mixed record of 6W-1D-9L (19 points) in 16 games as they’ve battled inconsistency and filling the holes of some key departures, the Whitecaps will have to be confident in their chances.
At their best, Montréal has been tough to beat – a sequence of four straight 4-0 wins in late April and May shows their potential – but they sandwiched that stretch with a seven-game sequence of 1W-0D-6L to begin the season, and have responded to it with a five-game run of 1W-1D-3L in the games they’ve played since.
Therefore, while the Whitecaps’ inconsistencies from the last week will remind them that they’re not yet at their final iteration, they still have every reason to believe that they’re the favourites.
Yet, despite that, they shouldn’t expect a pushover Montréal side. Far from it.
With an eye on this final, Montréal suffered a 3-0 defeat away to the Philadelphia Union this past weekend, using that match to rest several key regulars, including Victor Wanyama and Mathieu Choinière.
A team that has historically done very well in this competition, having won the Voyageurs Cup a record 11 times, just five of those have come since this tournament became the Canadian Championship in 2008.
The Canadian Championship winners 🏆🇨🇦
→ The final of the 22nd edition will be played in 2 days 🔥
— TrueNorthFoot ⚽️🇨🇦 (@truenorthfoot) June 5, 2023
As a result, they trail Toronto FC 5-8 in Canadian Championship wins, a gap that would quickly narrow with a Montréal win in this game, especially when you factor in that Toronto’s eighth win (and only win since 2018) came in the shortened and delayed 2020 tournament.
Also an opportunity to rekindle an old rivalry between both sides, this game will have plenty of meaning for Montréal, and for good reason.
Especially given that their last visit here saw them lose 5-0 back on April 1st, over two long months ago, they’re eager to prove that they’re not the same team that the Whitecaps easily dispatched on the day after an early red card from the visitors.
Safe to say, that’s put a lot at stake for them in this one, and for good reason.
Yet, for the Whitecaps, these are the exact sort of games they need and want to play, so they’ll now need to go and show why with a strong performance. Especially after an inconsistent week, no better way to prove one’s credentials as a top team than by wiping that from the memory and coming out with a strong performance in the final, as those are the sorts of games where big teams show up.
“We’ve had good performances in the last five,” Sartini said. “We smashed Seattle, we smashed Pacific, I plead the fifth for the St. Louis game, we smashed Houston and today we deserved to win against Sporting KC, so we’ve arrived (at the final) in the best way possible, we’re in a good moment and have a good spirit.”
After doing this last summer against a star-studded Toronto FC team, and now, they’ll look to recapture similar magic once again, as they look to affirm their status as current kings of Canada.
“If we win on Wednesday, there’s no question about it,” Sartini said. “For the last two years, we’ve been the best team in Canada, and I think it’d be pretty good bragging rights for us to have.”
“It’s a big game for the club, for the fans,” Gauld added. “As players, we all want to win trophies.”
“Knowing the feeling that we all got from winning it last year, we definitely want to experience that again this year.”
— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) July 27, 2022
(Image Credit: Vancouver Whitecaps)