Wednesday night at BC Place, the Vancouver Whitecaps overcame CF Montreal by a final score of 2-1 to lift the Voyageurs Cup trophy for a second year in a row.
The club has made it clear that winning this competition was one of their primary goals for the season, so in that sense, mission very much accomplished. The Whitecaps have also never won this competition in back to back seasons, so this says something positive about the relative success of the Axel Schuster and Vanni Sartini era, even if there have been stumbles along the way. With national cup competition now in the rear-view mirror, the Whitecaps can firmly focus on bolstering their MLS standings for the rest of 2023, unless you think Leagues Cup is a big deal, which is a whole other conversation we can have at some point.
Anyways, big picture stuff aside, this was a very solid match for Vancouver. The Whitecaps had to face the pressure of being the better team, playing at home, and yet they were able to prevail. In the past, this is a match the Whitecaps would have found a way to squander.
While there were a few tense moments late on, the Whitecaps produced the kind of performance they needed, and their best players were their best players.
Ok, on to player grades.
Yohei Takaoka (7.0) While the Japanese keeper was not busy, especially early on, he was sharp when needed. His ability to stay in matches even when not that involved is really impressive. The save he made on the late headed chance for Montreal is worth watching again.
Javain Brown (7.0) The Jamaican seems to come up big in these cup finals. He was super active defensively with 5 tackles and 7 interceptions, and had his key intervention at the death to seal victory for Vancouver.
Ranko Veselinvoic (6.5) The Serbian was steady as usual for Vancouver. He’s not very good in the air and that was a bit of a problem near the end of the match in desperation time, but that’s nothing new.
Tristan Blackmon (6.5) Blackmon is a strong presence in the air for Vancouver and could have easily scored early on. On the Montreal goal, it looked like he was not on the same page with the rest of the back-line as he stepped up aggressively, even though the fullbacks were much deeper keeping the Montreal player onside.
Ryan Raposo (6.5) Since he was nuked by LAFC in Champions League, I don’t feel like we’ve seen much from Raposo. What I liked in this match was that he was getting involved in the attack, making those diagonal moves on the ball around the edge of the box. If the Whitecaps do tweak their shape going forward, he’s a candidate for more minutes.
Andres Cubas (7.0) The midfield fight didn’t feel very fair in this match and a lot of that is because of Cubas. It was only late-on when Montreal was able to find some joy, but Cubas continues to be a brick wall if teams try to move the ball centrally.
Julian Gressel (8.0) After an off night vs. SKC, Gressel was back on form in this one. He had 3 key passes, 1 assist, 3 shots on target and won 3 of his 5 duels. A tidy bit of work.
Russell Teibert (6.5) Rusty really rocked the Canadian Championship this year. He’s much better when tasked with less defensive responsibility, so it was nice to see him on the front foot with two key passes. His impact is limited, but this is the right kind of role for him.
Ryan Gauld (8.5) The Scotsman gave Montreal problems all night, converting the penalty he drew from the spot and recording 4 key passes. His defensive work sparking many Vancouver counterattacks had to be demoralizing for a Montreal team that was already struggling in possession.
Levonte Johnson (7.0) The MLS Super-draft pick definitely looked like he was new to the team and was not involved much with only 22 touches. That being said, when he did get on the ball his contributions were positive. He seems like an underrated passer (11/12, 2 key passes, 1 cross) for someone you might expect to just be a goal scoring threat, and his movement affords him a lot of time when matching up with defenders. I’m excited to see more, although the Whitecaps have now used all of his call-up options, so they’ll have to sign him to a first team deal if he’s going to play for the big squad again.
Brian White (7.0) The American striker is scoring goals and doing a great job in hold-up play creating space for the likes of Gauld and Gressel. Hard to complain about that.
Substitutes I’m not sure that bringing on Pedro Vite and Luis Martins had the desired effect for Vancouver, as they gradually let Montreal back into the match in the closing stages. Martins was way out of position on the MTL goal and made it way too easy for Sunusi to stay onside. Berhalter was fine, although I’m not sure the defensive sub was necessary, and Cordova and Caicedo saw very little time.
Vanni Sartini (7.0) While the approach to the match was straightforward, it was also the right one, so Vanni should get some credit for that. I said at the beginning of the season that the biggest thing Vanni needed to do this year was stay out of his own way and let his best players shine. While this has not always been the case, I do feel like things are gradually moving in the right direction in that department, which is encouraging. It’s crazy to say, but if Vanni Sartini can win a playoff game in Vancouver, he probably becomes, undisputedly, the most successful manager of Vancouver’s MLS era.
Alright, those are my thoughts from a banner day in Whitecaps land. What do you think of the win and of Vanni’s place the club’s MLS lore? Let me know in the comments!