Whitecaps eliminated by Tigres in Leagues Cup round of 32

The Vancouver Whitecaps 2023 Leagues Cup journey came to an end Friday, as they fell 5-3 on penalty kicks to Liga MX giants, Tigres UANL, after the game finished 1-1 through 90 minutes.

Despite a strong performance from the ‘Caps, who went toe-to-toe with Tigres and arguably looked the likelier team to win on the night through regular time, they just couldn’t get it done in the shootout, as Ranko Veselinovic’s fourth-round attempt was saved, setting up a fifth round winner from Tigres’s Fernando Gorriarán.

As a result, they will now take a break from action until August 20th, when they host the San Jose Earthquakes at BC Place, kicking off the first of 12 matches remaining on their MLS schedule.

There, however, they’ll look to come out feeling confident, especially after this game. Much as they did exactly two weeks prior against Club Léon in the group stage of this tournament, going toe-to-toe with the defending Concacaf Champions Cup winners, they once again proved that they can play with anyone in the region on Friday.

“Today we deserved to win,” Whitecaps head coach, Vanni Sartini, said afterwards. “I think we were much better than (Tigres), I think we played very well. I think that unfortunately we didn’t have enough quality in the final third, we had a lot of potential chances to score the second goal, but we showed that we’re a very good team.”

Plus, they did so by playing their way, too, as they were fluid and free-flowing in possession, once again sticking to their game plan despite the level of the opponent.

They’ll feel heartbroken not to go further in this competition, but even their elimination can also be seen as a blessing – they can now rest up ahead of a busy last stretch of the MLS season, while also knowing that their spot in the 2024 Concacaf Champions Cup (a big draw of this competition) is safe after their 2023 Canadian Championship triumph.

Now, a crucial stretch awaits them in league play, as they look to climb up from seventh in the Western Conference, but they now feel that they can make a strong push there, especially after a busy summer transfer window.

These ‘Caps feel that they can go up against anyone right now, and they showed that from the start of this Tigres game, as well.

As he’s made a habit of doing this season, Pedro Vite got the Whitecaps off to a perfect start in the ninth minute, scoring a superb goal to get his team on the board. After a loose clearance for Tigres, the Ecuadorian midfielder would do well to take it down the ball and absolutely smash it, nestling his strike into the top corner of the goal.

Then, feeding off that boost of energy, the Whitecaps would use that to hold onto their lead just minutes later.

After a nice run into the box by Tigres’s Luis Quiñones, he’d cut it back to a wide-open Fernando Gorriarán, who would beat ‘Caps goalkeeper Yohei Takaoka with a first-time strike. Luckily for the Whitecaps, however, they’d find a way to escape without conceding, as Ryan Raposo managed to clear the ball off the line to keep his team in the lead.

Later in the half, shortly following a pair of penalty shouts for Tigres, Raposo then nearly played the hero at the other end, as well. After taking a good touch in Tigres’s box, he fired a dangerous low shot toward the corner, just hitting the outside of the net with his strike.

Soon after, the game would reach half time, with the Whitecaps still holding onto their lead. Not only that, but they were playing fantastically, too, making them deserved leaders.

Unfazed by the challenge of playing one of the true giants of Concacaf, they were doing well to make things happen in possession, stringing together some fantastic passing sequences. There were some warning signs defensively, no doubt, as they were sitting a tad deep at times, but they’d managed to escape punishment despite that.

Unfortunately for Vancouver, that wouldn’t be the case in the second half. In fact, it’d take just eight minutes for their net to finally get breached, as Tigres continued to ramp up the pressure in chase of an opener.

As a result, they’d find it in the 52nd minute. After a great cross from Javier Aquino, he’d find a wide-open André-Pierre Gignac in the box, who would do fantastically to meet it with an acrobatic bicycle kick attempt, slotting the ball into the bottom corner with a calculated finish.

On the same net where Gignac had scored a similarly spectacular goal against the Whitecaps when they last met in the 2017 Concacaf Champions League, it was a huge goal for Tigres, who had the ‘Caps on the back ropes with that marker.

Despite the disappointment of losing their lead, however, the Whitecaps would keep their heads up, as they chased a winner. And, to their credit, they’d do well in that pursuit, arguably getting the better of the chances over the next 30 minutes.

First, Ryan Raposo had a nice attempt on goal from a header in the 60th minute, sending his attempt just wide of the post, before Alessandro Schöpf forced a nice save from Tigres’s Nahuel Guzmán in the 77th.

Then, in a late-ditch attempt to snatch a winner before the game headed to penalties, the ball seemed to fall perfectly for Brian White in the box after a dangerous cross, but he’d end up swiping at air after a fantastic defensive intervention from a Tigres player.

Soon after, the referee would blow for full time, leaving both teams to decide the game on spot kicks, with there being no extra time in Leagues Cup.

There, unfortunately, the ‘Caps just couldn’t conjure up the right magic, as Tigres’s goalkeeper, Nahuel Guzmán, ended up stealing the show in the shootout. After attempting several intriguing diversion tactics to throw off Vancouver’s shooters, he’d manage to stop Veslenovic’s attempt, which paved the way for his team to win as they went a perfect five-for-five with their spot kicks.

Despite the disappointment of defeat, however, there’s a lot to like about this performance from Vancouver.

To begin, one can only be encouraged by the performance of Ryan Raposo in this game. A force on both sides of the ball, he did not seem fazed by the level of competition, doing well to rise to the difficulty of this match.

Especially given that the Whitecaps just signed two Canadian Men’s National Team calibre players at his position earlier this week in Sam Adekugbe and Richie Laryea, that’s good to see from him, as it shows that he’s ready and willing to push them when they arrive.

“That’s why we signed good players,” Sartini said of Raposo. “Everyone needs to step up and makes things more difficult for me, saying ‘Okay, you signed two Canadian National Team players, well I’m going to play to the level of a Canadian National Team Player’.”

“And today, (Raposo) played to the level of a Canadian National Team player, and if I’m going to keep having this kind of problem, I’ll be happy.”

Then, there’s the play of Pedro Vite. He ended up running out of steam in the end, but he was otherwise dominant on the ball, willing his team forward on several occasions. Doing so deeper on the field, he’s also proving to be a key engine in possession, too, which is also helping him get more out of those around him, such as Alessandro Schöpf, who also had one of his best performances in a ‘Caps shirt in this one.

Despite a lot of the headlines going to Ryan Gauld as of late, Vite continues to be just as instrumental to this team’s attack, and won’t stick around for long if he keeps this up.

“When I arrived two years ago, Pedro was a player that was really in development,” Sartini said of Vite. “He was not intense, enough, not engaged in the defensive phase, he was always trying to do magic. Now, he’s a player that does the things that he’s supposed to do, and on top of that, he keeps having his moments of magic.”

Otherwise, one can only be encouraged by the confidence and poise that the Whitecaps showed on the ball, as they were very intricate and incisive with their build-up play. Missed chances continue to haunt them, as has been the theme of their season, but their ability to generate opportunities remains impressive.

Not all was perfect on the night, however – the team’s defensive shape did get a bit sloppy at times, and the goal they allowed felt more than deserved, but that has remained an ongoing issue as of late for this side.

It’s one they’ll need to address quickly, given their finishing issues, but the good news is that the arrivals of Adekugbe and Laryea should at least help shore things up.

Now, they’ll hope that they can help immediately, as they get the chance to integrate into their new squad over the break, before what is anticipated to be a busy finish to the season from these ‘Caps.

And after a performance like this, they’ll look to tackle that with confidence, showing why many believe that this team still has another gear to hit, something that they certainly showed in glimpses against Tigres.

“When we come back, I’m very optimistic (in our chances),” Sartini finished. “I told them if we don’t make the playoffs, it’s a crime. It’s a crime against ourselves, it’s a crime against football, because if we don’t do it, it’s only because we’re not performing the way that we can perform.”

“We have a resilient group of guys,” Raposo added.

“We’ve got a deep team, and I think there’s a real belief in the group that not only can we make a playoff push, but the goal is to win MLS Cup, and that’s been apparent within our group, and it’s our goal now.”

(Cover Photo: Mark Zhuang)

4 thoughts on “Whitecaps eliminated by Tigres in Leagues Cup round of 32

  1. I’m surprised that more people are not talking about the foul on Brown by Gignac. Some people said they could see any foul but if you look at the MLS YouTube highlights at the 4:19-4:21 mark it can be clearly seen. How VAR missed this is beyond me.

  2. I do agree about Teibert coming on but I think Schopf was off or coming off and Teibert was the only CMF left. Rusty actually ran well and helped preserve the draw but of course he’s not going to provide the offensive spark to win the game. I believe Gauld had a bit of an injury and he looked just about done when he came off. The Laborda for Brown sub kinda threw things off kilter. I’d hope our defenders could go the whole game allowing subs in the midfield and up front. Vite needed to come off as he was done and couldn’t keep possession in the last 10 minutes. Subs could have happened sooner the subs being Ahmed, Johnston and Ngando, all 3 are fast and might have given us a chance to win. I’m disappointed Becher seems out of the picture. His starts weren’t great but he’s still a super sub. Don’t think Sartini was correct in saying the Caps deserved to win. Bit disrespectful to the Tigres who played a good game of football and were equal in providing us an entertaining game

  3. this was a very, very entertaining game– the Caps counter-attack, transitional play is terrific, led by gauld and vite; schopf really is showing us why Axel signed him- he isnt flashy, but consistent and solid in MF- lots of positive performances

    loosing is always hard, but i am not disappointed, but instead am encouraged in what this TEAM is becoming- the second half of the season will be defined by our points on the 7 game road trip

    i am mystified by Vanni’s decision to take off our dynamic leader and top PK taker in Ryan Gauld with 10 minutes to go; and bringing on Teibert is even more mystifying as Ngano would have been a better choice if Gauld NEEDED to come off

    1. I was a bit shocked but that sub as well, but I think Gauld was gassed and it is very possible that is the last time we see Teibert play. My gut tells me that Vanni was giving him a last run out in a semi meaningless game.

Join the Conversation!