VANCOUVER — For the first time in four years, the Vancouver Whitecaps are headed to the Canadian Championship final.
There were some tense moments late in Vancouver's 2-1 victory over York United on Wednesday, though, moments when head coach Vanni Sartini wasn't sure whether his club's recent troubles in the tournament would persist.
After taking a 2-0 lead midway through the second half, the Caps coughed up a goal in the 84th minute and Sartini's nerves were tested.
Was his Major League Soccer club about to be ousted from the Canadian Championship by a Canadian Premier League side for the third time?
"That's the curse of the Canadian Championship," Sartini said. "But luckily we live in a humanistic society where rationale is better than anything else. And so curses don't exist and exist only in the fact that we did very well and we won.”
The Whitecaps held on and will now host MLS side Toronto FC in the final in late July. It will be Vancouver's first appearance in the tournament's decisive game since 2018.
Toronto routed Club de Foot Montreal 4-0 in the earlier semifinal on Wednesday at BMO Field.
The winner of the Canadian Championship will hoist the Voyageurs Cup and represent Canada in the 2023 CONCACAF Champions League.
For York's Isaiah Johnston, Wednesday's defeat stung.
“I think we could have got a result here," he said. "I think the goals were just a lack of communication and little errors on our part and they capitalized on it. And that's what happens against better opposition. So yeah, it definitely hurt.”
Vancouver took a comfortable 2-0 lead midway through the second half thanks to a brace from striker Brian White, but the visitors refused to quit.
United substitute Mouhamadou Kane dished a ball to Johnston in the 84th minute and the midfielder dribbled deep into the penalty area, sidestepping Vancouver defender Jake Nerwinski and putting a low shot past goalkeeper Cody Cropper to get York back in the game.
“I'm happy that we didn't panic, and we basically didn't concede anything after the goal," Sartini said. "That's good.”
The Caps took a 2-0 lead in the 74th minute with White putting a shot past United goalkeeper Nikolaos Giantsopoulos.
Attacking midfielder Ryan Gauld sent a solid cross in and White tapped in a left-footed shot from the centre of the box for his second goal of the game.
York nearly evened the score in the 61st minute off a free kick. Diyaeddine Abzi put a shot around the wall and forced Cropper to make a diving save.
The Whitecaps netminder had two saves on the night and Giantsopoulos stopped four of six on-target shots for United.
Vancouver finally snapped the scoreless deadlock in the 53rd minute when midfielder Ryan Raposo fired a shot from just outside the six-yard box. Giantsopoulos punched the ball out of the air but White picked up the rebound and quickly punted it into the back of the United net, giving the home side a 1-0 cushion.
“It just landed right in front of me and it was ‘Oh, thank you," White said. "Sometimes you need those as a goal scorer to get the ball rolling. So I was in the right place right time and you know, good play by (Raposo) put the ball in a dangerous area.”
The strike was the American's first goal in Canadian Championship play and his third of the year for the Caps.
The Whitecaps dominated the first half, controlling 60.9 per cent of the possession and outshooting the visitors 13-2 total and 4-1 in on-target shots.
White nearly put the Caps on the board in the 25th minute, converting a cross from Gauld into a header that skimmed over the crossbar.
Four minutes later, Vancouver's Lucas Cavallini streaked into York territory and blasted a shot from just outside the six-yard box, only to see Giantsopoulos get a leg on it for a stop.
United countered with four corners in quick succession near the end of the half but couldn't capitalize on its chances.
York was the final CPL team left in the tournament.
“We were able to make it close against a quality opponent that’s in a good moment right now. So I'm real proud of the guys. To have that fight and battle to the end was great to see," said York head coach Martin Nash.
"And it's a great experience for them and I think it was good for our guys to show that we can go toe to toe with MLS teams and hold a good account of ourselves.”
Both clubs will be back on the field Sunday, with York hosting Valour FC in CPL play and the Whitecaps entertaining the New England Revolution in MLS action.
FOOTNOTES: Giantsopoulos was briefly a member of the Whitecaps earlier this season. He acted as an emergency backup goalkeeper in Vancouver's MLS game against Charlotte FC on May 22. … Abzi was playing his final game for York. The 23-year-old has been transferred to French Ligue 2 club Pau. … An announced crowd of 10,503 took in the game at B.C. Place.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 22, 2022.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press