ANALYSIS – It was a welcome sight at BC Place come Wednesday evening, as the Vancouver Whitecaps lifted the Voyageurs Cup in front of 20’000 roaring fans, marking the first time they have ever won it back to back. It was a deserved victory for Vancouver as they dominated the match for the majority of the game, but a late resurgence by CF Montreal ensured that it would finish in nervy fashion. With penalty calls, outrageous saves, and champagne football, here are our three takeaways from the Whitecaps’ win over CF Montreal for the Voyageurs Cup.
Three Takeaways: Whitecaps Kings of the North
#1: Caps’ Champagne Football on Full Display
It was not too long ago that the kind of football you would expect from the Whitecaps is one of the low-blocks, light on possession, and reliant on counter-attacks. However, this season, we have seen a whole new side to the team in their play style and tactical set-up, and it was epitomized by Wednesday’s performance.
Inside five minutes, Whitecaps could have easily been 2-0 up if not for Jonathan Sirois’ incredible performance. A Tristan Blackmon header and a Levonte Johnson deflected shot was expertly saved by the young Canadian goalkeeper, but it was one-way traffic inside the first 30 minutes of the opening half. The Whitecaps had 11 shots and six on target all in the first half alone. The passing displays were sublime from players like Ryan Gauld, Julian Gressel, Ryan Raposo and more. Even after they went 1-0 up, the team did not press off the gas and continued to make clever triangles, flick passes and dummy runs to create even more space for the attack.
While Montreal did well to quell some of that in the latter stages of the first half, they could do nothing about it for the majority of the second half, as even substitutes like Pedro Vite and Luis Martins continued the standard of play that the Whitecaps began with. It was only when Montreal’s goal went in that we started to see more panicky plays and errant balls, but that is to be expected when trying to hold on to the trophy with 10 minutes to go. Nevertheless, head coach Vanni Sartini can be proud of his team as they not only showed that they deserved to win the trophy but did so in style.
78’ Whitecaps have been playing Champagne football since that second goal went in
— Felipe Vallejo (@FelipeV_FC) June 8, 2023
#2: Jonathan Sirois Stole The Show
As mentioned, the Whitecaps could have easily been three or four goals to the good had it not been for the heroics of Jonathan Sirois. The young 21-year-old shot-stopper from Lasalle, Quebec had arguably the game of his life, and on the biggest stage, in this final. The former Canadian Premier League Goalkeeper of the Year made an astonishing seven saves in that match, of which three or four of them could make the shortlist for Save of the Month.
His positioning and reactions for the most part were superb. It was what allowed him to be able to make those diving saves to deny Blackmon off the corner and White at his near-post off a counter-attack. And when Levonte Johnson’s shot got deflected at the last moment, Sirois did incredibly well to – while lying on the floor having already committed to the dive – throw his boot at it and divert it away from the goal.
Perhaps his only mistake was the one that led to the Whitecaps’ first goal, in which an audacious forward pass by Julian Gressel put Sirois off, rendering him unable to properly determine whether he should race off his line or wait it out. The young keeper then decided to commit to challenging the ball against Brian White, but mistakenly went for it with his feet, allowing White to chest it past him and score into an open goal.
Nevertheless, Sirois kept his head up and continued to make some incredible saves, showing how much he has grown since he has come in after James Pantemis’ injury earlier on in the season. Pantemis will be looking over his shoulder now as Sirois has made a great case to be Montreal’s #1 for the rest of the season.
— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) June 8, 2023
#3: Canadian Champions, But At What Cost?
While the emotions were high and the atmosphere was electric come the final whistle, there was an element of slight disappointment in that the Vancouver Whitecaps finished the game with no Canadians on the pitch, in the final of the Canadian Championship. The Whitecaps began with their required three Canadians in Ryan Raposo, Levonte Johnson, and captain Russell Teibert, but none of the three saw out the game as they were all substituted before the 75-minute. To compare, Montreal finished the game with five Canadians on the pitch.
And while it’s understandable that some players that might have stayed the whole game, like Ali Ahmed, were injured on the day, it still isn’t a great look to see no Canadians on the pitch, when the symbol and focus of this competition should be on Canadian players. And it’s not like the ‘Caps don’t have them. They have talents like Karifa Yao, Matteo Campagna, Thomas Hasal, and even more in their second team WFC2, who sit second in the Western Conference in MLS Next Pro. Sure, it might bring down the quality and standard a bit while they learn to adjust, but this competition is the best opportunity for them to shine as Canadian players.
Whether this will spark conversations of regulation changes that see more Canadian players required to start or even be present throughout the match, will remain to be seen but in the end, the Whitecaps got the job done with the personnel that they had. The only concern is the possible precedent that this puts out now that a team won the Voyageurs Cup with no Canadians on the pitch by the end.
That’s three subs for #VWFC. All 3 Canadian players are off.
— Nathan Durec (@ndurec) June 8, 2023
Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports on June 7, 2023, of a Vancouver Whitecaps FC Headshot.