MLS 🔵 Whitecaps edge PFC in semifinal thriller – Shango Media
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MLS 🔵 Whitecaps edge PFC in semifinal thriller

MLS 🔵 Whitecaps edge PFC in semifinal thriller

PACIFIC FC 0 VANCOUVER WHITECAPS 1

A Canadian Premier League team beat a Major League Soccer team Wednesday night. For Island fans, unfortunately, it was at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton and not Starlight Stadium.

The Vancouver Whitecaps of MLS edged Pacific FC 1-0 in the opening leg of their two-legged Canadian Championship semifinal before a capacity crowd of 5,103 in Langford.

That followed Forge FC of the CPL shocking John Herdman’s Toronto FC of MLS 2-1 in the other, all-Ontario, semifinal opener earlier in the evening in Steel Town.

“I used that as motivation,” said Whitecaps head coach Vanni Sartini.

The Whitecaps were wary and kicked off with pretty much their full complement of regular starters in the all-B.C. semifinal, minus their players away with their national teams in the Euro and Copa America tournaments.

Pacific FC hung tough until a header by Scottish import Ryan Gauld, who makes more than the entire PFC team combined, scored at 56 minutes for the Whitecaps. Gauld earns $2.5-million US per season while the CPL salary cap is between $750,000 to $1.2-million Cdn for entire club rosters.

PFC goalkeeper Emil Gazdov made the save of the season in the second half before Gauld’s unstoppable header glanced into the corner. But the Tridents weren’t intimidated and had four prime chances of their own through Josh Heard in the first half and three in the second half by Haiti-capped Cédric Toussaint and two from substitute striker Ayman Sellouf.

“We knew it was going to be a very hard game,” said Sartini. “PFC is the most solid defensive team in the CPL and we knew they would counter off that. We deserved the result but the game was very tight and tense.”

The Whitecaps gaffer expects no less in the second leg on Aug. 27 at B.C. Place and brought up the Caps’ 1-0 loss at B.C. Place to Cavalry FC of the CPL in this year’s quarter-finals. Vancouver advanced, regardless, due to the away-goals tiebreaker and its 2-1 victory in the first leg in Calgary. “This is not going to be easy against Pacific, even in Vancouver,” said Sartini.

Former PFC goalkeeper Isaac Boehmer, part of the Tridents’ 2021 CPL championship team, recorded the clean sheet for the Whitecaps and said he has nothing but fond memories on his return to Starlight: “It was a nice time at Pacific and I won a championship here.”

The Okanagan product had to earn his clean sheet Wednesday night: “We never thought this was going to be easy. It was all about focus for us.”

The 2024 Canadian champion will lift the Voyageurs Cup, this nation’s equivalent of the FA Cup in England and Copa del Rey in Spain, and advance to the 2025 CONCACAF Champions Cup tournament against the best club teams in the U.S., Mexico, Central America and Caribbean.

The Whitecaps are the defending Voyageurs Cup champions.

“We are two games away from winning another trophy [the Cup final is single game],” said Sartini.

CORNER KICKS: Box-to-box defender Kunle Dada-Luke was honoured before the game with a No. 100 PFC jersey to commemorate his 100th game for the club … PFC is in Hamilton for a CPL game Sunday against Forge FC and next plays at Starlight on July 28 against Valour FC … Players from Wrexham FC will be at Spectrum School field July 26 as a fund-raiser for the new turf project. Wrexham, co-owned by Ryan Reynolds and the subject of a popular Disney Plus TV series, play the Whitecaps on July 27 at B.C. Place in a friendly.

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FORGE FC 2 TORONTO FC 1

HAMILTON — While Toronto FC suffered another setback Wednesday, substitute Prince Owusu tossed the slumping Major League Soccer side a timely lifeline.

Trailing 2-0 to Canadian Premier League champion Forge FC in the opening leg of their Canadian Championship semifinal, Toronto got an all-important away goal in the 88th minute from the German forward to cut the deficit to 2-1. That made the hole TFC has to climb out of in the Aug. 21 return leg at BMO Field a little more manageable.

— The Canadian Press

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