The Vancouver Whitecaps earned some redemption on Tuesday.
After years of struggling in the Canadian Championship, the club finally lifted the Voyageurs Cup after beating Toronto FC in the final.
Winning the tournament has long been a goal for the Whitecaps, said head coach Vanni Sartini.
“We said from Day 1 that the Canadian Championship was one of our important trophies. We didn’t do well in the previous years. And it means everything because we are a very good team,” he said after his side beat Toronto 5-3 on penalties.
“So today, we will remind everyone that we are 100 per cent a very good team. We are not the team who’s considered an elite killer. So winning a trophy for us is really important.”
Tuesday marked just the second time the ‘Caps have won the Canadian Championship, following their victory in 2015. They had not been in the final since 2018.
“Any time you get a trophy, it’s awesome,” said Vancouver striker Brian White. “Toronto’s a good team and we struggled in this tournament in years past. So it means a lot for the club, for the fans to bring this trophy home.”
Toronto has taken the title eight times. Earlier this year, the team won the pandemic-delayed 2020 iteration when they beat Forge FC in the final.
The Whitecaps beat Canadian Premier League clubs Valour FC, Cavalry FC and York United to earn a spot in this year’s final.
Toronto had a bye in the first round, then downed the CPL’s Halifax Wanderers and Major League Soccer’s CF Montreal.
Toronto dominated 71.2 per cent of the possession on Tuesday and outshot the home side 18-14, including 6-5 in on-target shots, but it was Vancouver that had the better chances.
With the score knotted at 1-1 after 90 minutes of play, the game went to a penalty shootout.
“I was confident and I was also a little bit pissed. Because I think we deserved to win,” Sartini said of going to penalties.
Ryan Gauld was up first for the ‘Caps and the Scottish designated player sent a shot sailing into the top corner of the net.
“My thought on penalties is always before you step up, choose a site and don’t change your mind, don’t hesitate, be confident,” said Gauld, who was named MVP of the game. “And if the ‘keeper ends up saving it then merit to him. But as long as long as it went in.”
Domenico Criscito took the first kick for Toronto and fired a ball past Vancouver ‘keeper Cody Cropper.
White then stutter stepped to fake out TFC ‘keeper Alex Bono and blasted a low shot into the right corner.
Toronto’s Jordan Perruzza took advantage of Cropper’s early dive on the next attempt and put a ball into the opposite side of the goal.
Wingback Julian Gressel took the third shot for Vancouver, hitting Bono’s outstretched hand as he fired a shot into the corner.
Next, Cropper sent a low shot by Canadian Jonathan Osorio into the post to give the ‘Caps an edge.
Vancouver’s designated player Andres Cubas followed the save with a blast past Bono.
Federico Bernardeschi kept Toronto’s hopes alive, patiently waiting for his shot then rolling a ball into the net.
Tristan Blackmon scored the game-clincher. The crowd erupted as the ‘Caps defender fired a quick shot past Bono for the victory.
On the sidelines, Sartini stripped off his black “Home is Vancouver” T-shirt and whipped it around his head as he ran on to the field.
Stepping up for the penalty kick was a funny feeling, Blackmon said.
“I kind of thought it would end that way when I was fifth,” he said. “And it was on the plate for me to go at it. And luckily I tucked it in.”
Former Toronto FC striker Tosaint Ricketts looked poised to give the Whitecaps the win in the 80th minute when he got a ball from White deep in the box. His shot hit Bono’s hand and skittered wide of the post.
Bono had four saves on the night and Cropper made five stops for Vancouver.
Toronto buried the equalizer in the 75th minute.
Jayden Nelson chipped a short pass to Bernardeschi at the top of the box and the Italian sent a cross in deep. MacNaughton rose from the pack and put a header in past Cropper to tie the score at 1-1.
Cropper kept the ‘Caps ahead in the 60th minute, stretching out to turn away a shot from Toronto star Lorenzo Insigne.
Toronto dominated 71.3 per cent of the possession through the first half but it was Vancouver that had the better chances, outshooting the visitors 9-8. Both sides had four shots on target.
The ‘Caps appeared to be in trouble in the 37th minute when Toronto won a free kick from outside the penalty area. Isigne took the kick, sending a right-footed shot well over the Vancouver net.
Vancouver got on the board in the 19th minute following a corner.
Gauld sent a cross into White at the back post and the American striker directed a header toward the net, hitting Bono’s left hand on the way in. The goal gave the ‘Caps a 1-0 lead.
Lucas Cavallini nearly got the scoring started just 35 seconds into the game. Gauld delivered a ball into the box and the Canadian striker sent a low shot to the bottom left corner of the net, only to see Bono dive to make the stop.
Tuesday’s victory shows what the Whitecaps are all about, said midfielder Ryan Raposo.
“The guys just have so much grit. They’re all fighters,” said Raposo, who was named the best young Canadian of the game. “We’re not a team full of individuals — we’re a team, we work together toward a common goal, and that’s what happens — you win trophies.”
The Whitecaps will be back in action on Saturday when they visit Nashville SC. Toronto FC will take on the Revolution in New England the same night.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press