2022 Canadian Championship — Semifinals
Vancouver Whitecaps FC vs. York United
June 22, 2022 at 7 p.m. PT/10 p.m. ET
BC Place in Vancouver, British Columbia
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York United’s historic run through the 2022 Canadian Championship continues Wednesday night as they head to BC Place to do battle with the Vancouver Whitecaps for a place in the final.
This semifinal against a Major League Soccer side is surely one of the biggest matches York have played, as they become the first CPL team to take on all three Canadian MLS clubs. Having lost in 2019 to Montréal (then known as the Impact), and then last year to Toronto FC, the Nine Stripes are hoping the third time will be the charm for them, as they vie for a chance to hoist the Voyageurs’ Cup.
Head coach Martin Nash, himself a former Whitecap with 188 games played for Vancouver in the pre-MLS era (and brother of the club’s part-owner Steve), leads York United into the club’s fourth game against an MLS team — but their first with him in charge. Nash was an assistant coach with Cavalry FC in 2019 when they beat the Whitecaps at BC Place in this competition, so he (along with Cavalry-turned-York players Dominick Zator, Niko Giantsopoulos, and Oliver Minatel, as well as assistant coach Mauro Eustáquio) has fond memories of his last visit to the future FIFA World Cup venue.
York’s run to this point in the Canadian Championship has been a memorable one. In the preliminary round, they beat Atlético Ottawa at TD Place on penalty kicks, after a 1-1 score through 90 minutes. A few weeks later, in the quarterfinals, York again needed a shootout to get by Pacific FC at the end of a 2-2 match where the host Tridents scored a last-second equalizer. Nonetheless, York have earned their spot here in the semifinal after two hotly-contested ties, having triumphed in both of them away from home — and now, again, forced to play on the road in Vancouver.
In league play, it hasn’t been the smoothest of sailing for York recently. In fact, the two goals they scored at Pacific in the quarterfinal are the only two they’ve managed in their last seven games, having been held scoreless in six consecutive CPL matches. Still, they’ve managed to draw three of those games 0-0. As it stands, they’re sixth in the eight-team league table with two wins, five draws, and four losses, and they’ve both scored and conceded the fewest goals in the league this year.
“It’s gonna be easy for our guys to get up for this game,” Nash said Tuesday. “They’re gonna want to show the ability that they do have, and it’ll be a great test for them.”
The Whitecaps, like York, got to the semifinal by defeating a pair of CPL teams — unlike the other two Canadian MLS sides, they did not have a bye past the preliminary round because of their quarterfinal defeat to Pacific FC in 2021. In their first tie, Vancouver hosted Valour FC and got past them fairly comfortably with a 2-0 win. The quarterfinal, though, was a little less smooth; they went to Spruce Meadows to play Cavalry FC, and they needed an 85th-minute equalizer and a penalty shootout to get past the Calgary side.
Vanni Sartini’s ‘Caps have had an up-and-down first few months of the MLS season, and they sit in eight place of the Western Conference through 16 games with a 6-2-8 record and 20 points. Recently, though, they’ve turned things around somewhat, winning three of their last four MLS games — including a 2-0 away win over FC Dallas on Saturday.
The Voyageurs’ Cup has been an elusive prize over the years for the Whitecaps, who have only won it once in their history — back in 2015. They’ve been runners-up a further five times, but their last appearance in the final was in 2018, when Alphonso Davies and co. fell 7-2 to Toronto FC on aggregate. Coach Sartini said on Tuesday that this will be his side’s most important game of the year so far, in case anyone was wondering whether it’ll matter to the Whitecaps.
“We know that we’re the favourite again because we’re playing against a CPL team,” Sartini added. “But we saw in Calgary how hard it is to beat a CPL team sometimes, so we need to do the same job we did against Valour here at home, try to really dominate the game from the start and hopefully don’t give them any little chance.”
He also indicated an intent to play a very attacking lineup against York, with striker and an aggressive number 10 as well as attacking wingbacks, seeking to break down a very stingy defence.
A spot in the 2022 final thus awaits the winner of this tie — who would also have the right to host said final, thanks to the way the draw worked out. As the Whitecaps seek to stymie York and get their hands on the Voyageurs’ Cup, the Nine Stripes will be keen to find their scoring form and become the first CPL side to win a Canadian Championship semifinal.
3 THINGS TO WATCH:
- York’s defensive foundation set up well for cup ties: York’s scoring woes have undoubtedly been a problem the past few weeks; despite plenty of possession and visits into the attacking half, the truly dangerous final passes or shots haven’t quite been there. To each coin there are two sides, though, and the fact York have drawn three matches 0-0 in the past six league games is a testament to how good they’ve been defensively. Fullbacks Diyaeddine Abzi and Chrisnovic N’sa have done an excellent job prevent teams from breaking down the flanks, and typical centre-backs Dominick Zator and Jordan Wilson do well to cut out passing lanes to strikers or other attackers running in behind — plus, they’re both extremely hard to beat in a duel, particularly in the air. Last time Zator played at BC Place, he scored a header for Cavalry FC to beat the Whitecaps, so he’s no stranger to winning an aerial duel against Vancouver. Ultimately, York might be well-suited to a narrow cup tie, with their ability to defend and suffocate opponents — they’ll just hope they can find a goal or two on the break.
- Whitecaps finding form at right time: When Vancouver played Valour in the first round of this tournament, they seemed to be stuck in a major rut, perhaps ripe for a potential cupset — at the time, they were last in the MLS table with just seven points from nine games. After that win over Valour, though, the Whitecaps have four wins, a draw, and two defeats in league play, and they’re now level on points with the Seattle Sounders for the Western Conference’s seventh and final playoff spot. Over the weekend they won a tough away test over FC Dallas as Canadian international Lucas Cavallini returned to the scoresheet just two minutes in; they also welcomed new Designated Player Andrés Cubas to the starting XI for the first time. They had four Canadians in their lineup for that match (of note, since the Canadian Championship requires at least three), though many key contributors like Colombian attackers Cristian Dájome and Déiber Caicedo will count as internationals. Nonetheless, there is a lot of talent in Vanni Sartini’s side, which has been playing well recently.
- Neither side fears penalties: This year’s Voyageurs’ Cup bracket seems to have produced tighter contests than ever, with a record three penalty shootouts so far. The Whitecaps needed pens to defeat Cavalry FC in the quarterfinal, but they were ice-cold from the spot, as all five players who stepped up scored their attempt, and goalkeeper Cody Cropper parried Ali Musse’s effort to win it for Vancouver. York, meanwhile, have advanced on penalties twice — making them the first team in Canadian Championship history to win two shootouts — beating Atlético Ottawa and Pacific FC. The quarterfinal tie on Vancouver Island was a thriller, in which goalkeeper Niko Giantsopoulos stopped Pacific star Marco Bustos to win it 4-2 for the Nine Stripes. Giantsopoulos has now made three saves across the two shootouts, and Diyaeddine Abzi, Dominick Zator, Mateo Hernández, and Jordan Wilson have all scored in both attempts. So, neither side will be uncomfortable should Wednesday’s contest require spot kicks — although, asked if this contest might also go the distance, Martin Nash laughed: “I hope not.”
First meeting between these sides.
“If we win, we go to a final, and going to a final is always important, trying to win a trophy. We are not Real Madrid that we win a trophy every year; when there’s the possibility to win something, that’s the reason why it’s so important. It’s the most important game of the year so far.” — Vancouver Whitecaps FC head coach Vanni Sartini
“It’s gonna be a tough game. I expect them to have a lot of the ball, and we’re gonna have to work hard and stay organized, pick and choose our moments. It’s not gonna be an easy task, but we’ve got a bunch of players in this group that just give you everything. When a team works as hard as we do and the players give you everything, you’ve always got a chance.” — York United head coach Martin Nash