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Whitecaps Deal Knockout Blow to Impact in Canadian Championship Race

Wednesday night at BC Place, the Vancouver Whitecaps exercised revenge on the Montreal Impact in an eventful and unexpected 3-1 victory, eliminating them from Canadian Championship contention as both teams move to the second phase of regular season resumption.

Lineups

After a challenging outing Sunday night, Marc Dos Santos brought out a wide array of changes in this one. These changes were aided in part by the absence of Lucas Cavallini due to suspension, but also in-part due to a resurgent Fredy Montero, and a quality substitute perfomance from Cristian Gutierrez last time out.

Ranko Veselinovic returned to action on the backline as well, and Janio Bikel finally made his comeback from a training injury which saw him miss all of the MLS is Back tournament, as well as all of the recent Canadian matchups.

Thierry Henry’s Impact came out a largely unchanged side, other than the replacement of the suspended Emanuel Maciel with young Canadian Shamit Shome in the midfield.

As it Happened

It was a quiet opening ten minutes for both teams, but the first decent chance of the match came in the 8th minute, as Theo Bair gave away the ball at midfield, leading to an Impact cross which was deflected away by the fingertips of Thomas Hasal. Vancouver, meanwhile, had little to show for the opening stages of the match, other than a couple nice forward balls by Janio Bikel and Russell Teibert, and one corner kick.

Vancouver’s first decent chance of the match came in the 28th minute, as Theo Bair made a good run to get under long ball forwards, but once he got on the end of it, few options were available in the box, as his cross went harmlessly out of play for a goal kick.

The Impact followed this up with a pair of nice chances in the 32nd, first a long distance shot from Orji Okwonkwo, and then a back post header from Luis Binks.

The match would completely change in the 37th minute however, as the fire and intensity from Sunday’s matchup returned in earnest.

After a collision in the Impact box, defender Rudy Camacho remained on the turf and initially looked to be in some discomfort. As Fredy Montero went to help Camacho up from the turf, he received what can only be described as a punch to the knee.

It was a foolish moment from Camacho, and if I’m being honest, he should’ve looked to get better value for his red card, as it was quite a feeble effort. Regardless, his moment of madness saw the Impact not only down to ten men, but also facing a penalty kick, as the foul had occurred inside their own box.

Fredy Montero, having recovered from the knee punch, calmly stepped up to the spot and converted the PK in a way Lucas Cavallini can only dream of.

As the dust settled, and Montreal looked to regroup with ten men, the Whitecaps (and Montero) struck once again. In a pretty looking sequence, Montero held up play calmly, before threading a low ball into the path of David Milinkovic.

The Assist Master (i.e. Milinkovic, who leads the team with four) made a wonderful run towards the box, drawing defenders in his direction before finding a steaking Dajome, who took a single touch before slotting the ball past Diop into the bottom left corner of the goal.

With that, the Whitecaps found themsleves headed to halftime up 2-0, and with another forty-five minutes of 11 vs. 10 to take advantage of.

Michael Baldisimo came on for Janio Bikel at the half, and Montreal did a pretty decent job responding in the opening minutes, with good pressure around the Whitecaps goal and a couple of decent chances.

In the 62nd minute, Leonard Owusu came on for Theo Bair, and Marc Dos Santos moved David Milinkovic out on the wing, as Owusu took up the number ten position for the first time in a Whitecaps shirt.

Despite the tactical shift, the Whitecaps continue to sit fairly deep in their own half, even though they were up a man, and in the 70th minute they were finally punished for it.

It was a relatively innocent looking play, but after Saphir Taider played a delicate ball into the feet of Romell Quioto, the Honduran made a wonderful turn and blasted a shot past Thomas Hasal at the near post, closing the gap to a single goal at 2-1.

Thankfully for the Whitecaps and their supporters, it was the rude awakening the side needed. Ali Adnan replaced David Milinkovic in the 74th, and the threat of Adnan going forward helped revive the Whitecaps offensive creativity.

Montero in particular began buzzing around the Impact box, and in the 78th, the Colombian frontman found goal for a second time on the night.

It was a bit of an unusual give and go play between Owusu and Montero, but Owusu was able to fake a shot before leaving the ball on a tee for Montero well inside the box, and Fredy made no mistake, disposing the ball just inside the far post for a 3-1 Whitecaps lead.

Montero almost added to his goal scoring tally a minute later, but he couldn’t get his foot in the right position after a good ball from Cristian Gutierrez, and his shot skied high of target.

From that point on, the Whitecaps did a good job seeing out the result, and after the third Whitecaps goal, Montreal seemed to lose their motivation to push back, as they were basically resigned to their defeat and subsequent elimination from Canadian Championship contention by a final score of 3-1.

Analysis

First off, I thought Janio Bikel was impressive in his 45 minutes of action. In particular his economy of movement was notable. In comparison to Teibert, he often was more incisive while doing less running around aimlessly (although I thought Rusty was decent as well overall). Bikel has a comfort level and calmness to his play that has really been missing from the Whitecaps midfield recently, so I’m looking forward to seeing more from him.

For whatever reason, the “pure” fullbacks in Nerwinski and Gutierrez seemed to fit Dos Santos’ system a lot better, and this was especially notable at 11 v. 11. I think the Whitecaps should be encouraged that they can move on from Adnan at some point without worry, or even just move him to the wing on a more permanent basis.

Marc Dos Santos touched on this post match, but Fredy Montero’s calmness and off ball instincts have been sorely missed. Even in comparison to Cavallini, Montero has a level of polish and class that we often forget about sometimes. The game seems to move very slowly for him when he’s at his best, and his pass in the buildup to the second goal is a terrific example of that.

The defense was much improved in this back four configuration, and in particular, Derek Cornelius was outstanding. Other than one key block, Cornelius was ever-present but not that noticeable, and that’s a great thing for a defender.

Some final thoughts on Montreal – as disappointing as this result is for them, Saphir Taider was outstanding in these two matches with three assists, as well as a goal. As much as he’s maligned at times by Impact supporters for being overpaid, he showed his world-cup experience (as MDS would say), in these past two games.

Luis Binks also stood out to me, he’s a tremendous young defender. Sure, he’s an absolute nuisance to play against (as Cava found out the hard way) but he’s also a great passer and is rarely caught out of position. I wouldn’t be shocked if he’s playing back in Italy, or somewhere else in Europe soon.

With two wins in three matches now, the Vancouver Whitecaps head out on another long road trip, starting in Utah on Saturday. What were your thoughts on the Whitecaps’ performance, and what can we expect from the rest of this regular season? Let us know in the comments.

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