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Vancouver Whitecaps advance to Canadian Championship semifinal with 4-1 win over York

Team will visit Greater Victoria’s Pacific FC, in a May 23 semifinal
York United FC forward Brian Wright (9) tumbles as he battles for the ball with Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Sebastian Berhalter (16) during the second half of Canadian Championship quarterfinal soccer game in Toronto on Wednesday, May 10, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston

The Vancouver Whitecaps opened defence of their Canadian Championship title with a 4-1 quarterfinal victory over York United FC on Wednesday, a result that means the road to the Voyageurs Cup now goes through B.C. for them.

The Whitecaps will visit Pacific FC, which topped semi-pro TSS Rovers FC 2-0 in the other quarterfinal on Wednesday in Langford, B.C., in the May 23 semifinal. If it keeps winning, Vancouver will host either CF Montreal or CPL champion Forge FC in the championship game at B.C. Place Stadium on June 6.

Vancouver coach Vanni Sartini said his team, which as champion had a preliminary-round bye, talked about the importance of the cup competition prior to the game.

“It’s a massive trophy for the club, the Canadian Championship,” said the charismatic Italian. “And so we want to take care of it.”

The game was scoreless until the 64th minute with four more goals coming after the 75th minute.

“I thought for 60 minutes we did a lot right,” said York coach Martin Nash. “Once they scored the goal, we lost our way a little bit to be fair.”

“For 60 minutes, it was very hard,” echoed Sartini.

“In the end, I think we won comfortably,” he added. “I think the 4-1 (scoreline) is even too much against them. Probably a two-goal lead would be the right, I would say, distance for the game.”

York conceded an own goal with the Whitecaps’ Simon Becher and Levonte Johnson adding insurance goals. Austin Ricci pulled one back for York in the 90th minute only to see Vancouver’s Julian Gressel score on a stoppage-time penalty.

The teams played a scoreless first half with York growing in confidence after a shaky start. The Whitecaps had more of the ball and created plenty of chances but lacked clinical finishing. Vancouver outshot York 12-2 in the first half but only put two of those on target, compared to one for York.

Santini said he changed his formation to a 4-4-2 in the second half in a bid to create more space.

York ‘keeper Niko Giantsopoulos made some big saves early in the second half to keep the Whitecaps off the board.

Vancouver’s breakthrough came in the 64th minute after Ali Ahmed sent in a dangerous low cross. Giantsopoulos got a foot to it but the ball went to Whitecaps captain Russell Teibert whose shot hit the crossbar and then bounced in off the back of York’s Elijah Adekugbe, who knew nothing about it.

Giantsopoulos gifted Vancouver a second goal in the 76th minute, coming out of his penalty box to head away a ball from the chasing Johnson. The York ‘keeper got to the ball first but his clearance went straight to Becher who controlled it and then calmly lofted it into the vacated goal.

Johnson, a Whitecaps FC 2 player who signed a short-term deal earlier in the week, tucked the ball past Giantsopoulos in the 88th minute.

On Tuesday, Montreal won 2-1 at Toronto FC and Forge defeated visiting Atletico Ottawa in a penalty shootout (3-2) after the game finished knotted at 1-1 in regulation time.

Sartini made seven changes to the starting 11 that beat visiting Minnesota United 3-2 in MLS play Saturday, retaining four key players in goalkeeper Yohei Takaoka, centre backs Ranko Veselinovic and Tristan Blackmon and attacking midfielder Ryan Gauld.

Gauld, a designated player for the Whitecaps, earned US$2.265 million last year, almost three times the CPL team salary cap of C$1.025 million this season.

The Whitecaps started three Canadians, the minimum allowed under tournament rules, while York had five Canadians listed on its lineup sheet. Teibert made his 30th career Canadian Championship appearance.

York was without the injured Mo Babouli, Jeremy Lapare-Gagnon, Michael Petrasso and Jonathan Grant. York captain Roger Thompson, a veteran defender who had played just 63 minutes this season due to a hip injury, exited in the 25th minute after tweaking his groin.

After suffering back-to-back losses to open the MLS season, the Whitecaps arrived at York Lions Stadium unbeaten in their last eight league outings (3-5-0). Vancouver (3-2-5) outscored the opposition 12-5 during that run while posting four shutouts.

York (1-3-0) sits in seventh spot early in the Canadian Premier League season with just three goals in the four league outings. It edged expansion Vancouver FC in the preliminary round of the cup competition.

York made the semifinals of the 2022 cup competition, defeating Atletico Ottawa and Pacific FC in penalty shootouts before losing 2-1 at Vancouver. Nash captained the Whitecaps in their USL days, retiring in October 2019 before the team entered MLS.

York lost 4-0 to Toronto in the 2021 cup quarterfinal.

Vancouver has won the Canadian Championship twice (also winning in 2015), finishing runner-up seven times since 2008.

The Whitecaps, who left by charter after Wednesday’s game, visit Portland on Saturday. York plays at Pacific FC on Sunday.

—Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

READ MORE: ‘It’s fundamental’: Whitecaps see Canadian Championship success as crucial to season