VANCOUVER, B.C. — It took an extra-time goal from defender Mouloud Akloul in the 113th minute and a narrow miss from Ali Gerba in the final moments, but Vancouver Whitecaps FC escaped with a 1-1 result with the Montreal Impact on Wednesday night at Empire Field, allowing them to advance to the finals of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship with a 2-1 aggregate victory.
Montreal had evened the two-match semifinal series at 1-1 thanks to a penalty kick from Gerba in the 83rd minute, stunning the crowd and eventually forcing the extra frames.
The Impact applied pressure on the favored hosts early, looking to turn around a 1-0 loss in Montreal last week with a pair of early chances. The match intensified near the half-hour mark when Impact midfielder Amir Lowery challenged Whitecaps Designated Player Eric Hassli with a studs-up challenge that created a skirmish between the two teams at midfield. After leaving briefly, Hassli returned for the remainder of the half before being subbed off at the break.
Five minutes before halftime, the Whitecaps had perhaps their best chance. Russell Teibert sent a dangerous cross to the back post to Greg Janicki, who couldn’t direct the ball towards goal.
The ‘Caps came out in the second half determined to book their place in the finals. Teibert came close to sealing the deal in the 51st minute as he unleashed a stinging left-footed strike that flew just wide of the far post. The 18-year-old was again active in the 64th minute as he cut to the middle of the park and cranked a low effort inches away from goal. In the 72nd minute, a Davide Chiumiento ball from the left wing found substitute Shea Salinas open on the right seven yards from goal, but his effort towards goal was defelcted out for a corner.
Just when it looked like Vancouver were taking control of the match and were on their way to the finals, Montreal found the equalizer they so desperately needed after Alain Rochat brought down Gerba in the box in the 83rd minute. Gerba then buried the spot kick past Jay Nolly to take a 1-0 lead in the match and level the series 1-1 on aggregate.
The extra session was action-packed, as 'Caps midfielder Terry Dunfield was denied three times by Montreal 'keeper Bill Gaudette. But Vancouver finally broke just seven minutes before the tie was set to go to penalties. Alain Rochat struck a curling free kick from the top of the 18-yard box to the far post. Gaudette did well to make the stop, but defender Akloul was on hand to clean up the rebound to tie the match and retake the lead on aggregate.
The drama wasn’t over yet, though. With the away-goals rule in effect, Montreal still needed only a goal to win the series and they should have had in in the final moment of the match. Anthony Le Gall sent in a last-gasp cross that found Gerba unmarked at the back post with a chance for glory. As the crowd held its breath, Gerba headed the ball to the far post, well out of the reach of Nolly, but it skimmed off the woodwork and out of play.
Vancouver will now meet Toronto FC in a two-match final for the right to hoist the Voyageurs Cup as Canadian club champions. The Whitecaps will host the first leg May 18 at Empire Field, with the return finale set for May 25 in Toronto. The winner advances to the qualifying round of the 2011-12 CONCACAF Champions League.
MTL -- Gerba 83' Penalty Kick
VAN – Akloul 113’
MTL -- Hatchi, caution 26'
MTL -- Lowery, caution 30'
MTL -- Tsiskaridze, caution 59'
MTL -- Gerba, caution 100’
Montreal Impact -- 1. Bill Gaudette; 21. Philippe Billy, 99. Kevin Hatchi, 5. Nevio Pizzolitto, 77. Zurab Tsiskaridze; 11. Leonardo Di Lorenzo (30. Pierre-Rudolph 75’), 8. Luke Kreamalmeyer (28. Idriss Ech Chergui 80’), 12. Amir Lowery, 7. David Testo (23. Antonio Ribeiro 75’), 17. Anthony Le Gall; 10. Ali Gerba
Unused substitutes: 22. Evan Bush; 2. Hicham Aaboubou
Vancouver Whitecaps FC -- 18. Jay Nolly; 25. Jonathan Leathers, 14. Greg Janicki, 50. Mouloud Akloul; 4. Alain Rochat; 20. Davide Chiumiento, 7. Terry Dunfield, 28. Gershon Koffie, 31. Russell Teibert (16. Nizar Khlafan 90’); 29. Eric Hassli (37. Camilo 45’), 17. Omar Salgado (22. Shea Salinas 69’)
Unused substitutes: 1. Joe Cannon; 2.Michael Boxall, 19. Blake Wagner; 32. Kevin Harmse, 8. Wes Knight,
Referee: David Gantar
Assistants: Joe Fletcher, Marco Arruda
4th Official: Alain Ruch