Playoffs next? Vancouver Whitecaps hoping to ride CanChamp title momentum

Vanni Sartini stripped off his black “Home is Vancouver” t-shirt and waved it over his head like a rally towel. It was in the immediate aftermath of Tristan Blackmon’s clinching penalty that handed Vancouver Whitecaps FC the Canadian Championship for the second time in club history, and the Italian head coach was relishing a moment of unadulterated joy he’s never before experienced in his career.

After beating Toronto FC 5-3 on penalties after the teams played to a 1-1 draw, the Caps lifted 2022's Voyageurs Cup on the field, much to the delight of the 24,307 fans at BC Place – the second largest crowd in the competition’s history – and drank champagne out of it in the locker room.

“We said from Day One that the Canadian Championship was one of our important trophy. We didn't do well in the last previous years. And it means everything because we are a good, very good team,” Sartini said after the match.

“So today we reminded everyone that when we are 100%, that we are a very good team. But we are not the team who's painted or who's considered like a league killer. So winning a trophy for us is really important. On a personal note, it's the first trophy that I win, so I am really happy.”

The title lift also secured a spot in the 2023 Concacaf Champions League for the Whitecaps, who enter that regional competition for the third time and first since a semifinal run in 2017 when they fell to Mexico’s Tigres UANL.

It doesn’t get much better than this night in British Columbia.

“We need to realize that we did a very good thing because we are representing our country next year in the Champions League, it’s an honor,” Sartini said. “I say our country – I feel a little bit Canadian, too.”

Sartini said Tuesday night was for celebrating and Wednesday was for rest, but then it’s back to reality with a trip to Nashville SC on Saturday (8 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+). At GEODIS Park, the Whitecaps will look to snap a four-match winless streak in MLS play.

Vancouver enter Week 23 of the 2022 season in 10th place in the Western Conference table, four points below the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs line.

Outside of memories that will last a lifetime, and perhaps a hangover in the short term, Vancouver can take away the blueprint of success going forward from an opening 45 minutes Sartini described as “perfect.”

“If we play like this for the next 12 games in the league, we are going into the playoff that's pure and simple," Sartini said. "It’s playing like we played against LAFC, like we did in Dallas, like we did even in Kansas City even with more quality today. It’s something that we have to build on.”

And if the Whitecaps can bottle that performance and make the playoffs, “literally everything can happen,” Sartini said, using the Portland Timbers' run to hosting MLS Cup 2021 as an example.

A year ago, Vancouver rallied to make the playoffs after Sartini took over in late August. They've qualified five of 11 years since joining MLS as an expansion team in 2011.

“You saw last year with Portland at the end they had maybe one or two points more than us and they lost the final on penalties,” Sartini said. “What we need to look for as soccer fans of Vancouver and British Columbia it's like having a consistent team that goes to the playoffs in a consistent way and then the playoff, everything can happen every time.”