The Vancouver Island Whitecaps FC experience was short and sweet as the team faced Mexican club Tigres UANL in front of an enthusiastic crowd in Langford.
The Vancouver Whitecaps’ name was unofficially changed for the match at Starlight Stadium on Wednesday (Feb. 7) to embrace the local community.
“I’m proud that we got to be the Vancouver Island Whitecaps FC,” Whitecaps head coach Vanni Sartini said.
The stadium was packed with 5,763 fans to see the first round of the CONCACAF Champions Cup.
“They made us feel at home,” Sartini added. “They were happy to see a high-level clash between us and a very good team.”
The game was held in Langford because of a scheduling conflict at the Whitecaps usual home at B.C. Place.
“I’m really happy that we had this inconvenience of not having our stadium,” Sartini said. “It became an opportunity to engage more people here.”
Midfielder Damir Kreilach opened the scoring in the 32nd minute with his first goal for the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Defender Luis Martins whipped in a deep cross to striker Brian White, who nodded the ball into Kreilach’s path, slotting it past Tigres goalkeeper Nahuel Guzman.
“He was very calm and collected,” Sartini said about Kreilach. “He’s not the most dynamic player in the world, but he can combine well when he plays with two strikers. I hope his goal makes the CONCACAF highlight reel.”
The Whitecaps appeared to score again in the 53rd minute as White slotted home a rebound, but after a review, it was called back for offside.
“Obviously, we would have liked to come out with a couple more goals,” White said. “I think we executed the game plan well. I think we stuck to the principles.”
Andre-Pierre Gignac’s free kick in the dying moments tied it up for Tigres UANL, and the match ended as a 1-1 draw.
“That’s just a bit of a bit of genius from the big fella, and there’s not too much else to say about that one,” Vancouver playmaker Ryan Gauld said about Gignac’s goal.
The match was Sartini’s 100th in charge of the Whitecaps, and he currently has a record of 38-33-29.
“We did very well,” Sartini said. “I think we had a very good performance against a very good team. We basically applied everything that we had talked about during the week.”
Vancouver is now preparing for the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions Cup at Estadio Universitario in San Nicolás de los Garza, Mexico on Wednesday (Feb. 14).
“I feel confident going to Mexico next week,” White added.
The Whitecaps Major League Soccer season opener is on March 2 against Charlotte FC at BC Place. The upper bowl will be open and over 25,000 tickets have already been sold.
– With files from the Canadian Press