LANGFORD, BC – Vancouver Whitecaps FC put in a big time effort in their first competitive match of 2024, taking it to Mexican giants Tigres UANL before a late equalizer from the visitors left them in a 1-1 deadlock going into next week’s second leg.
The match was played in front of a raucous Vancouver Island crowd of 5,763.
Coaching his 100th match with Whitecaps FC, Vanni Sartini started his side in a 3-4-1-2 formation, including newcomer Damir Kreilach making his official debut for the club up top alongside Brian White.
It was a cagey start to the match, with both sides holding firm. The ‘Caps had their first look on 17 minutes, as the front three got up field quickly with Ryan Gauld finding White in the box, but his centering pass just escaped Kreilach.
On 20 minutes, Tigres had their first shot on target as André-Pierre Gignac tried his luck from outside the box, but Yohei Takaoka was up to the task.
27 minutes in and it was close to being 1-0 for the ‘Caps. White laid the ball off for Gauld at the top of the box, but his strike flew just over the net.
In the 32nd minute the ‘Caps finally found the opening goal. Gauld played a long cross to White, who headed it perfectly to Kreilach. The Croatian calmly slotted the ball in with his first touch, scoring his first goal for the club while giving Whitecaps FC a 1-0 lead.
Takaoka came up big again in the 43rd minute, getting low to save a thunderous volley and preserve the lead. Just before halftime Tristan Blackmon got his head on a corner kick, but it went wide of the net as the halftime break came.
It appeared as if the ‘Caps went up 2-0 in the 53rd minute, only for it to be called back offside. Alessandro Schöpf made a good run into the box before centering for Gauld to have a shot that was blocked. Pedro Vite then had another shot blocked, before White put it into the back of the net. However, after review, it was called back.
In the 73rd minute the ‘Caps broke up field again, ending with Vite hitting a shot just wide. And they kept coming. On 84 minutes, beautiful interplay led to debutant Fafà Picault feeding Vite for a cross that just missed White.
With time winding down, a cruel twist arrived for the ‘Caps. Tigres were awarded a free kick just outside the box, and the ageless André-Pierre Gignac struck an inch-perfect shot into the top corner to make it 1-1 heading into the second leg.
The ‘Caps now get set for the…