Tuesday, May 23, 2017

{allcanada} Whitecaps take first leg over Impact in semifinal


Vancouver Whitecaps phenom Alphonso Davies showed once again why some of the biggest clubs in the world have started to take real notice.

The 16-year-old midfielder scored one and set up another in a breathtaking opening 45 minutes as Vancouver downed the Montreal Impact 2-1 in the first leg of their Canadian Championship semifinal on Tuesday night.

"He was electric," said Whitecaps goalkeeper Spencer Richey. "It's awesome."

Davies' performance came hours after team president Bob Lenarduzzi admitted on a local radio station that English Premier League giants Manchester United are one of the clubs that have reached out to ask about the soft-spoken teenager.

"Listen, good players are wanted," said Vancouver head coach Carl Robinson, who has made a point of downplaying his prodigy in the media. "He's 16 years of age and he's playing in the first team.

"I'm not trying to protect him for any other reason than I want the boy to develop."

Nicolas Mezquida had the other goal for Vancouver on Tuesday, while Richey stopped a second-half penalty.

David Choiniere replied for the Impact, who will feel good about their chances heading home for the second leg of the aggregate series next week despite a poor effort early on.

"It was a terrible first half," said Montreal head coach Mauro Biello. "Bad defending, very nonchalant. When we had the ball we didn't decide to play.

"In the second half we decided to play and we created chances — dominated — should have actually won the game."

Born in Liberia and raised in Edmonton, Davies had a spring in his step from the start, and opened the scoring in the match between Major League Soccer sides 13th minute.

Brek Shea's pass to Mezquida from the right lagged behind his teammate, but rolled right to Davies, who calmly slotted home past Impact goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau.

Davies, who was subbed off in the second half and didn't speak to reporters after the game, then went from finisher to creator in the 33rd when he danced past three Montreal players with ease before Mezquida latched onto the loose ball in space.

"He's outstanding," Vancouver midfielder Russell Teibert said of Davies. "But there's so much more to come."

The Impact settled down after the break and got one back in the 62nd when a pair of Canadians hooked up for a valuable away goal. Substitute Anthony Jackson-Hamel, a Montreal native, nodded a ball to Choiniere, from Saint-Alexandre, Que., who in turn beat Richey.

Jackson-Hamel then had a golden opportunity to level the match six minutes later, but flubbed a rebound effort after Chris Duvall's initial shot hit the post.

Montreal had an even better chance to equalize in the 73rd after Whitecaps defender Cole Seiler handled the ball in the Vancouver penalty area after a great run from Impact forward and Montreal native Ballou Tabla, but Richey stopped Impact sub Patrice Bernier's poor effort from spot with a dive to his right.

Richey then made another crucial save in stoppage time on Bernier at the near post after the Brossard, Que., product pounced on a dreadful attempted Whitecaps' clearance off a corner.

Elsewhere on Tuesday, the Ottawa Fury of the second-tier USL came from a goal down against Toronto FC to win the first leg of the other semifinal 2-1 in the nation's capital.

After claiming the club's first national crown in 2015, the Whitecaps were moments away from making it back-to-back titles last season when a late defensive miscue in the final's second leg gifted Toronto a priceless away goal to completely flip the script and leave Vancouver stunned.

The winner of the Canadian title has qualified directly to the subsequent CONCACAF Champions League in years past, but changes to that event's format means Toronto will have to either capture the national crown again or beat the 2017 winner in a one-game playoff to make the regional club tournament.

After playing the same lineup and formation for five straight matches, Vancouver went with an entirely new starting 11 against Montreal for the second of five matches in a 15-day stretch. The Impact, meanwhile, made nine changes to their starting lineup from Saturday.

Teams in this year's competition have to start at least three Canadians, but the Whitecaps technically had a fourth in Davies, who is a permanent resident and in the process of getting his citizenship.

The Whitecaps now head to Montreal knowing that a clean sheet next Tuesday will see them move onto the final for a third straight year.

"The game's firmly in the balance," said Robinson. "We know anything can happen in the Canadian Championship, as we saw last year."

Notes: The Impact won the Canadian title in 2008, 2013 and 2014. ... Vancouver returns to MLS action Saturday at home against D.C United. Montreal doesn't play against before hosting the Whitecaps in the return leg.

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