3 Kicks: Whitecaps advance to Champions League quarter-final with 2-1 win in Kansas City

Sep 14 2016, 5:02 am

The Vancouver Whitecaps had to weather a few storms on Tuesday night but their ship reached port safe and sound with a cargo of three points and a ticket to the quarter-finals of the 2016-2017 CONCACAF Champions League.

The soccer gods smiled upon the Blue and White when a deflected shot by fifteen-year-old Alphonso Davies found the back of the net in stoppage time, thus clinching the win at a soaked Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City.

After three victories in the same number of matches, the Whitecaps will be playing in the knockout stages of the continental tournament in March.

1. The weather… Again

The weather has not been kind to the ‘Caps in the past few days. After torrential rain delayed kickoff by an hour and a half last Saturday in Columbus, tonight’s match was delayed by almost two hours due to lightning in the Kansas City area.

As the clock ticked over to the 34th minute of the first half, the Costa Rican referee Ricard Montero decided to delay the game and the players returned to the dressing rooms to wait for the weather to cooperate.

The prolonged break was a blessing in disguise for Carl Robinson and his pupils. Sporting Kansas City had been the better of the two sides in the earlier stages of the game as they produced clearcut chances that their attackers were unable to convert. Sounds familiar, right?

When action resumed, it was the Whitecaps who drew blood first after a lovely combination between Nicolas Mezquida and Alphonso Davies to serve a ball on a silver tray for Erik Hurtado, who put the Whitecaps ahead.

2. The Mezquida effect

The headlines will be stolen by game-winning goal scorer Alphonso Davies. After all, the youngster did seal the win and the qualification with a deflected shot in dramatic fashion in stoppage time.

The man of the match should perhaps go to Erik Hurtado who, for the second straight game, found the back of the net, and has arguably been the most valuable player for the Whitecaps throughout the tournament.

It is critical, however, to highlight the work of Uruguayan midfielder, Nico Mezquida. The Paysandú native proved once again the tremendous value he provides in Carl Robinson’s tactical deployment.

Mezquida was a nuisance for the Kansas City back line. He pressed high, forced turnovers, stole balls by correctly reading the play and, most importantly, created goal scoring opportunities with accurate ball distribution and quick combinations.

Mezquida playing that number 10 role is perhaps the piece that has been missing in the 2016 Whitecaps puzzle.

3. The road ahead

Early qualification to the next stage of this tournament means two things. The first is that the remaining group stage match against Central FC (which will be played later in the month at BC Place) means very little in terms of points.

However, this is a precious opportunity for Carl Robinson and his coaching staff to provide squad players and WFC2 call-ups with a last chance to create an impression looking towards earning a contract for 2017.

More importantly, the knockout stages of the CONCACAF Champions league will begin in early March 2017. Carl Robinson and his staff will therefore have an atypical pre-season next year.

While most teams prepare their squad to kick off the MLS campaign, the Vancouver Whitecaps will be immediately thrown into the fire with the most likely prospect of facing a Mexican or Costa Rican team in a home and away knockout series.

Talk about making things interesting early.

The Montreal Impact found themselves in a similar situation in 2015 when the Quebecois side was able to make it all the way to the continental final. Unfortunately, the Impact fell in the final against Mexican powerhouse Club America.

The point is that with the proper focus and preparation, MLS (and Canadian MLS teams, to be precise) can make it far into this tournament and, as a result, start slowly gaining respect in the continent as a club and as a league.

One can only dream.