Gignac leads the way as Tigres down Whitecaps to qualify for Champs League final

Gignac scores as Tigres down Whitecaps

VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Whitecaps’ dreams of CONCACAF Champions League glory were dashed in a moment of French mastery.

Andre-Pierre Gignac scored a stunning goal in the 63rd minute as Tigres UANL defeated Vancouver 2-1 on Wednesday night to secure a spot in the final.

The Mexican champions won the first leg of the semifinal 2-0 and advanced thanks to a 4-1 aggregate victory over the Major League Soccer side.

With star-studded Tigres down 1-0 in the second half, Gignac, a French striker who made six appearances at Euro 2016, took a pass on the edge of the Vancouver penalty area and curled a perfect shot into the top corner past the outstretched hands of ‘keeper David Ousted.

“If you’re beaten by a mistake it does wind me up,” said Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson. “But when you’re beaten by a moment of brilliance by a top player … it’s not luck.

“Great goal. I enjoyed watching that, unfortunately I’m on the wrong end of it.”

Brek Shea scored just over two minutes into the match to give Vancouver life, but the hosts were unable to find another goal to level the tie on aggregate before Gignac buried the Whitecaps’ hopes with a priceless away goal to send Tigres into an all-Mexican final against CF Pachuca.

“What can I say? ‘Golazo’ as we say in Spanish,” Vancouver forward Fredy Montero said of Gignac’s incredible strike.

Tigres’ breakthrough meant that at 1-1, the Whitecaps needed to score three more times to advance, a miracle that didn’t come close to materializing before Damian Alvarez, who subbed on seconds earlier, blasted a shot into the roof of the net in the 84th minute.

“Sometimes when you wake the beast, it’s not a good thing,” said Robinson. “I always felt that would happen, but I wanted to try and do that and try go toe-to-toe with them.

“We certainly had a go.”

Making its first appearance in a Champions League semifinal, Vancouver had a great chance right after halftime to go up 2-0 off a scramble in the Tigres penalty area, but Christian Bolanos saw his powerful drive stopped by Nahuel Guzman.

“When you play against good teams … you have to make those defining moments and take those chances,” said Robinson. “Unfortunately we didn’t.” 

In hopes of making things uncomfortable for the visitors — Wednesday’s high in Monterrey was 27 C — the Whitecaps decided to leave the retractable roof at B.C. Place Stadium open for the match. But while the temperature at kickoff was 9 C, the rain expected in the forecast never materialized.

Vancouver talked about needing to get at Tigres early in the chilly conditions on the artificial surface, but it was the Mexicans who nearly struck first when Ismael Sosa saw a golden opportunity blocked just 15 seconds into the game.

After dodging that bullet, the Whitecaps went on the attack with Cristian Techera clipping a ball into the six-yard box that Guzman could only palm out to the waiting Shea, who poked home his first goal with the club.

But the joy was short-lived for the veteran midfielder after appearing to injure his left leg moments later when he came together with Luis Rodriguez.

That forced Vancouver, which earned its first victory of the MLS season over the weekend, to bring on 16-year-old Alphonso Davies in place of Shea, who Robinson said afterwards will be out for an extended period.

A few hundred Tigres fans sporting the club’s blue and yellow colours occupied one corner of the stadium with banners, scarves and a near constant drum beat. Whitecaps supporters were in full voice at the other end, unfurling a banner of their own that read “Never Tell Us The Odds.”

Vancouver hung with Tigres for the first hour in Monterrey on March 14 at the Estadio Universitario — an intimidating venue nicknamed “The Volcano” — before eventually succumbing 2-0.

Mexican teams have won every CONCACAF Champions League title, a competition that includes clubs from North America, Central America and the Caribbean, since its inception in 2008-09.

D.C. United (1998) and the Los Angeles Galaxy (2000) claimed the region’s top prize when it was known as the Champions Cup, but the last 11 combined winners have come from Mexico.

Vancouver was the third Canadian team to make the semis after Toronto FC in 2011-12 and the Montreal Impact, who reached the final, in 2014-15.

“We’ll take the experience and we’ll bottle it and we’ll go again for next time,” said Robinson. “There’s nothing to be ashamed of in that locker-room.”

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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press