Agony and Ecstasy: The Story of MLS Decision Day in Canada

It all came down to Sunday afternoon to decide the playoff fates for Vancouver and Montreal. Both clubs went into decision day with destiny in their own hands, a win for Montreal would give them a birth in the East Conference while a draw would be enough for Vancouver to make the playoffs for the first time since 2017. It was going to be a tense affair for both sides, the question would be, could they rise to the occasion?

Vancouver Whitecaps 1 – Seattle Sounders 1

It was the biggest crowd at a sports event in British Columbia since the pandemic, and the home crowd was eager to cheer the home team on against their rivals from just across the border. Over 25,000 fans made their way into BC Place for this Cascadia derby and early on the game would spring into life, but perhaps not in the way they wanted it to. A corner early on from the Sounders was met unfortunately by a handball from Whitecaps forward Christian Dájome leaving the referee no choice to award a penalty to Seattle six minutes in. Seattle’s Fredy Montero made no mistake from the spot, slotting the ball into the right corner and left the Whitecaps having to fight for their playoff lives.

Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Thankfully they wouldn’t have to wait long for a response, at the 19th-minute mark, Cristián Gutiérrez whipped the ball into the middle of the Sounders box where it found Whitecaps’ top goal scorer Brian White. White won the header against up against two Seattle defenders sending the ball just outside the six-yard box where it was met by Whitecaps talisman Ryan Gauld who powered the ball into the net with a towering header.

Ryan Gauld was signed at the end of July and the Scot has had a dramatic impact in Vancouver that has coincided where their incredible form since mid-August. The whitecaps were languishing at the foot of the table at that point but have since lost just twice and are now just an hour away from playoff soccer. Seattle would have the better chances for the rest of the first half but Vancouver held on to take a 1-1 draw into the half.

Credit: Reuters

Soon into the second half, another cross from Gutiérrez should’ve perhaps led to another goal. The ball made its way from the left wing into the middle of the six-yard box where Brian White was just unable to get clean contact on the ball with his head, sending the ball just wide with the goal in front of him. That was a close as either team would come to a breakthrough until the 82nd minute, a left-sided corner from Gauld found defender Ranko Veselinovic but the big Serbs header was cleared off the line by Fredy Montero.

Late into stoppage time, Seattle had a free-kick and was hoping to score a winning goal to secure the number one seed in the West, after Vancouver initially failed to clear the danger, the ball found itself in front of Seattle’s Xavier Arreaga at the six-yard box who stretched out to direct the ball towards the ever-dangerous Fredy Montero but he was denied by the Whitecaps fans player of the season, goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau.

That save would spark sighs of relief which was quickly followed by celebration when the referee blew for full time. Vancouver had officially clinched the playoffs, ending the season sixth in the West standings. They’ll move on to play Sporting Kansas City, having registered a 2-1 win against Kansas City as recently as October on matchday 30, Vancouver will have nothing to fear going into that game, setting up what will for sure be a great occasion.

CF Montreal 0 – Orlando City 2

It was a heartbreaking afternoon for Montreal and it certainly wasn’t for a lack of trying and Wilfred Nancy’s side can take pride in their efforts in a game that on another day could easily have gone their way. Montreal needed a win to make the playoffs and wasted little time bringing the game to Orlando, 15 minutes in Mihailovic found Brault-Guillard who played a wicked ball across the six-yard box where it met Montreal striker Sunusi Ibrahim who unfortunately didn’t control the ball squandering what was essentially a tap in opportunity for Montreal.

Just five minutes later, it was the American playmaker Djordje Mihailovic again on the edge of the box playing a great ball to Joaquin Torres who found himself with just the keeper to beat but was denied by a great save from Orlando’s Pedro Gallese. Despite having the best chances, Montreal couldn’t afford to get complacent.

In the 36th minute, they were slow to react to an Orlando free-kick, Orlando’s Pereyra dummied the shot and instead flicked the ball back into the path of defender Robin Jansson who fired a cannon of a shot that clipped Montreals left post. Ibrahim would eventually put the ball in the back of the net for Montreal almost immediately afterwards in the 38th minute but it was rightfully ruled out for offside. An action-packed first half ended deadlocked and scoreless leaving Montreal just 45 minutes to find a winner.

The start to the second half however would prove to be disastrous for Montreal. On the 54th minute, an Orlando throw lead to Sebas Méndez having the ball on the right-hand side just outside the 18-yard box, and he unleashed a rocket of a shot into the top left corner of Montreal’s goal. A goal worthy of the occasion, Montreal was now 1-0 down needing two goals to save their season.

Sebas Méndez, Orlando City SC

The cliche in soccer is that you’re at your most vulnerable when you just concede, and it seemed that was the case on the 58th minute when Rudy Camacho’s cross found Romell Quioto at the back post to smash the ball in past Gallese. It wasn’t to be however for Montreal, as for the second time in the game the flag was raised for offside.

While the first incident was straightforward, the second offside decision was much more controversial, it was a very tight call that perhaps on another day would’ve stood as a goal. Montreal’s already difficult task got even more difficult when on the 78th minute Camacho recklessly dived in to tackle Daryl Dike with his studs up, leaving the referee no choice but to show him a red card leaving Montreal with 10 men for the rest of the night.

It wouldn’t take Orlando long to capitalize on the man advantage when in the 85th minute the man on the end of Camacho’s challenge, Daryl Dike received the ball on the edge of the box and calmly placed the ball into the net putting a dagger through Montreal’s playoff hopes.

The game would finish 2-0 Orlando. Montreal will be disappointed, they very easily could’ve won this game but can hold their heads up high and will certainly be fancied to make the playoffs next season. In the meantime, Wilfred Nancy’s side will be looking to pick themselves up and at least end the season with some silverware when they take on Toronto FC in the Canadian Championship final later this month.

Published by Paul McNulty

CFL, NFL NHL and soccer fan. Based in British Columbia. Originally from Scotland.

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