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Whitecaps miss two penalty kicks, settle for draw with LAFC

Maxime Crepeau LAFC Maxime Crepeau - The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER — Call it a dress rehearsal for the next act.

The Vancouver Whitecaps battled back from a first-half deficit but failed to score on two penalty kicks and settled for a 1-1 draw with LAFC on Saturday’s Decision Day.

The result, played before a season-high crowd of 25,146 at BC Place Stadium, means the two teams will face each other again in the Major League Soccer playoffs.

“It was a roller-coaster,” said midfielder Ali Ahmed who scored Vancouver’s lone goal in the 58th minute. “That’s how I think the playoffs are going to be.

“It’s going to be tough, it’s going to be a battle. I think this was what we needed.”

The Whitecaps came into the game of the MLS regular season knowing they could finish no worse than sixth in the Western Conference. They were hoping for a win against LAFC, then needed a variety of other results to climb as high as third. That would have given them a home advantage in the best-of-three playoff series.

Instead the Whitecaps (12-10-12) remain sixth after managing just one win in their last seven games (1-3-3) and open the best-of-three playoffs on the road.

Denis Bouanga scored in the 34th minute for LAFC (14-10-10) who finished third in the West. The defending MLS champions had just one loss in their last seven (3-1-3) matches.

Ahmed sent a jolt of energy through the crowd when he tied the match with his second goal of the MLS season.

“Getting that goal was big for me,” said the Toronto native. “I’ve been having some solid performances, but you look back at the stats and I don’t have too many goals.

“We’re going into the biggest time of the season. For me to get one right before the playoffs, it’s big for me mentally. Hopefully I can start putting more into the back of the net.”

Striker Ryan Gauld, who leads Vancouver with 11 goals this season, failed to score on two penalty kicks.

The first was stopped by LAFC goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau in the 16th minute and the second hit the post in the 75th minute. Crepeau was shown a yellow card before the kick for exchanging words with Gauld.

Ahmed said Gauld remains the Whitecaps MVP.

“He gets a pass for everything he’s done all year,” said Ahmed. “Nobody is mad at Gauldy.”

Head coach Vanni Sartini said the first penalty kick woke his team up after sleeping through the early stages of the game.

“We played much better from then on,” he said. “We did 75 minutes where we were the better team on the field.”

During the game the Whitecaps announced they had signed coach Sartini to a two-year contract extension through 2025.

Sartini came into Saturday’s game with a 38-21-27 record across all competitions since taking over the coaching duties from Marc Dos Santos in August 2021. The 46-year-old native of Florence, Italy, has led Vancouver to back-to-back Canadian Championships and the team qualified for the 2021 and 2023 MLS playoffs.

Ahmed tied the game 1-1 when he took a crossing pass from midfielder Richie Laryea and blasted a right-footed shot to the top right-hand corner of the net.

Bouanga opened the scoring on a pretty play. He took a lead pass from midfielder Ilie Sanchez, out raced a couple Vancouver defenders, then fired a shot that went past the finger tips of diving goalkeeper Yohei Takaoka. The French striker celebrated his 20th goal of the season with a flip, bring boos from the crowd.

Sartini said LAFC has plenty of quality but believes his team can test them in the playoffs.

“They have fantastic players, and we need to be always on top of our game to beat them,” he said. “We showed through the season we are a good team very close to their level.”


Vancouver has reached the playoffs six times in their 13 seasons. … The Whitecaps haven’t hosted a home playoff game since 2017. … The Whitecaps have advanced past the first round of the playoffs once, in 2017 when they lost the conference semifinals. … Vancouver’s average attendance this year was 16,222. … Besides English, Sartini is fluent in Italian, Spanish and Japanese.


The Whitecaps open the best-of-three opening round series on the road against LAFC. They play the second game at home. A third game, if needed, will be played away.

Each game will have a winner with penalty kicks after regulation time if the match is tied. The conference semifinals and finals and league finals will be a single elimination match hosted by the higher seed.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 21, 2023.