Whitecaps thirsty to drink from Voyageurs Cup for second straight year

Whitecaps look to hoist Canadian Championship trophy in back-to-back years for first time in team history when they host CF Montreal on Wednesday at B.C. Place.

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Levonte Johnson admits, sheepishly, that he’d watched more of the U.S. Open Cup than the Canadian Championship — despite being born and raised in Brampton, Ont.

In his defence, most of his elite soccer developmental years were spent south of the border, and the Voyageurs Cup wasn’t exactly TSN’s flagship soccer game in years past.

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But the Vancouver Whitecaps’ midfielder can be forgiven his past transgressions, if only for the insurance goal he scored against York United in the CanChamp quarterfinals earlier this year. It came as a substitute, but the first first-team minutes he’s had with the Caps.

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He’ll add to that tally on Wednesday night at B.C. Place.

Johnson will likely be one of the three required Canadians the Caps will field in the Canadian Championship final against CF Montreal at B.C. Place. Vancouver is looking to win the trophy in back-to-back years for the first time in team history, after beating Toronto FC in penalties last year at the Dome — incidentally, the first CanChamp game Johnson had ever watched.

“I really appreciate the Canadian Championship to give young players like myself a chance,” he said. “It means a lot more than I guess some of the foreign guys on the team, especially with the few opportunities I’ve had with the first team. If we were to win, it would just add a bit more to my resume, so hopefully we do get the win.”

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It will be the fourth time the Whitecaps have called the 24-year-old up from the MLS Next Pro side. Usually a team stocked with domestic talent, the Whitecaps found their supply of maple syrup running low when an injury to Ali Ahmed and confidence-sapping performance by goalkeeper Thomas Hasal meant there were few bodies available to draft in.

Johnson, who has now been called up four times and will require a first-team contract on his next call, will likely start with fellow Canucks Russell Teibert and Ryan Raposo against Montreal.

Raposo and Johnson don’t just share a passport, they have history as well.

“I’ve been playing with him since we were kids,” said Raposo. “I grew up playing with him on the provincial team and against him in club. He always played for Brampton. I played for Hamilton. So yeah, I’ve known Levonte for a long time; he’s always been a really good player, and a really humble guy. So I think he fits in perfectly with the group. And I think he’ll surprise a lot of people tomorrow. He’s very fast, athletic, technical … and I think he complements our team very well.”

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That speed will come in handy against a physical Montreal team that trends toward bully-ball, sitting fifth in MLS cautions and sixth in fouls per 90 minutes. Their last game, on April 1, saw Rudy Camacho red-carded in the 23rd minute, leaving CFM short-handed in what would end as the worst shutout loss in team history, a 5-0 smacking.

“They’re a big team. They’re a physical team. Big boys,” said Caps coach Vanni Sartini. “I think the more we are more agile, the more we create separation between us and them, it’s gonna be better for us.”

Sartini made sure to hammer home the point that the Montreal team coming into B.C. Place on Wednesday isn’t the same one they hammered in April. That loss kicked off the second three-game losing streak of 2023, as Montreal started the year just 1-6-0, but have now pulled themselves off the bottom of the table and into playoff contention in the Eastern Conference.

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Outside observers thought Montreal got fleeced when they sent Canadian national team defender Kamal Miller and $1.3 million in general allocation money to Miami in April, but the players they got in return — midfielder Bryce Duke and winger Ariel Lassiter — helped spark a four-game win streak.

“We did a video today, showing them how different they are from two months ago when we played them,” said Sartini. “They were probably in their worst moment. They’ve got much more confidence, they look much less disconnected than they were before that. So tomorrow it’s gonna be hard. I still think that if we play our best game, if they play our best game, we’re gonna win. But we need to play our best game.”

Montreal coach Hernan Losada also pointed out that the loss of their captain, Sam Piette, to injury in the first five minutes of the game, and the Camacho red card, were moments outside of the norm for a soccer game. And when CFM finally broke under the pressure, it was a gush of goals — four in a span of 10 minutes. Brian White kicked it off in the 38th, then back-to-back strikes from Simon Becher and Julian Gressel in the 43rd and 45th moments, respectively, were back-breakers. Even halftime didn’t give much of a reprieve, with Ahmed scoring just three minutes after the teams came out for the final 45.

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“I think the performance was not bad until the game was 11 versus 10,” he said. “With the game 11-v-11, it was a very equal game, and even 11 against 10 until, Minute 4041 where the chaos started and the goals started to fall one after each other, the game was very, very equal.

“Of course you take lessons of every game — and especially a game where you have lost — but that game in particular, has a few special events that don’t happen too often.”

SPEAKING OF: Being thirsty to drink from the Cup, any fans thirsty to drink from a plastic cup on Wednesday are in luck. All drinks will be 50 per cent off, starting from 4 p.m. at the Warmup party on Terry Fox Plaza through to gates opening and up until kickoff. That’s for both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, but the Voyageurs Cup is not included.

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reference: theprovince.com

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