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Late free kick earns top Mexican side a draw against Whitecaps

Vancouver now heads to Mexico with hopes of advancing in CONCACAF Champions Cup
Tigres UANL’s Luis Quinones, front right, and Vancouver Whitecaps’ Luis Martins vie for the ball during the first half of a CONCACAF Champions Cup soccer match, in Langford, B.C., on Wednesday, February 7, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

The Vancouver Whitecaps had a dream of securing a rare win against a Mexican side in the first round of the CONCACAF Champions Cup on Wednesday.

But Andre-Pierre Gignac dashed their hopes with a free kick in the dying moments of the game to give Tigres UANL a 1-1 draw against Vancouver.

Tigres manager Robert Siboldi described it as a “beautiful free kick.”

Damir Kreilach opened the scoring in the 32nd minute with his first goal as a Vancouver Whitecaps player.

Defender Luis Martins whipped in a deep cross to striker Brian White who nodded the ball into Kreilach’s path, slotting it past Tigres goalkeeper Nahuel Guzmán.

Whitecaps head coach Vanni Sartini said he was pleased with the performance of the team’s off-season acquisition.

“He’s not the most dynamic player in the world but he can combine well when he plays with two strikers,” Sartini said.

“I hope his goal makes the CONCACAF highlight reel.”

Kreilach, 34, spent much of the 2023 season dealing with the after effects of a back injury picked up in 2022 and was limited to four goals and one assist in 27 games.

Kreilach nearly opened the scoring in the 17th minute, after Ryan Gauld drove forward, finding an open White whose cross just evaded the Croatian.

Sartini said he had no issues with how his team performed or the result.

The Italian head coach had spoken earlier in the week about being behind Tigres in terms of preparation, with Vancouver having to endure a shortened off-season and pre-season.

“I think we did a very good performance against a very good team,” he said on Wednesday. “We basically applied everything that we had talked about during the week.”

White thought he had doubled the lead for Vancouver early in the second half after converting a failed clearance by a Tigres player, but it was ruled out by video replay for an offside.

The game marked Sartini’s 100th match in charge of Whitecaps, with the Italian having compiled a 38-33-29 record.

The second leg will take place at Estadio Universitario in San Nicolás de los Garza, Mexico on Feb. 14.

The first leg took place at Starlight Stadium in Langford, B.C., due to a scheduling conflict with the Whitecaps usual home at B.C. Place.

Tigres are undefeated through five league matches, including victories over Leon and Chivas to open their 2024 calendar.

The Mexican side also has only two losses in its last 20 matches, which spans all the way back to Sept. 17, 2023.

But Sartini said he fancies his team’s chances at advancing in the competition.

“We’re very confident to go there and win,” he said.

The Whitecaps faced Tigres last year in the Leagues Cup, losing on 5-3 on penalties after the match finished 1-1 in regulation time.

The shootout featured a magic show of sorts, with Tigres goalkeeper Guzman appearing to pull silly string out of his mouth during the shootout and right before the deciding kick.

Vancouver entered the competition having beaten CF Montreal to win the Canadian Championship.

Fellow Canadian entries are CPL champion Forge FC and CPL regular-season winner Cavalry FC.

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