Reaching the quarterfinals in the CONCACAF Champions League could come with a huge challenge for the Vancouver Whitecaps.
The ‘Caps qualified on Wednesday after completing a 7-3 aggregate victory over Honduran side Real CD Espana.
However, making it will likely mean facing Major League Soccer champions Los Angeles FC in the quarters next month.
“It will be a nice clash against, probably, the best team in North America,” Whitecaps coach Vanni Sartini said. “It’s going to be a great stage for us to try and get to the semi-finals. So I’m really happy we got through.”
LET’S GO TO THEM @THECHAMPIONS PRE-FINALS 🏆 pic.twitter.com/q7r741dfkf
Spain battled their way to a 3-2 victory in the second leg of their round of 16 tie at the Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano in San Pedro Sula, Honduras on Wednesday.
Getsel Montes had a brace and Ramiro Rocca added a goal for the hosts, while Brian White and Simon Becher each scored for Vancouver.
The Whitecaps went into the game 5-0 after a decisive win in the opener at BC Place on March 8.
“I’m happy that qualification was never discussed. We were always in the game,” said Sartini. “And at the end, I told the guys, even if they were a little down, today we didn’t lose 3-2, we won 7-3. So we have to be happy.”
The Caps will face either LAFC or Costa Rican Liga Deportiva Alajuelense in the quarterfinals of the tournament between the top clubs in North America, Central America and the Caribbean next month.
LAFC held a 3-0 aggregate lead over Alajuelense in the second leg of their series on Wednesday.
Espana outplayed the ‘Caps in Honduras, scoring 10 shots on target to Vancouver’s four.
Vancouver expected the home team to attack a lot, Sartini said, and the team did a good job of holding back, then fighting back until White opened the scoring in the 66th minute.
“And then it got a little careless,” the coach said. “I think the players were very tired at the end. And the fact that a lot of players who played 90 minutes, they never played 90 minutes before today. And the wind became a big factor in the second half.”
Midway through the second half, Whitecaps defender Jain Brown fought his way through a line of Spain defenders and fed the ball to White at the top of the penalty area.
The American forward – who came off the bench in the 61st minute – fired a shot past Spain goalkeeper Luis Lopez to break the goalless deadlock with his second of the tournament.
Great first time finish by @_BrianWhite42! Set up the pass from Brown. #VWFC | #SCCL23 | @onesoccer pic.twitter.com/ Rj6t47Nyfb https://t.co/PDH0lZEFbY
A minute later, the Honduran club tied things up after a rebound that fell into traffic and Montes popped it past Vancouver goalkeeper Tomas Hassall.
Roca gave Spain their first lead in the 75th minute, sending a shot into the corner of the net from a cross.
Becher leveled the score at 2-2 in the 83rd minute, scrambling to find a Spain defender before finding space between Lopez and the post for his first CONCACAF Champions League goal.
Berhalter shoots the ball to @simon_becher101who makes a solo effort to beat the defender and put it near the post! #VWFC | #SCCL23 | @onesoccer pic.twitter.com/WAgQwpAfDN https://t.co/Tis5yTrQtM
Montes scored his second goal of the game in the 86th minute, heading home Hassal for a corner.
The Whitecaps need to work on defending their headers, especially outside of set plays, Sartini said.
Six Whitecaps players received yellow cards throughout the match, something the coach said was a concern for the quarter-final qualifier.
“I think we got too many yellows today. I think some of them were avoidable, some of them were maybe 50/50 yellows, but unfortunately we got them,” he said. “We’ll have them all at least for the first game against LAFC and then we’ll see.”
Sartini made several changes to his lineup for Wednesday’s match, swapping eight players who started in the 1-1 draw against FC Dallas in MLS play on Saturday.
The changes included giving Canadian goalkeeper Hassall his first start of the season and replacing White with Sergio Cordova in the starting XI.
Wednesday’s game marked Vancouver’s fourth of five games in 14 days. The Whitecaps will return to MLS action on Saturday when they visit the LA Galaxy.