Whitecap mi two penalty kick, ettle for draw with LAFC

The Vancouver Whitecaps battled back from a first-half deficit but failed to score on two penalty kicks and had to settle for a 1-1 draw with LAFC on Saturday’s Decision Day, a result that means they won’t begin the MLS playoffs with home-field advantage.

Midfielder Ali Ahmed sent a jolt of energy through the crowd of 25,146 at BC Place Stadium when he scored in the 58th minute for the Whitecaps (12-10-12). Vancouver, which ended the regular season with just one win in their last seven games (1-3-3), finishes sixth in the Western Conference.

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.

The Whitecaps will begin the playoffs on the road against LAFC.

Ryan Gauld 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.

The Whitecaps came into the final game of the MLS season knowing they could finish no worse than sixth in the West. 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.

During the game the Whitecaps announced they had signed head coach Vanni 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.

L.A. had three good scoring chances in the first four minutes.

Striker Carola Vela started with a left-footed shot that Takaoka stopped in the left bottom corner. After than striker Bouanga tested Takaoka with a header from the centre of the box then a right-footed shot to the top corner.

NOTES

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.

WHAT’S NEXT

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.

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