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Whitecaps, Tigres draw up masterpiece at Starlight Stadium

Second game goes next Wednesday in Mexico
Whitecaps defender Tristan Blackman protects the ball from Tigres midfielder Luis Quinones during CONCACAF Champions Cup action at Starlight Stadium on Wednesday night. (DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST)

Tigres UANL fans, whose home stadium in known as El Volcan, brought a mini volcano with them to the Island on Wednesday night. They made Starlight Stadium their own in the stands with signs and chanting that often drowned out the Vancouver Whitecaps supporters.

But neither the Tigres of Liga MX or the Whitecaps of Major League Soccer could make the pitch quite their own in a cracking 1-1 CONCACAF Champions Cup opening-round match before 5,753 boisterous fans. It was the second-largest crowd for soccer this winter at Starlight after the 6,102 who watched Canada beat Australia 5-0 in a women’s friendly in December in Canadian legend Christine Sinclair’s penultimate game in red. Many of the fans Wednesday complained of the long waits to get into the game, causing them to miss the first part of the first half.

Miguel Guzman, who grew up a Tigres fan in Nuevo Leon and now from Montreal, flew out for the game and was wrapped in a Tigres team flag. He got to the game early and said the expense was well worth it to see his beloved club play in Canada.

“I have loved Tigres all my life,” he said.

Angel Rodriguez, wrapped in a Mexican flag, flew up from Monterrey, Mexico, in which metropolitan area Tigres are located.

“I have followed this team my entire life but even I am surprised how many Tigres fans have come here for this game,” he said.

Tigres, the 2023 Liga MX finalists, have lost only twice in their last 21 games stretching into last year.

Croatian-import Damir Kreilach nodded home a header at 32 minutes for the Whitecaps. U.S. international Brian White appeared to make it 2-0 at 53 minutes but the goal was disallowed on video review.

Tigres tied it on a moment of pure magic by André-Pierre Gignac, a World Cup and European Championship player for France, who connected on a majestic free kick to the top corner at 88 minutes that would have done Messi or Beckham proud. He then jogged to the Tigres cheering section of the crowd and pointed to the name on the back of his jersey and flexed, much to the delight of the Mexican team’s fans.

“Our fans are incredible, amazing,” said Tigres head coach Robert Dante Siboldi, ­following the game.

“Everything our people do to support us is fantastic. They really are our 12th man.”

Siboldi expressed satisfaction with his club’s effort: “Our team did well against a Whitecaps team that is organized and with a good roster. Then there was a beautiful free kick from André-Pierre [Gignac].”

The Whitecaps played well and might have been deflated by the late goal, as brilliant as it was.

“It was a high-level clash. I think we had a pretty good performance against a very good team, to be honest,” said Whitecaps head coach Vanni Sartini.

Sartini thanked the Island fans: “I want to thank everybody who came out tonight to make this atmosphere. It made us feel at home and not away from B.C. Place [which was booked for a home and garden show this week].”

The Whitecaps jump into the volcano next Wednesday for the return leg of the two-game set in Nuevo Leon. They will go in with some hope.

We are confident to go there,” said Sartini.

“It is going to be hard but we are going to be up for it.”

Meanwhile, another ­CONCACAF Champions League game will also be played at ­Starlight Stadium on Feb. 21 between CPL representative Cavalry FC and Orlando City of MLS. That game was shifted to the Island because of expected cold ­conditions in Calgary this month.

CORNER KICKS: All local signage in Starlight Stadium was covered up for the game in favour of international advertising signs, including Qatar Airways and Camarena Tequila. … Liga MX giant ­Chivas, from Guadalajara, opened ­CONCACAF ­Champions Cup play with a 3-1 victory ­Wednesday over Canadian ­Premier League representative Forge FC at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton.