Substitute Tom Heinemann scored in the 88th minute to give Vancouver a 3-2 comeback victory over FC Edmonton on Wednesday night.
The second leg is set for May 1 in Vancouver. The semifinal winner will face the Toronto-Montreal winner in the final for a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League.
Whitecaps coach Martin Rennie figured it would be tough game coming in and he was right.
"I am very happy to come out of it with the win and it certainly was a tough game,” said Rennie. "Credit to Edmonton, they've played very well tonight. They worked us very hard after losing a goal so early in the game, they responded really well and scored two goals, put us under pressure.
"But I thought in the second half we did play really well. I thought we put Edmonton under a lot of pressure and had a few good chances in the game and were well worthy of the win."
Edmonton, winless in three games in the North American Soccer League, had a surprising 2-1 lead at the half that they managed to hold through the first 37 minutes of the second half.
But Vancouver, 2-3-2 in the MLS, pulled even in the 82nd minute when Camilo Sanvezzo scored on a penalty kick. Sanvezzo's second goal of the match came after he was fouled inside the box by Edmonton defender Mallan Roberts.
"Well, you know, the man is known around the league for being a little bit of a leap-frogger but it was my first time seeing it and my first experience with it," said Roberts. "But he’s a true professional and I guess you could say he’s good at it, So congrats to him. I don’t think he was touched, but unlucky call I guess.”
Heinemann scored on a rebound as he got a foot on the ball that bounced off the post.
"It was a bit of a pinball situation," said Edmonton goalkeeper Lance Parker. "The ball gets crossed in and we try to clear it and hit it away and it goes off the post, comes back to a player in front of me, slips it right at me. I tried to close the legs, but it got through. It was just bing, bing, bing, bing, bing, quick goal. “
The underdog Eddies, who hadn’t won in four previous Canadian championship games and had scored only one goal in those games, scored twice in the first 26 minutes to take a 2-1 lead into the half.
Vancouver dominated the first four minutes of play, pressing on offence and getting the game’s first goal in the fifth minute. Sanvezzo’s free kick from just outside the box found the far corner of the goal when Parker got distracted by a charging Vancouver player.
"I wasn’t sure if he was in an offside position, but with him flinching to go for a shot and then pulling back … it froze me and that took me out of going to my left on the far post," said Parker.
But Edmonton turned the momentum in the eighth minute when Michel Cox lifted a header over Vancouver goalkeeper Brad Knighton. Chris Nurse gave Edmonton the lead with a pinpoint header off a corner kick in the 28th minute.
"We have a really, really strong mentality," Roberts said of FC Edmonton’s ability to overcome the early deficit. "We go down and we kicked it into gear like you saw. The game’s never going to be over until the last whistle and that’s the way we play."
Edmonton spent much of the second half in a defensive position, offering little offence, and Vancouver took advantage to mount a number of serious offensive thrusts before they finally broke through with the two late goals.
Toronto defeated Montreal 2-0 earlier Wednesday in the other semifinal. The final is set for May 15 and 29.