Coming off a weekend where Toronto FC set a new record for the worst start in MLS history by losing eight straight to start its season in league play, the team rebounded in a big way on Wednesday night.
Reggie Lambe and Ryan Johnson both scored goals in the first half while goalkeeper Milos Kocic made numerous big saves to preserve the clean sheet at BMO Field.
The first leg in Montreal ended in scoreless draw but the win booked TFC ‘s ticket to the final against the Vancouver Whitecaps FC for the right to represent Canada in CONCACAF Champions League. The Whitecaps advanced past FC Edmonton 5-1 on aggregate after winning the second leg 3-1 in Vancouver.
The fact Toronto had done it with 10 men for most of the match against an Impact team that had come off a big 2-0 win against Eastern Conference-leading Sporting Kansas City should provide the team with much needed confidence going forward.
“It feels great,” said Kocic. “When everybody's fighting like they did tonight it’s not hard to win. When we don't drop back and wait for something to happen. The way we played today it’s how we're supposed to play the whole season.
“I hope we finally found a way to win the games and I hope we bring it to the league as well. We are probably the best cup team in North America in the last couple years. You know we have to find a way to win the league games as well. We're still with zero points in the league.”
After playing too defensively the past two games some players voiced concerns and called for change on the team’s tactics on the pitch, especially Johnson. But he had no complaints after this match as he was involved frequently in the attack.
“It was a big relief for us,” said Johnson. “I'm happy for us that the result ended our way but it was scary at first with the red card. I couldn't believe it. I'm proud of our team today that we dug in and we fought like we talked about after the last loss.
“If we put in this kind of effort in future games we can make a nice run.”
Impact Head Coach Jesse Marsch was not happy with his team’s effort in the first half. He thought his players came out flat and were beaten by the better team.
“We weren’t ready for that game,” said Marsh. “If you show up to a game like that, it doesn’t matter who you are, you won’t win. In the end, we just got out competed.”
“I look at it as a big disappointment that we weren't able to rise to the occasion and get to a final and compete for a trophy.”
Meanwhile, TFC Head Coach Aron Winter had nothing but positive words about his team’s performance. He believes his team is capable of more success if his players put forth the same effort each and every match.
“What I said to the players after the game was a big compliment,” said Winter. “If we can bring this effort every game together and battle for each square meter then we won't have problems.”
“We have enough quality to come in the box and make goals. We have to keep moving forward the same way, working hard and preparing for the next game
The Reds came out with thunderous start with Reggie Lambe putting Toronto up 1-0 in just the second minute. Joao Plata went down after being tripped up in the box and the ball rolled to Lambe whose shot deflected off Impact defender Tyson Wahl past Donovan Ricketts.
Richard Eckersley was given a straight red card in the 16th minute for stepping on Sinisa Ubiparipovic but it seemed accidental. Despite being down to 10-men Toronto did not play like a team shorthanded and the team continued to be active in the attack.
Already being denied once by Ricketts, Johnson made no mistake in the 38th minute when he knocked a ball past Ricketts and a defender from in close. Doneil Henry missed a header that was going out for a goal kick before it was rescued by Torsten Frings and sent back into the box. After Montreal failed to clear, the ball was knocked forward by Adrian Cann and landed at Johnson’s feet after a couple of bounces. He then put his team in full control with a 2-0 lead.
TFC took the lead into halftime but not before Johnson had to be calmed down and restrained in an altercation with Impact midfielder Patrice Bernier. Cooler heads eventually prevailed as both teams left the pitch.
The second half continued to be entertaining as both teams were able to create numerous chances. Ricketts and Kocic were both very active and made big saves.
Montreal pressured early but TFC defenders sacrificed their bodies by blocking shots and playing well defensively. The biggest opportunity for the Impact came in the 79th minute when substitute Justin Mapp rung a shot off the crossbar
Then as Montreal pushed forward in a desperate attempt to score, Toronto had opportunities on the counter attack. Ricketts was forced to stop substitute Jeremy Hall in the 81st minute and Johnson in stoppage time
At the end of the match there was another altercation after the whistle but this involved the coaching staff. TFC’s Assistant Coach Bob de Klerk walked over and confronted Marsch. It seemed as though the Impact coach was attempting to shake hands but de Klerk refused and became angry. He had to be restrained by Winter as police moved in to prevent the situation from escalating.
Toronto will have a bye week in MLS play this weekend, but instead of having 10 days off between matches the team will now only have a week off by advancing to ACC final. The Whitecaps will host TFC in the first leg of the final on May 16 before the second leg is played in Toronto on May 23.
Aman Dhanoa is a Toronto sports beat reporter covering games live and bringing Digital Journal insights from within the locker room.
This article was originally published on Oye! Times