Velez gives Toronto FC 1-0 win over Impact - Toronto Star

MONTREAL–Marco Velez scored on a header in the 72nd minute off a beautiful free kick by Laurent Robert as Toronto FC took the first game of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship with a 1-0 victory over the Montreal Impact on Tuesday night.

With the win, Major League Soccer's Toronto FC grabbed the early lead over the Impact and the Vancouver Whitecaps – both of the United Soccer League's First Division – in the Canadian qualifying tournament for the inaugural edition of the 24-team CONCACAF Champions League.

Toronto's victory was not without a cost, as leading scorer Danny Dichio left the game with an injury.

After squandering several quality opportunities to take the lead in the first half, Toronto FC took control of the match after Impact defender Stefano Pesoli was given his second yellow card and ejected in the 52nd minute following contact on Toronto forward Jeff Cunningham.

Impact coach Nick De Santis removed Rocco Placentino, his most dangerous player on the night, in favour of defender Alex Surprenant in the 58th minute in an effort to bottle up the field and play for the draw, but the disadvantage of playing a man short was too much for Montreal to overcome.

Impact goalkeeper Matt Jordan came up with a big stop in the 69th minute, intercepting a nice ball from Toronto's Rohan Ricketts as Cunningham was charging in on goal.

But Jordan had little chance on Toronto's goal a few minutes later. Robert's left-footed free kick from just outside the top left corner of the penalty area drifted beautifully to the front of the net, where Velez had little trouble angling in his header to give Toronto a 1-0 lead.

The goal cast a deathly silence over the near capacity crowd of 12,083 at Saputo Stadium, save for a small corner of the crowd made up of a travelling contingent of Toronto fans, wearing their red jerseys, waving flags and making their presence felt with loud chants throughout the match.

Those fans went delirious as the Toronto players saluted them following the goal, and they were just about the only source of noise the rest of the match.

The Impact, Toronto FC and the Whitecaps will play a series of round-robin games to determine the Canadian representative in the CONCACAF Champions League.

The Canadian winner will enter a preliminary tournament at the end of August made up of the bottom 16 teams in the 24-team Champions League. There will be eight home-and-away series between those 16 clubs, with the eight winners advancing to the final group stage with the eight clubs who received a bye.

The group stage will be held from Sept. 16 to Oct. 30, the quarter-finals will be in February of 2009, the semi-finals a month later and the final will be in April of 2009.

The Impact came out as the aggressors early in the first half, but Toronto began to control more of the play as the opening half advanced, finally winding up with more quality chances but still entering halftime in a 0-0 draw.

The Impact had opportunities to open the scoring in each of the eighth, ninth and 10th minutes of play, but Impact midfielder David Testo shot well wide off a corner kick, and Placentino – playing his first game of the season – was shoved to the ground when he had a clear path to the Toronto net and he shot just wide moments later on a shot from just outside the box.

It was exactly the lack of finish the Impact has displayed in its last three USL matches, as Montreal entered Tuesday's contest having been shutout in its last three games. The Impact have now failed to score in their last 367 minutes of play.

Though Montreal may have had more chances, the three best ones of the first half were Toronto's. Cunningham streaked down the right side toward the Montreal goal and had Dichio alone in front, but instead elected to shoot and put it wide to the far side in the 17th minute.

Dichio had two more chances in the first half, but he saw his shot in the 28th minute cleared away by Montreal defender Patrick Leduc just before it reached the goal line, and Jordan smothered a shot from in tight in the 40th minute.

Dichio was injured on that play and had to leave the match. He was replaced by Jarrod Smith.

Toronto was missing midfielders Maurice Edu and Amado Guevara, away playing with the U.S. and Honduras national teams, respectively.

The Impact were without injured defenders Gabriel Gervais (thigh) and Nevio Pizzolito (shoulder).