Stayin' alive - Globe and Mail

Ben Knight

Toronto FC faced a rather stark choice at halftime of last night's Voyageurs Cup Canadian Championship soccer match in Vancouver: score at least one goal in the second half, or be forced to score four or more against Montreal in the series finale on July 22.

They answered the challenge, firing a pair of markers to take a 2-1 lead – but then coughed up a soft late equalizer, settling for a 2-2 tie.  This means the winner of Toronto-Montreal advances to the CONCACAF Champions Cup knockout round.  But in the event of a draw, the Montreal Impact will claim their seventh consecutive Voyageurs Cup, leaving the MLS big boys behind.

And while those around TFC will tell you they're fine with winner-take-all, the Impact are certainly a team that know how to get a draw on the road – especially when it's all that lies between them and international club soccer.

On the one hand, the Reds created this problem for themselves, grabbing only one of a possible six points from their home-and-home series with the Whitecaps.  On the other – how good is it going to be to have a one-game Super Bowl of Canadian soccer?

The Vancouver lads proved – conclusively – that the gap between top-flight MLS and their second-tier home in USL-1 is not that large.

This game was very different from a week ago, where the ‘Caps played a hard-hustling game of keepaway at BMO Field, cashing in a borderline penalty kick call to win 1-0.  Last night, the Torontos came out blasting.  One possible goal was flagged on a very tight offside call, and Amado Guevara all but demolished the Vancouver crossbar with a shuddering reflex bomb volley from in-close.

But it was the ‘Caps who held the lead at the half – and who then survived intense pressure and a pair of TFC goals to claim the draw at the death.  Their cup run is over – a pair of 0-2 losses to Montreal, a win and a draw against TFC – but Martin Nash and the boys certainly stirred things up.

The finale, a week Tuesday, will now be a whole lot more interesting than Toronto FC would have ever hoped.

And… : We now know who the Canadian champs will face as this inaugural CONCACAF Champions League unfolds.

In late August and early September, the Voyaguers Cup holder will face Real Esteli of Nicaragua, home-and-away.  Red-and-white-striped Real hold three national championships, and play their home matches in a 5,000 seat park in the northern part of the country.

The winner moves on to Group C, a six-game mini-league with Mexican club Atlante, Olimpia of Honduras, and the winner of the two-leg qualifier between the New England Revolution and Joe Public of Trinidad – a club chaired by CONCACAF head man Jack Warner.  

That's as big a prize as two professional Canadian soccer teams have ever played for in a single match –clearly the biggest game in the histories of both TFC and the Impact.

Onward!