Velez heads in lone goal to beat Montreal in tournament to decide Canada's top team
MONTREAL–Toronto FC have taken a step toward claiming Canadian soccer superiority by wearing down a 10-man Montreal Impact side en route to a no-frills 1-0 victory.
Though they were pinned back for long stretches of the first half by a swarming, tightly-organized Impact team that was propelled forward by a raucous home crowd, Toronto's quality shone through in the second half.
The match effectively turned after Impact fullback Stefano Pesoli was sent off in the 52nd minute after picking up his second yellow card of the match for fouling Toronto FC forward Jeff Cunningham as he galloped down the right touchline.
And the breakthrough came courtesy of former Newcastle United and Derby County winger Laurent Robert's cultured left foot.
In the 72nd minute, midfielder Rohan Ricketts' industrious run resulted in a free kick to the right of the Impact goal.
Up stepped Robert to curl a tantalizing 35-yard left-footed drive onto the head of central defender and man-of-the-match Marco Velez, who rose above a pair of defenders and nodded the ball past Montreal keeper Matt Jordan.
"They gave us a tough time, it was a frustrating night from my point of view ... they were well-organized and have some good players," Toronto coach John Carver said after the game. "It wasn't really until the sending off that we started dominating the game."
The Canadian Championship match for a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League will pit the country's only MLS franchise against the Impact and the Vancouver Whitecaps, members of the lower-tier United Soccer Leagues.
The winner will earn qualification for the 24-team international competition, and Carver praised his team for taking three valuable away points.
"It's a big tournament with a big prize at the end of it," he said.
As the second half ground on, Montreal ran out of ideas as Toronto ran rampant.
There were a raft of scoring chances, and midfielder Carl Robinson should have doubled the lead when he was put through by Cunningham, but his shot was parried by Jordan.
The match was played before a crowd of 12,083, just shy of the 13,000-fan capacity in the Impact's shimmering new Saputo Stadium, which sits in the shadow of Montreal's Olympic Stadium.
A small, but boisterous contingent of about 400 TFC fans made the trip and stood throughout the game, exchanging chants and taunts with the home fans, one of whom brandished a "We Hate Toronto" banner.
And though the game ended 1-0, it featured enough meaty tackles, fierce defending and offensive opportunities to suggest a nascent rivalry.
"It was great, there should be more of it ... I would love to see Montreal and Vancouver in the MLS," Carver said.
Montreal coach Nick De Santis also alluded to the atmosphere and the influence of the rival fan clubs.
"It was a different atmosphere, you could feel it before the game ... there was a lot of emotion, I think it could create a rivalry, but that depends on where we are and what league we're in," he said.
Despite the victory, the news wasn't all good from Toronto's perspective.
Top scorer Danny Dichio hobbled off in the 39th minute after narrowly missing a scoring chance, and was replaced by New Zealander Jarrod Smith.
"It's pretty ironic because I was just taking Danny off ... and just as he's kicking the ball, he's aggravated his (left) groin," Carver said. It's not clear how much time Dichio will miss, if any.