Final game of series between Toronto, Montreal will decide who claims Canadian soccer crown
BURNABY - The reality is that Toronto's professional soccer club plays in a better league, in a better stadium, and before more fans.
The other reality is that Vancouver's professional soccer club - worse league, worse stadium, fewer fans - is now unbeaten against Toronto's club in two matches in the last fortnight.
Such was the case before a standing-room gathering of roughly 5,600 at Swangard Stadium last night as the Vancouver Whitecaps earned a 2-2 draw against Toronto FC in CONCACAF Canadian championship play.
The Whitecaps notched a 1-0 victory against their Ontario rivals on Canada Day at Toronto's rowdy BMO Field - TFC's first home defeat since last December.
Despite the result last night, the Whitecaps, of the United Soccer Leagues' First Division, are eliminated from the three-team championship tournament because they needed a four-goal victory - and help - to force a three-way tie with TFC of Major League Soccer and the Montreal Impact, a USL league-mate.
Now, Toronto can win the Canadian championship in the tournament finale against Montreal later this month.
Eduardo Sebrango scored both Vancouver goals, including the tying tally in the 87th minute, during a feisty contest last night.
His equalizing goal came after he beat defender Maurice Edu and goalkeeper Greg Sutton to a loose ball in the penalty area.
Toronto looked to have the match won after a goal in the 75th minute by Rohan Ricketts, whose right-foot shot on the left wing seemed to fool Vancouver 'keeper Jay Nolly.
Vancouver counted the first goal just before halftime on a terrific effort from Justin Moose. His strike required a diving save from Sutton, and the free ball in the penalty area again found Moose's foot. He tapped it forward onto the waiting boot of Sebrango, who buried the chance in the 43rd minute.
Toronto responded in the second half on a wide run and a cross that hit two players before beating Nolly. The second touch was from Edu, who tied the game 1-1 in the 61st minute.
It became clear early that the Vancouver stadium crowd wouldn't rival Toronto's in terms of noise or taunts.
At halftime, a group of red-clad supporters walked the concourse chanting "TFC, TFC" without an impolite word directed their way. One week ago, TFC's infamous Red Patch Boys fan club let the Whitecaps know what league they belonged to with chants of "USL, USL."
Fevered tension was the pregame storyline as extra security was required to keep the head coaches apart at halftime of their Canada Day match.
TFC coach John Carver added to the drama this week, lashing out at the officiating and the Whitecaps players, claiming his "quality players" needed better "protection."
Carver said Vancouver's game plan in the previous meeting was to eliminate Toronto's "flair players" and that the Whitecaps' goal, a converted penalty by Martin Nash, came after the referee was "duped" by a dive. Toronto also had a goal disallowed by a referee's assistant.
Toronto striker Danny Dichio missed last night's contest with a suspected concussion, while three defenders were also out, including Jim Brennan, due to cards.
The Impact is 2-1 and led the Canadian championship heading into last night's match. Montreal will play Toronto in the final game of the series on July 22.
Goal differential is the first tiebreaker should teams finished tied at the end of the series. The winning Canadian side will face a Nicaraguan club in a home-and-away series this summer.
The Canadian championship replaced the Voyageur Cup, a fan-sponsored competition between USL-1 teams established in 2002. The Voyageur Cup now serves as the trophy, awarded to the winner of the Canadian championship.