BURNABY, B.C. — The Nutrilite Canadian Championship is coming down to the final game after the Vancouver Whitecaps stayed alive with a 2-0 victory over Toronto FC last night.
The Whitecaps, who were facing elimination with a loss or draw, avenged their loss at BMO Field last month, and heaped mounds of pressure on Canada's only Major League Soccer franchise heading into the tournament finale.
Whitecaps midfielder Ansu Toure scored two goals, including a magnificent left-foot strike in the 81st minute, to give the home side important breathing room in the tiebreaker scenarios. The match took place before an overcapacity crowd of 5,688 at Swangard Stadium, which included 400 in the standing-room section.
TFC now must beat the Montreal Impact, Vancouver's cousins in the United Soccer Leagues First Division, by at least four goals on June 18 to earn their first piece of silverware in three seasons. The Canadian champion advances to the CONCACAF Champions League's preliminary round in late July.
Unquestionably, last night's game stoked the soccer rivalry between the country's two largest English-speaking markets.
The goalkeepers were under constant attack, and there were some near misses on both sides.
There was even - excuse the vernacular - a post-whistle skirmish in the 55th minute when several players began trading gentle shoves for position in front of the Vancouver net. The scene delayed a TFC corner kick, and the instigating players, perhaps too caught up in the Stanley Cup final, were separated by the referee.
Vancouver's Toure opened the scoring in the 31st minute, steering home a rebound at the far post. The initial shot came from Wes Knight, and was saved by TFC goalkeeper Greg Sutton.
That awoke the visitors, and Toronto had two splendid chances before halftime.
The first came in the 38th minute, when Lyle Martin's goal-line clearance - with keeper Jay Nolly out of his net - prevented a goal by Dwayne De Rosario. The second, just three minutes later, came when Pablo Vitti hit the near post after a run down the right flank.After halftime, the red-shirted onslaught continued.
Chad Barrett had a clear header from several yards away, but placed it right in Nolly's midsection. Carl Robinson had some time and space inside the box, but mishit his one-timer. In the 76th minute, Sam Cronin had another good chance, but his effort hit a defender and missed the target.
TFC was without leading scorer Amado Guevara (Honduras) and defender Marvell Wynne (United States), who are with their national sides for World Cup qualifying. Vancouver was missing captain Martin Nash, who was suspended after receiving two yellow cards in tournament play, and pre-season leading scorer Marlon James (hamstring).
TFC defender Kevin Harmse received a yellow card for a foul on Toure in the 63rd minute, and will now be suspended for the tournament finale. The Impact, the defending Canadian champions, were eliminated last week after their third successive loss in the tournament.
Toronto beat Vancouver 1-0 on May 6 at BMO Field, in the opening match of the six-game tournament.
The Whitecaps will join MLS in 2011.
NOTES: Nash saw a 68-game ironman streak end. ... Nolly has played every minute of each Vancouver game this season. ... Toronto assistant Nick Dasovic is a former Whitecap.