Riding a brace from Maicon Santos, Toronto FC held off an eager, but overmatched, 10-man FC Edmonton at Commonwealth Stadium in Alberta on Wednesday night to win the opening game of their Nutrilite Canadian Championship semifinal tie 3-0.
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Heading into the game, there were questions of whether TFC head coach Aron Winter would put his full focus on the competition. However, based on the Reds starting lineup, fans needn’t have worried with seven regulars making the starting XI.
And the favorites lived up to their billing early, bossing the midfield around and forcing their inexperienced opposition into several unforced errors. The game changed dramatically in the 23rd minute when FC Edmonton’s Shaun Saiko was given a straight red for a studs-up tackle on midfielder Oscar Cordon. Both players were aggressively going after a 50-50 ball, but Saiko chose to leave his feet and was accordingly given his marching orders by referee Paul Ward.
Ironically, the card seemed to give Edmonton some life with the first-year NASL side holding most of the play until a broken play in the 35th minute gave TFC the breakthrough.
Gathering up a weak header out of the box, Joao Plata made a nice move to give him space at the top of the 18-yard box. His shot on goal was slightly deflected towards Edmonton defender Paul Hamilton, who attempted to dive to cut it off. However, he badly missed and it fell to a poaching Santos, who only had the ‘keeper to beat. The Brazilian no mistake, firing a low shot past Rein Baart to make it 1-0.
Any momentum Edmonton may have had prior to the goal was quickly washed away as the game settled with both clubs struggling to deal with the wet turf surface.
Things got worse for Edmonton after the re-start. In the 47th minute, Plata found himself front and center again, with a nice touch to flip the ball to streaking Oscar Cordon on top of the 18. His attempt at goal was partially blocked, but it fell on the foot of Alan Gordon, who tapped it into the open net for his first NCC goal.
Santos finished the brace, and likely the tie, when he pounced on a poor goal kick from Baart and broke in 2-on-0 against the keeper. Using Plata as a decoy, he drove a hard shot past the veteran ‘keeper to put the game out of reach in the 61st minute.
The two clubs will meet up again on May 4 at BMO Field to wrap up the total-goals contest, with the Reds looking to move on the NCC final and win their third straight Voyageurs Cup.