VANCOUVER, BC - In a well-contested first leg in the 2012 Amway Canadian Championship final, Vancouver Whitecaps FC (2W-0L-1D in ACC) earned a very late 1-1 home draw with three-time Voyageurs Cup winners Toronto FC (1W-0L-2D in ACC) on Wednesday evening.
A stunning volleyed finish from Eric Hassli in second-half stoppage time denied Toronto FC their first-ever victory in Vancouver after Ryan Johnson gave The Reds the lead midway through the second half. Though the first leg ended in exciting fashion, Whitecaps FC will be disappointed not to be heading to next week’s decisive second leg at Toronto’s BMO Field with an advantage, as the Southern Ontario outfit have the upper hand of an away goal at the midway point of this two-leg final. Whitecaps FC’s undefeated home record versus TFC now extends to six matches (2W-0L-4D), while The Reds extended their unbeaten run in the ACC to 12 matches (7W-0L-5D) with Wednesday’s result.
“It was an exciting cup tie tonight,” said Whitecaps FC head coach Martin Rennie. “Toronto played well and scored a good goal and created a lot of other chances. It wasn’t one of our best performances, so it’s nice to be in the position we’re in. At 1-0 down, I still felt that we were in a good position, but at 1-1, we have a much better chance for the next game. The thing that I like is that we never give up. There have been a number of times when we’ve played until the last minute and that’s the very basic part of building a good team. That character shone through tonight again. We’re really looking forward to next week’s game in Toronto.”
Having rotated his squad through this busy month of May, Rennie went with a strong starting line-up for the home leg, as the Scotsman made six changes from the side that started last weekend’s MLS defeat at New England Revolution. Among those changes was a first-ever Whitecaps FC start for striker Etienne Barbara in a 4-3-3 formation.
A beautiful spring evening on Canada’s west coast meant the BC Place roof was open for the 14,878 that were in attendance. With a lot at stake in this final, both sides surprisingly showed plenty of attacking commitment during a goalless and evenly-played first half. The early stages belonged to the home side, with Camilo Sanvezzo at the centre of a several chances in the first 10 minutes, while Barbara and Alain Rochat struck shots wide of the target for Vancouver.
Having weathered that early pressure, TFC made some chances of their own, with former Whitecaps FC players Terry Dunfield and Adrian Cann having headed opportunities before the break. The visitors’ best chance of the half came on 44 minutes, as Johnson’s twisting header was well saved at the far post by Whitecaps FC goalkeeper Joe Cannon.
The opening half ended with the ‘Caps forcing a good save from TFC goalkeeper Milos Kocic on the counter-attack. Sebastien Le Toux got in behind the Reds backline from the right flank and powered a shot straight at the Serbian shot-stopper. The rebound fell to Barbara in front of goal, but the Maltese international was unable to get a shot on target. It resulted in a 0-0 scoreline at halftime.
With only 45 minutes left in this final at home, Whitecaps FC looked to claim the series advantage after the break. This included Rennie using his three substitutions, with Hassli the first to enter the action on 56 minutes before Davide Chiumiento and Darren Mattocks made late appearances.
Yet, much credit must go to TFC, who have shown the ability this season to perform in important matches - be it ACC or the CONCACAF Champions League. On 66 minutes, The Reds scored a valuable away goal from a well-worked move around the Vancouver box. Julian de Guzman’s first-time cross found Johnson in between two Whitecaps FC defenders in the six-yard box. The Jamaican international’s well-placed header nestled in the near corner of the net to give TFC a 1-0 lead.
The goal stunned the BC Place crowd and left Whitecaps FC with the task of replying in positive fashion. Camilo looked to turn the tide with a free kick effort and a cross for Hassli that the Frenchman headed straight to Kocic on 83 minutes. Then a minute later, a moment that could be looked back on as a pivotal one for Whitecaps FC at the end of this two-leg final. A TFC break saw Johnson pick out substitute Nick Soolsma unmarked in front of the Vancouver goal. Cannon came off his line to block the Dutchman’s shot with his legs and keep the aggregate margin at one goal.
It was a crucial save by the experienced shot-stopper, and as the match entered more than four minutes of stoppage time, Hassli became the Whitecaps FC hero again with a sensational equalizer. Rochat’s cross from the left found the big Frenchman unmarked in the TFC box. With sublime technique, Hassli struck a full volley past a helpless Kocic to earn a 1-1 first-leg result. It was the striker’s second goal in this year’s Canadian Championship and fourth goal in Vancouver’s last five matches.
The manner of the equalizer sent the ‘Caps fans home buzzing, but there will still be a measure of disappointment at the way this first leg unfolded for the Blue and White, who know they face a big task in the second leg in Toronto next Wednesday night. Before that, Whitecaps FC will turn their attentions to their first Cascadia Cup derby match of the season, as they host Interstate 5 rivals Seattle Sounders FC on Saturday afternoon. Toronto FC, meanwhile, go in search of their first MLS win of the season at Eastern Conference rivals D.C. United on Saturday night.
Budweiser Man on the Match: John Thorrington
66' - TOR - Ryan Johnson (Julian de Guzman)
90+1' - VAN - Eric Hassli (Alain Rochat)
Shots: Vancouver 10 - Toronto 12
Shots on Goal: Vancouver 6 - Toronto 5
Saves: Vancouver 4 - Toronto 5
Fouls: Vancouver 12 - Toronto 22
Offsides: Vancouver 2 - Toronto 1
Corners: Vancouver 3 - Toronto 7
11' - TOR - Jeremy Hall
49' - TOR - Terry Dunfield
Vancouver Whitecaps FC
1.Joe Cannon; 12.Young-Pyo Lee, 15.Martin Bonjour, 6.Jay DeMerit, 4.Alain Rochat; 16.Matt Watson (20.Davide Chiumiento 69'), 27.Jun Marques Davidson, 11.John Thorrington (22.Darren Mattocks 86'); 7.Sebastien Le Toux, 8.Etienne Barbara (29.Eric Hassli 56'), 37.Camilo Sanvezzo
Substitutes not used: 18.Brad Knighton, 3.Jordan Harvey, 17.Omar Salgado, 28.Gershon Koffie
30.Milos Kocic; 25.Jeremy Hall, 12.Adrian Cann, 4.Doneil Henry, 5.Ashtone Morgan; 23.Terry Dunfield, 6.Julian de Guzman, 8.Eric Avila (14.Danny Koevermans 65'); 19.Reggie Lambe (18.Nick Soolsma 71'), 9.Ryan Johnson, 7.Joao Plata (11.Luis Silva 80')
Substitutes not used: 40.Quillan Roberts, 2.Logan Emory, 15.Matt Stinson, 20.Ty Harden