Harmse strikes early to give TFC Nutrilite win
By STEVE BUFFERY
The Vancouver Whitecaps couldn't keep out of Kevin Harmse's way last night.
Appropriately enough, it was a Canadian, Vancouver native Harmse, who provided the goal for Toronto FC as the MLS representatives downed the Whitecaps, 1-0, in the first game of the Nutrilite Canadian championship, played in front of 19,811 at a cool and wet BMO Field.
The Nutrilite championship pits Canada's three professional soccer teams in a double round-robin tournament with the winner moving on as Canada's representative at the CONCACAF Champions League.
Toronto head coach Chris Cummins started four Canadians last night, including regular starters defender Jim Brennan and midfielder Dwayne De Rosario, but also defenders Nana Attakora and Harmse, who started at midfield yesterday.
Somewhat surprisingly, Cummins stuck with Stefan Frei in goal, not electing to start Canadian international Greg Sutton.
The moves paid dividends right away as Harmse completed a beautiful four-way passing play with a header at the three minute mark, off a service in front of Vancouver keeper Jay Nolly from Toronto native De Rosario, who beat Vancouver defender Jeff Parke to get the pass off.
Midfielder Amado Guevara prompted the play with a perfect diagonal pass to De Rosario in the corner.
"It was a great cross from DeRo," said Harmse. "I'm just trying to make a difference, trying to earn a (starting) spot on this team. And I'm happy that (Cummins) had the confidence to put me in there."
The Reds displayed great pace and exhibited a much more organized attack in the match, with De Rosario, who only recently returned from a minor hamstring tear, the centre of many of them.
Harmse and De Rosario played with tremendous energy and enthusiasm throughout the night, as did the Reds as a whole, no doubt still sore about losing last year's inaugural event. Toronto outshot Vancouver, 12-7, with most of the Whitecaps chances coming in the final 10 minutes.
Frei saved the victory for the Reds in the 86th minute when he made a diving save on Whitecaps forward Marlon James, who broke in on the right side but couldn't lift the ball over the Toronto goalkeeper.
Though the Montreal Impact, like the Whitecaps a member of the United Soccer Leagues First Division, won the tournament last season and advanced all the way to the CONCACAF quarter-finals, Toronto FC has to be considered the favourites again to win this season, based strictly on the fact that the MLS is a superior league.
But as last year's tournament proved, it means nothing.
The Whitecaps defeated the Reds 1-0 at BMO Field on Canada Day last year, with Nolly earning the shutout.
The Nutrilite championship marks the beginning of what is bound to be an intense rivalry between the Reds and the Whitecaps, as the Vancouver franchise joins the MLS in 2011.
Cummins promised to field the best side possible last night and lived up to his word.
"We had a point to prove, obviously, from last year, but I thought we should have won the game a little more comfortably than we did," Cummins said
"I thought there were times when we gave the ball away a little bit cheaply, but we're happy with the result."
Whitecaps coach Teitur Thordarsson praised his team's effort, but felt that his squad was a victim of a non-call early in the game when referee Silviu Petrescu failed to call a penalty kick when Vancouver's James was hauled down in front of the Toronto goal by Attakora.
The Whitecaps, currently in second place in the USL First Division with a 2-1-2 record, feature a number of Canadian team players, including Martin Nash -- brother of the team's co-owner and NBA star Steve Nash -- and defender Marco Reda, who left the game with a concussion after 14th minutes when he colliding with Attakora.
Toronto FC is on a three-game unbeaten streak in the MLS, coming off a 1-1 draw to the Columbus Crew. The Reds play again this Saturday against D.C. United.