Eric Hassli and Richard Eckersley battle for the ball (Paul Giamou)
Paul Giamou

Whitecaps FC fall to MLS rivals Toronto FC in the 2011 Nutrilite Canadian Championship final

In a pulsating second-leg match at BMO Field on Saturday afternoon, Vancouver Whitecaps FC (1W-1L-2D) suffered a very disappointing 2-1 away defeat to Major League Soccer rivals Toronto FC (3W-0L-1D) in the 2011 Nutrilite Canadian Championship (NCC) final. As a result, Toronto FC won the two-match final series 3-2 on aggregate.

Though Camilo gave Whitecaps FC hope with a valuable away goal in the first half, a second-half penalty from NCC Most Valuable Player Joao Plata and a winning strike by Mikael Yourassowsky gave TFC their third-straight Voyageurs Cup title and Canada's lone spot in the 2011-12 CONCACAF Champions League. TFC will now play Nicaragua's Real Esteli FC in the Preliminary Round of the competition on Wednesday, July 27, and Tuesday, August 2.

Defeat to The Reds was Whitecaps FC's second in three days at BMO Field after the Blue and White fell 1-0 to TFC in MLS action on Wednesday night. Yet, Saturday's defeat will likely hurt that much more, as Vancouver's elusive quest to become Canadian champions continues. Saturday's result will be especially difficult to swallow, as the 'Caps led the original second-leg match 1-0 on May 25 before the game was abandoned at BMO Field due to unplayable field conditions.

"It’s disappointing to lose in the fashion we did, going up 1-0," said Whitecaps FC midfielder Terry Dunfield. "We talked about it at halftime about being solid and even pushing for the second goal. It’s easy to say, but we didn’t do it. We’ll have to look back at the video and see, but with so much at stake, this is where players need to step up and do it. We were left wanting and that’s what makes it frustrating because we were so close. We compete, we put ourselves in a great chance to win the game, and unfortunately we weren’t able to follow through."

With the emphasis put on winning the club's first Voyageurs Cup title, Whitecaps FC head coach Tom Soehn fielded his strongest XI for Saturday's second leg, with seven changes made to the line-up that faced TFC in midweek. This included three changes from the starting XI that play in the abandoned May 25 match, as goalkeeper Joe Cannon, centre back Michael Boxall, and midfielder Jeb Brovsky started this replayed contest. TFC head coach Aron Winter made two changes to his line-up, as midfielder Julian de Guzman and captain Maicon Santos started for The Reds.

A warm and muggy day in Southern Ontario was the setting for Canadian soccer fans to witness another eventful chapter in this competition, as there were plenty of incidents and talking points during Saturday's match in Canada's largest city. What a crowd of 18,212 at BMO Field did see was a Toronto FC side that successfully turned matters around after falling behind midway through the first half, while Whitecaps FC struggled to fight back and score a potentially decisive second away goal.

The importance of the occasion could be seen in the early exchanges by both clubs, but Whitecaps FC were the first side to make things happen, as Brovsky and striker Eric Hassli had chances for the visitors inside the first quarter of an hour.

At the other end on 16 minutes, Cannon gave Vancouver supporters a scare when he misjudged Plata's forward ball and allowing Santos an opportunity to score. However, the striker's tight-angle shot hit the side-netting. It was from that scoring chance that Santos' day came to a premature end, as he pulled up with a hamstring problem, with Javier Martina forced to come on in his place.

Needing to turn this final in their favour, Whitecaps FC scored that all-important away goal to cancel out TFC's strike from the first leg with a brilliant free-kick strike from 'Budweiser Man of the Match' Camilo on 21 minutes. The Brazilian was fouled by TFC defender Ty Harden near the edge of the Reds box, and that allowed the South American import to tee up his set-piece and curl an exquisite strike over the Reds' wall and past a helpless Stefan Frei in the TFC goal for a 1-0 lead on the day and a 2-1 aggregate advantage for the Blue and White. It was Camilo's first NCC goal and sixth strike in all competitions this year.

Camilo's goal not only gave Whitecaps FC the advantage, it also livened up the match, with TFC making a very positive response to falling behind. On 26 minutes, they had the 'Caps scrambling with three excellent scoring chances. Cannon did well to direct de Guzman's fierce shot off the post before Boxall heroically stopped substitute Martina's rebound strike on the goal line. Cannon then did well to stop Nick Soolsma's close-range shot before the danger was cleared.

While Hassli forced a good save from Frei with his a header on 37 minutes, it was TFC that had the final chance of the opening half four minutes later. Cannon misplayed a forward ball, with Martina able to win possession and put a shot towards the open goal. As the ball rolled towards the empty net, Whitecaps FC captain Jay DeMerit pulled off more defensive heroics by clearing the ball off the goal line, despite large shouts from the home fans that the ball had crossed the line. It meant that Whitecaps FC took a one-goal lead in the match, and on aggregate, to the halftime break.

Only 45 minutes stood in the way of Vancouver and a first-ever Voyageurs Cup title, but it was TFC that came out for the second half and claimed control of the match, and the final for that matter. Seconds after the restart, Soolsma was unable to put a loose ball into an empty net after the impressive Plata saw his deflected cross reach the Dutch winger at the far post. Cannon made the save, in the end.

It was a sign of things to come, and two minutes later, TFC were given the chance to level the match and the final series when match referee Dave Gantar adjudged that 'Caps right fullback Jonathan Leathers fouled Plata in the Vancouver box, although it did look like the Ecuadorian attacker handled the ball beforethe tackle. Though Cannon did brilliantly to stop Plata's first spot-kick attempt, the 'Caps goalkeeper was adjudged to have moved before the penalty was struck, and Plata made no mistake with his second spot-kick attempt on 51 minutes, as he made it 1-1 on the day and 2-2 on aggregate.

TFC's equalizer swung momentum in the home side's favour, and it was the dangerous Plata that went on to create the decisive winner for Yourassowsky on 61 minutes. After getting on the end of de Guzman's cross-field ball, Plata's cross in the Whitecaps FC box reached the Belgian import at the far post. Though it looked like he might have fouled his marker Alain Rochat in the process, Yourassowsky easily converted to make it 2-1 in the match and 3-2 on aggregate to The Reds.

Soehn used all three of his substitutions in a bid to turn to find a second away goal that would have swung the final Vancouver's way. Though they pushed forward as much as possible in the latter stages, the 'Caps struggled to make enough openings that might have led to that outcome. Again, it was goalscorer Camilo that tried his best to make that second away goal a reality, but a wayward free-kick strike on 68 minutes and a late run and shot that was saved by Frei, were the Brazilian's best efforts.

As the match entered the dying stages, Hassli had a glorious chance to be the Whitecaps FC hero on 86 minutes, as Camilo picked him out in the TFC box with a fine cross. However, much to the agony of Vancouver's Designated Player, the big Frenchman put his first-time strike wide of the target.

Three minutes of time added on were played before the final whistle confirmed a third-straight NCC title for TFC and a third-straight CONCACAF Champions League campaign for the Southern Ontario-based outfit.

Whitecaps FC will now turn their entire focus for the rest of this season on their inaugural MLS campaign, as they return home to take on Eastern Conference club Columbus Crew on Bell Pitch at Empire Field on Wednesday evening. Toronto FC will also return to MLS action on Wednesday night, as they visit Eastern Conference club New York Red Bulls.

Scoring Summary:
21' - VAN - Camilo
51' - TOR - Joao Plata (penalty)
61' - TOR - Mikael Yourassowsky (Joao Plata)

Match Stats:
Shots: Toronto 13 - Vancouver 11
Shots on Goal: Toronto 12 - Vancouver 3
Saves: Toronto 2 - Vancouver 8
Fouls: Toronto 13 - Vancouver 12
Corners: Toronto 3 - Vancouver 2
Offsides: Toronto 3 - Vancouver 2

50' - VAN - Eric Hassli
56' - TOR - Javier Martina
72' - VAN - Russell Teibert

Toronto FC
24.Stefan Frei; 8.Dan Gargan, 27.Richard Eckersley, 20.Ty Harden (
32.Tony Tchani 57'), 25.Danleigh Borman; 11.Nathan Sturgis, 6.Julian de Guzman (4.Doneil Henry 87'), 19.Mikael Yourassowsky; 18.Nick Soolsma, 29.Maicon Santos (33.Javier Martina 19'), 7.Joao Plata

Subs not used: 30.Milos Kocic,
15.Matt Stinson, 21.Alan Gordon, 28.Gianluca Zavarise

Vancouver Whitecaps FC
1.Joe Cannon; 25.Jonathan Leathers, 2.Michael Boxall, 6.Jay DeMerit (23.Blake Wagner 62'), 4.Alain Rochat; 22.Shea Salinas (31.Russell Teibert 45'), 28.Gershon Koffie, 7.Terry Dunfield, 12.Jeb Brovsky (16.Nizar Khalfan 72'); 37.Camilo, 29.Eric Hassli

Subs not used: 18.Jay Nolly, 3.Bilal Duckett, 17.Omar Salgado, 33.Pete Vagenas

Budweiser Man of the Match: Camilo