Sometimes the worst thing a football fan can have is hope.
Despite the massive disappointment of conceding a stoppage time equaliser to an own goal in last week’s first leg, ten man Vancouver Whitecaps’ 2-2 draw with Toronto wasn’t a bad end result all things considered. Certainly not great or ideal, but it could certainly have been worse. It gave them a fighting chance for the second leg. Some hope of getting the job done.
Saturday’s win in Portland, with an understrength side that was under the cosh for the whole second half, showed that the ‘Caps can go and grind out results in difficult places and against good teams. It put a spring in every Whitecaps player and supporter’s step heading into Wednesday’s Canadian Championship final second leg in Toronto. More hope.
But by half time, almost all hope had gone thanks to goals from Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco giving TFC what already looked to be an unassailable two goal lead, both on the night and in the tie.
By eight minutes into the second, it was distinguished altogether as Altidore completed his hat-trick. Goals from Kei Kamara and Brek Shea briefly made it interesting before a Canadian got on the scoresheet, as Tosaint Ricketts rounded off the scoring on the night to make it 5-2, and 7-4 on aggregate to seal TFC’s seventh Voyageurs Cup.
Carl Robinson made six changes to the starting line-up from the team that won 2-1 against the Timbers at the weekend. Alphonso Davies was cleared to play after struggling with a groin injury, and the Whitecaps certainly had what you would have classed as their first choice available starting line-up out there. But would it be enough to get the job done against the defending Voyageurs Cup and MLS Cup champs?
The Whitecaps task was a simple one in theory. Just win at BMO Field and a second Canadian Championship title was theirs. At kick off a 1-0 win would have sufficed.
It was an entertaining fast paced start, with both teams moving the ball well, although neither keeper really had much serious work to do.
The ‘Caps had the better of the early chances, with Yordy Reyna heading a Kamara cross wide six minutes in, while a Kamara break three minutes later saw little support and the chance fade.
TFC were offering little in attack, with Giovinco looking lively, but not threatening just yet, but he finally forced a save out of Stefan Marinovic in the 27th minute, with a low, bobbling free kick that took a deflection on the way through.
The home side started to noticeably turn up the pressure, with Chris Mavinga heading over just past the hour mark and Giovinco firing over a near Justin Morrow cutback just minutes later.
Vancouver’s own danger man, Davies, wasn’t getting the space to run and terrorise the Toronto defence but he got onto a Russell Teibert header at the edge of the box in the 34th minute, taking a step inside before curling an outswinging shot past the right hand post in his first real opportunity of the match.
Toronto responded with a Jay Chapman shot from in close, which Marinovic saved, and as the ball wriggled away from him, Kendall Waston cleared the danger away from the ‘Caps six yard box.
It felt like a TFC goal was coming and it was delivered in the 39th minute, with Altidore finishing off a fantastic passing move, collecting a near backheel from Marky Delgado, staying onside, and firing low past Marinovic for the important first goal of the night.
Vancouver knew they had to score heading into this match, now they had to score at least two.
That job was made all the harder a minute before half time when Giovinco doubled TFC’s lead, heading home a Jonathan Osorio cross. The ‘Caps still needed to score at least twice, but now that would only be good enough to force extra time.
TFC came out looking for what would surely be the killer third at the start of the second half and Chapman forced another save from Marinovic three minutes in.
As Toronto kept the pressure on from the subsequent corner, Giovinco sent a cross in from the right through Marcel de Jong’s legs and Altidore ghosted in to grab his second of the night and put TFC into dreamland.
Certainly the stuff of nightmares for the Whitecaps and it was nearly worse in the 52nd minute when a quick passing move ended with Giovinco playing a nice give and go, getting the ball back, making room, and forcing Marinovic into another big save.
As the corner came in, Altidore ran to meet it at the near post and easily glanced a header home to grab his hat-trick and seal a great team performance from Toronto.
The problem for the Whitecaps was that there were still 37 minutes remaining. Now it was damage limitation time, although it was already past that point.
Kamara got some consolation for the ‘Caps in the 63rd minute, racing in on goal after being played in by substitute Nicolas Mezquida and finishing well past Clint Irwin.
TFC were happy to just coast through to the end though, and Nick Hagglund forced a save from Marinovic in the 69th minute.
Vancouver weren’t giving up either and they reduced the deficit to two with 13 minutes remaining when Erik Hurtado showed some nice skill in the box, cutting the ball back to Shea in front of goal, and the ‘Caps DP finished at the second attempt.
Was a dramatic comeback on? Well no, and Toronto restored their lead two minutes later when Ricketts headed home a Michael Bradley free kick.
Credit to the ‘Caps subs who wouldn’t give up and Irwin was forced to make a great save to keep out a Hurtado volley.
Ryan Telfer had a shot saved by Marinovic in what was to be the final action of the match.
The final whistle thankfully came to put the ‘Caps out of their misery as TFC celebrated their third straight Voyageurs Cup.
To take some positives out of this, the team didn’t give up and fought to the end, grabbing a couple of goals, but the difference in quality between two near first choice starting XI’s was striking. The Whitecaps defending continues to be poor and it feels that the time has now come from some sweeping changes. When you see the perceived second stringers continue to be the best players over the last few matches and you look at how some of the ‘Caps limited budget has been spent this year, big questions have to be asked.
Where do the ‘Caps go from here? Well apart from back home to take on New York Red Bulls, the season is now solely hinging on grabbing that sixth and final playoff spot in the West.
Other results are going the ‘Caps way and their MLS form has picked up of late. They’re certainly in with a shout, but whether that’s good enough to satisfy the supporters and the football committee is what waits to be seen.
There’s that pesky hope again.
FINAL SCORE: Toronto FC 5 – 2 Vancouver Whitecaps [Toronto win 7 – 4 on aggregate]
TORONTO: Clint Irwin; Justin Morrow, Eriq Zavaleta, Chris Mavinga (Nick Hagglund 63), Ashtone Morgan; Jay Chapman, Michael Bradley, Jonathan Osorio (Tosaint Ricketts 78); Marky Delgado; Sebastian Giovinco (Ryan Telfer 67), Jozy Altidore [Subs Not Used: Alex Bono, Gregory van der Wiel, Tsubasa Endoh]
VANCOUVER: Stefan Marinovic; Jake Nerwinski, Kendall Waston, Doneil Henry, Marcel de Jong; Cristian Techera (Nicolas Mezquida 51), Russell Teibert, Aly Ghazal, Alphonso Davies (Brek Shea 51); Yordy Reyna, Kei Kamara (Erik Hurtado 63) [Subs Not Used: Brian Rowe, Sean Franklin, Efrain Juarez, Anthony Blondell]
Fairly even start to the game, what do you think turned the tide in tonight’s match?
The first goal! I thought we had our chance with Alphonso, and Yordy, back post header. Going into the tie we knew it was going to be difficult, they are a good team. Forget about the results in league play on the day when their big players turn up, we know it is going to be difficult as we seen in BC place last Wednesday. We tried to get the first goal, went pretty aggressively in the first thirty minutes but little details in our defending down the left side, three versus three and a set up for Jozy and when that goes in the dynamic of the game changes and they score a second just before half time, which really didn’t matter to us because once they score one we knew we needed to score two. I said to the guys at half time, just come out, be brave, try and play, concentrate, because if you can get one we know what the atmosphere is like here. It tends to change sometimes if you can get a goal, but what we didn’t legislate for was giving up two goals in five minutes and then it’s 4-0. Good character shown to get back to 4-2, but the game’s pretty wide open at that time.
Why is winning this championship proving to be difficult for Vancouver?
I think you have to give the opposing team credit and this time, outside of the last minute goal last Wednesday, Toronto deserved to win because they were the better team tonight as they scored five goals and their players were on. I can speak about last year, same happened to Montreal against Toronto but the year before was heartbreaking as we dominated the game and a last minute goal won it. That one was heartbreaking. For Vancouver it’s happened two or three times now. We’ve been in the final a couple of times and we’ve come up a little bit short. We come up a little bit short again today, but as I said, sometimes you have to give the opposition credit and I’ll give them credit today.
You mentioned the left hand side Toronto was exploiting, is that something you were expecting?
Well they can exploit you in so many ways with Seba and Jozy up top and with Michael who’s the best midfielder in the league. They can pull you one way and then switch the ball the other way and with those two forwards up top you have to keep your back four tucked in and not go two for two against them so we knew it was a challenge for us. It was a game of cat and mouse. The first goal was always going to be the key to everything. Good players manage to pull you around the pitch sometimes and that was certainly what happened a few times today.
Thoughts on the competition being more than doubled in size next year. Does he welcome the additional competition?:
I do, yeah. The more teams that play in it the better. I think sometimes when there was just three teams, four teams, sometimes it’s hard picking yourself up in a busy league schedule, so the more teams in it, the better. I really believe that. It might end up the same outcome but it’ll give you a better chance of a shock or two. Toronto’s won it three times in a row now. Maybe one of the smaller underdogs can shock them.
How close was Alphonso Davies to not starting?
It was tough, really tough, I toyed with the idea… when you analyze games, people that understand football and know football, whatever, you look at the three subs that came on for me today and they made a huge impact. Erik Hurtado, Nico Mezquida, and Brek Shea. But it would be easy to say then, maybe you should have started them. Phonzie didn’t play at the weekend, he had a little bit of tightness. Speaking the physios and speaking to Alphonso, he wanted to play. He was disappointed when he came off but I didn’t want to risk him. The game was 3-0 or 4-0 at the time. I didn’t want to risk him. There was no need to do that at all. If probably he had scored in the first half with a chance he probably would have wanted to stay on. It was a big decision. It was the right decision to play him. I think Toronto did a good job of neutralizing him a little bit, but I just think we played a little bit at 90%. We looked a little bit leggy today, which is understandable because of the travel, and when that happens it plays into the opposition’s hands sometimes, but I was glad he got 46 or 49 minutes under his belt.
What do you take away from the loss?
It’s a hard one. Firstly, losing a final is always complicated, it’s always hurtful, because you want to win it. But now, what we have in front of us is the MLS Cup, so we need to qualify to the playoffs and we are now focused on that. Trying to look forward to the game on Saturday at home and hopefully win those three points.
Where did it go wrong tonight?
Obviously they’ve got quality on top. We didn’t go with 100% and if you play a little bit at say 90% the other team is going to crush you. They scored two great goals in the first half and after that they tried to manage the game. In the second half we had a lapse of concentration and those goals came in.
How important is it now to turn the focus to the league and make a push for the playoffs?
Now we’ve got to try and reset and create the same momentum that we had two games before this one. I think now we have the priority of qualifying for the playoffs and that is our focus.
Were you expecting the left side to be exploited so much be Toronto?
No. Games are different. We know that they like to play with Giovinco and Altidore and make different combinations, but obviously we were making something wrong that they were affecting us. Now, the game is over, so it’s congratulations to them.
Why has the Whitecaps defence struggled this season?
You never know why. You’re always going to see the defence when they score, but it’s not every time the defence. Everything come from all of us. So when we win, everybody win. When we lose, everybody lose.
Opening comments about tonight’s game:
Thank you to the CSA for hosting this event. We enjoy this event and our guys take a lot of pride in it. It’s also a way for us to get back into the Champions League for an opportunity to make another run at it. A big night for many reasons, we appreciate it. Also, congratulations to Vancouver, a very good team that has a lot to play for the rest of the season. We just happen to get on top of the game tonight and it happened to go our way so the best to them the rest of our way.
I didn’t see the celebrations in the locker room but the drum beating aside I thought the celebrations on the field were fairly muted. Did you see it that way and was it because you see this as a springboard to get back to where you have been and want you need to do?
No, I think part of it is that guys are fatigued. This has been a wild run and the last couple of weeks have been extra wild. This 90 minutes you can even see it as both teams looked a little bit tired as the game progressed. Our guys know that they have to get on a flight tomorrow and go all the way to San Jose and play and part of that plays into it. I think everybody’s excited and looked forward to the celebration so I just think it’s more about where we’re at in the moment and what we have in front of us still to try and accomplish as a group. It’s more that then anything and the locker room was also muted but the guys know that it’s a very short turnaround to go over to San Jose and play and all of our matches right now are of vital importance. Guys are happy, guys are proud and we’re very pleased with the outcome of the night.
Can you give us an update on Jozy as we were told he was feeling sick and the outcome of that. The second part of that was after his weekend which was cut short did you expect him to come back as strong as he did?
I did expect him because for me the bigger the game the bigger the Jozy a lot of times. In every one of these finals Jozy has stepped up and played a huge role in the outcome and tonight was no different. He was fantastic, obviously in his finishes, and also in his ability to hold things up, link play and help us to play in possession the way we played tonight, so not surprised at all. That’s just who he is and I think he wanted to make a statement tonight as well, so kudos to him for that. He came in because he was not feeling great and knows that we have a turnaround and he has things that he has to deal with as well.
I want to say again, like coach said, thanks to the CSA for this tournament. As a Canadian it’s really important for me and this club to participate in this every year. To win it for the third time in a row means a lot. Like Coach said, it’s a birthing into the Champions League and another shot to make a run to which we did. I think it’s great. I wish Vancouver the best in the rest of their season, like Coach said, they have everything to play for, they are more than capable of finishing off strong so congratulations to them.
It’s been a really tough year, a lot of things got in the way, but to have this 10 how nice is it to see that spark again?
To continue on that, like Coach said this season we haven’t been able to go on the streak that we wanted to with a lot of factors, some our own doing and some not in our control. The most important thing to do today was to win. This championship, we really wanted. We wanted that berth into the Champions League. Now we are looking forward to Saturday as our kickstart building off of this. In a lot of cases, around the world teams that win a championship in the middle of the season, gets them going. We are hoping that this is what happens to us.
200 games tonight for TFC, you are up here with 1 maybe 2 trophies, do you find yourself tonight looking back at game 1 and how far you’ve come as a player this time?
Yeah it’s crazy, to look back it happened so fast. A soccer career, I know coach can tell you they go really fast so days like this you need to enjoy and really take in. I remember my first game coming into against Kansas City at the Rogers Centre like it was yesterday. To be at 200 already and to win the Canadian Championship for a third time in a row, you can’t ask for more after the 200th appearance.