It was a memorable night at York Lions Stadium on Wednesday, as York9 welcomed the Montreal Impact into a warm muggy Ontario summer evening for the first ever match up between a Canadian Premier League side and a Major League Soccer club in the Canadian Championship.
There had been much ado by fans and pundits alike in the build up to this round of the Voyageurs Cup. Everyone was anxiously awaiting the first glimpse of the clash between Canada’s brand new league and the established clubs who have already been plying their trade in the predominately American MLS for years. How would the brand new CPL stack up to the experienced MLS clubs? Some expected blow outs. What we got in North Toronto on Wednesday, and later that evening in Calgary, was far from it.
Montreal made six changes to the 11 that lost 3-2 to Minnesota on the weekend. Clement Diop got the nod between the pipes to give Evan Bush a break. Max Urruti and Omar Browne got the start at the expense of Jackson-Hamel and Taider respectively. The other three changes came in the midfield with Shome, Raitala, and Sagna making way for Krolicki, Kinumbe, and Brault-Guillard. The latter, on loan from Lyon in France, just returned to the squad after being away with the Canadian National team at the Gold Cup.
While there was a bit of rotation in there, the line-up Montreal fielded would be competitive in an MLS league match.
York on the other hand fielded what was most likely their strongest possible 11 (with the exception of leaving Chilean striker Rodrigo Gattas on the bench at the expense of Swedish forward Simon Adjei). York manager Jim Brennan told media after the match that this was by design however.
“I wanted to start Simon tonight because I knew they had big defenders, let Simon fight them off a bit. We had a game plan that’s why we had Simon in the middle, Ryan on the right and Kyle on the left, open up spaces let these guys get in behind. You’ve gotta wear out centre backs.”
York, who struggled out of the gate with a multitude of road games and missing several players expected to be part of the core, were able to start first choice centre back pairing of Luca Gasparotto and Roger Thompson. Thompson only managed to get into three of the 10 Spring Season matches due to injury. Full backs Morey Doner and Diyaeddine Abzi got better and better as the season wore on and York managed to finish the season off strong. After getting past FC Edmonton in the last round of the Voyageurs Cup, Montreal was their next test.
Montreal has still been waiting for Urruti to really make the impact they expected when they signed him. With only one goal and five assists in 19 apps for Montreal in MLS play, he has not been performing at the level we’ve seen from him at previous stops at FC Dallas and Portland.
The game got underway and York looked strong, composed, and confident. York was easily carrying the balance of play. Through 25 minutes, York had taken a couple chances from distance, coming closest in the 18th with an Abzi shot that was barely wide. Montreal looked a touch disjointed and weren’t able to penetrate with much confidence. York again came close in the 28th when a through ball forced Diop off his line with Wataru Murofushi closing in. Montreal again escaped unscathed.
As half time approached, the game started to open up, and in the 36th Samuel Piette blasted an absolute rocket that clipped the crossbar. That would have been the boost Montreal needed, but Nathan Ingham’s first real save was a fantastic diving effort in the 45th as Choiniere found himself in a bit of space at the top of the 18. Ingham was up to the task and his shot to the far post was blocked and out for a corner.
Players of note in the first half for York were Gasparotto who closed down several Montreal chances, and was really a thorn in Urruti’s side. Di Chiara’s play also stood out as he forced numerous fouls (four) with his play in the midfield and made it hard for Montreal to control the pace at all. Doner at right back also put four tackles in and manage to nullify Kinumbe’s efforts on the left wing for Montreal.
On the visitor’s side, centre back Diallo was an absolute beast at the back and nullified Adjei quite well, forcing York to shoot from distance when they had the chance. Choiniere was the most active for the Impact with two shots, the one that was on target was the only one to do so for both teams.
While the second half started in much of the same way with York looking quite composed, disaster struck for the CPL side in the 62nd minute when a mental lapse cost them dearly. Luca Gasparotto, who had been having a fantastic game up to this point, rose to meet a lofted through ball and headed it back towards his keeper Ingham. The pass was too far from the York keeper however, and placed on a platter for Impact striker Omar Browne who had a simple tap in to give Montreal the lead.
⚪️ YOR 0 – 1 MTL 🔵
⚽️ Can Y9 bring it back with the time that remains!?
📺 Tune in on https://t.co/hishXepRT3 to find out!
— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) July 11, 2019
The play was reminiscent of York’s away match in Halifax on the previous weekend, where a defensive miscue led to the only goal in a 1-0 loss.
Credit York for what happened next however. Heads were held high, and the pressure continued. The teams exchanged a few chances each, however the game really changed when the aforementioned Gattas was subbed in for Adjei.
With the big Swede subbed off, Ryan Telfer was switched from his wide position into a central role, allowing Gattas to play wide. In the 83rd minute, still trailing by one, Gattas picked up a pass out wide on the right side of the pitch. He twisted to get the ball on his left foot and launched a hopeful ball towards a streaking Telfer.
Telfer had managed to find a gap between the centre backs, brought the ball down softly before taking one step and blasting a rocket into the top right corner giving the York supporters a reason to jump and sing. The rails of the supporters section were rocking all night and at times looked like they would fall apart.
😲 OKAY RYAN TELFER
⚪️ YOR 1 – 1 MTL 🔵
— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) July 11, 2019
The pressure continued, and with three minutes of normal time remaining Diop was forced to rush out to stop Telfer out wide. Telfer stepped around him but his cross towards the empty net was headed out by a defender.
On the ensuing corner however, Gasparotto flicked the corner onto the back post where an opportunistic Gattas was waiting to put York ahead 2-1.
The crowd erupted again, and it looked to be a magical end to the night.
— CanPL Central (@CanplCentral) July 11, 2019
The tide turned one last time however, as those mental errors continued to haunt York.
In the 90th, fresh into the lead, another lofted pass was lobbed into the 18 yard box. While the flag had gone up for offside, Gasparotto hadn’t noticed and flicked the ball on in an attempt to disrupt the pass looking for Urruti.
The striker chased it down as it bounced towards the edge of the box, that’s when goalkeeper Ingham decided to launch off his line. He slid in to try to punch the ball away but went right through Urruti and the ref had no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
The Impact’s Turkish DP Saphir Taider stepped up and made it 2-2, breaking York hearts but saving Montreal’s blushes in making history as the first MLS team to lose to a CPL side.
— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) July 11, 2019
York had one last chance, where another scramble occurred in the Montreal box. The ball ended up on Joe Di Chiara’s foot and a gaping net in front of him. His shot clipped the cross bar and bounced helplessly over the net. The final whistle blew soon after, ending an entertaining match that had lots of late drama.
While it was a tough pill to swallow for York, the resilient effort was noticed by Brennan, who after the game had the look of a proud father, stating: “What a great performance from our guys tonight. I told them after the game, look I’m so proud of you, the shift that you put in.
“We said at the beginning of the game we are going to be on the front foot. Said we wanted to control this game, dominate possession. We wanted shots, and the boys stuck to the game plan. I saw it in their eyes before the game that they were up for it. I said I don’t even have to motivate you guys.”
That much was clear when you watched how that game unfolded.
When it came to those mental lapses, Brennan wasn’t willing to throw blame around towards individual players.
“It’s things that happen in games,” the York9 boss stated. “I’ll never hammer the players for making those individual mistakes. Look if you make those mistakes in a consistent pattern that’s one thing, but if a player comes off and says ‘hey thats my fault’.
“Luca flicked it on, thought the keeper was there, bad touch off his head, can’t fault him. I thought Luca [Gasparotto] was solid tonight, and had a hell of a game. I thought Nate [Ingham] was great as well at the back. He was vocal, he controlled the back four and he’s always talking and organizing and made some good saves.
“I can’t fault him for doing it…. now if he did it every single week… that would be a massive issue, but my job as a coach is to get the best out of these guys and help them learn this game and learn from making their mistakes and learn this is the right way and you made a mistake there but we are going to learn from it and get better.”
Ryan Telfer echoed his manager’s sentiment when it came to team mentality.
“Things happen in soccer games, but hold your hand up and be accountable and all the guys around here pick each other up and that’s exactly what was on display today,” Telfer said after the match.
“One individual error happened but everyone knew that we don’t put our heads down and we fight until the final whistle blows despite whatever went on here tonight. The main thing was that everyone on that field had each others back.”
When it came to the supposed ‘gulf’ in talent between the MLS sides and the CPL sides, it wasn’t as apparent as some might have thought before the match and Impact coach Remi Garde was respectful when it came to the level of play he witnessed.
“I talked to their coach before the game, it’s about trying to playing decent football,” Garde told reporters after the match. “They try to move the ball. They try to create chances. In the games that I watched so far that they have played they are interesting.
“They created many chances, but are not so much efficient, but you know we respect them and its going to be an open game, a tough game for both teams when we play them in Montreal.”
Samuel Piette was even more complimentary in his postgame comments.
“We knew what to expect from them,” Piette mused. “They had a lot of motivation for sure. First time a CPL team plays an MLS team, and I don’t think we underestimated them. Me, personally, I know a lot of guys on that team. I played with a lot of those guys with youth national teams before. I knew they had qualities.
“I think it’s a good result for us. Obviously the two goals we conceded, but in a two leg like that when you score two goals away that’s always good.”
In terms of what the CPL has started to build, Piette was quite excited for what the future holds.
“It was good,” Piette said. “It’s looking very good for the future for the CPL. Me, as a Canadian, I couldn’t be happier to have professional teams in a professional league in our own country, and the level was high like I expected.
“The quality of the players here is very high. Like I said, honestly I’m happy. It’s the first year so there are a lot of things that needs improvement. Like in any league, you know same as Premier League, same as MLS. But I think it’s a great start for Canada in terms of putting football on the map.”
Brennan felt the same way.
“It’s great,” he enthused. “The game’s here. It’s here to stay. These are special nights. Midweek under the lights, something to play for, cup match, Canadian Championship. They are great games for the fans.
“These are special moments for the guys in the dressing room. These are the games you want to play in. They will be talking about this one 15 years down the line, when they are sitting there with their buddies having a beer. They’ll say hey remember that game against Montreal? They are special moments that you’ve got to cherish, and as a footballer these are the games you want to play in.”
Both teams will have league matches to deal with before they get that second crack at each other. York has three CPL matches and Montreal has two MLS matches before the second leg culminates on July 24th in Montreal. Fans can expect an emotional tilt and it’s anyone’s tie for the taking.