MONTREAL — The winner and still champions of Canada: the Montreal Impact.
It wasn’t pretty, and it was hardly an advertisement for “the beautiful game.” But the Impact’s 1-0 victory against Toronto FC on Wednesday night was enough for them to claim a second consecutive Amway Canadian Championship.
Felipe’s goal for the Impact in injury time was the difference against TFC, who needed to win this match after the teams battled to a 1-1 draw in Toronto last week in the first leg of the two-game final.
“It was important for us, and important for the club, to represent Canada,” the Brazilian simply said of the win.
Montreal midfielder Justin Mapp was named tournament MVP for a second-straight year.
“It’s been a tough season so far for us, so it feels good to celebrate for everyone involved because we’ve had some tough moments,” Mapp offered.
A second-consecutive Canadian championship is a bright spot in what has been a dreadful 2014 for Montreal. Last year, the Impact made the MLS playoffs, but they currently sit tied for last place in the standings with just 10 points and two wins in 12 matches.
Before kickoff on Wednesday, Impact fans in the west stand of Stade Saputo held up a series of banners that read “One match to save the season.” Maybe after lifting the Voyageurs Cup—the trophy given to the winner of this tournament—Montreal can build some momentum and get back in the MLS playoff race.
Impact coach Frank Klopas sure hopes so.
“My [players] never lost faith in what we were doing. We stuck together as a team. [Winning the Canadian Championship] was one of our goals. We have a long way to go in the [MLS] season, but the confidence from winning some games has made us even stronger,” Klopas offered.
“And I can tell you one thing: It’s not going to be easy for teams coming in here to play against us.”
Impact captain Patrice Bernier echoed his coach’s sentiments.
“It’s good for team morale. It’s good for the spirits of the club,” Bernier said. “Last year we were on a high and we seemed unstoppable... This season has been difficult. We’ve battled through it, but it’s not been easy.”
TFC coach Ryan Nelsen brandished his big guns up front, starting top forwards Jermain Defoe and Luke Moore. The English duo displayed some nice chemistry and link-up play in the first half. But overall, TFC was very flat and lacked urgency in attack for most of the night—strange from a team that needed a goal to win the two-leg final.
How Toronto could have used Michael Bradley, away on international duty with the U.S. With the influential Bradley absent, Nelsen was short of options, and started Jeremy Hall alongside Kyle Bekker in central midfield. Hall was far from his best and TFC was overpowered in the middle of the park.
Curiously, Nelsen was far more positive in his assessment.
“I thought (our) performance was really good,” Nelsen stated. “We had some really nice periods of play, controlled the game at times, but just couldn’t get that break.”
Montreal, by contrast, looked more dangerous going forward, and carried the balance of play.
After a pretty dire start by both sides, the game picked up midway through the first half with Montreal forcing the issue. Mapp, Marco Di Vaio and Jack McInerney formed an effective attacking triumvirate, giving TFC’s defence all it could handle.
Toronto goalkeeper Joe Bendik was called upon to make two quality saves—one to deny Di Vaio at the near post, and another a diving effort off a Hernan Bernardello free kick. Di Vaio also flashed a shot wide after a flowing run by Mapp down the right side.
The Impact came out strong to start the second half, with Bernier’s chip shot from the edge of the box hitting the crossbar.
Nelsen brought on a third forward in the 56th minute when he subbed in Gilberto for Daniel Lovitz. But it was Montreal who showed more attacking intent. Andres Romero danced around the TFC defence inside the box before forcing Bendik to get down and make a crucial save.
Finally, TFC came to life in the 81st minute after a lengthy spell of possession. Jonathan Osorio made a cutting move inside the box to give two Impact players the slip, and fired a low shot on net. It beat Montreal goalkeeper Evan Bush, but hit the far post.
Montreal broke the deadlock in injury time. Di Vaio skipped by a TFC defender and unleashed a powerful shot that hit the crossbar. Felipe did well to control the rebound with his chest inside the area before firing a shot past Bendik.
Toronto won four Canadian championships in a row from 2009 to 2012. Montreal won last year and the inaugural competition in 2008.
NOTES: By virtue of its tournament win, the Montreal Impact will serve as Canada’s lone representative in the 2014-15 CONCACAF Champions League. Montreal will compete in Group 3 with the New York Red Bulls and Club Deportivo FAS of El Salvador. The winner of the round-robin group advances to the quarterfinals… Montreal returns to MLS action on June 11 when it hosts DC United. Toronto’s next league game is Saturday at home versus the San Jose Earthquakes…