TORONTO — For an American, Justin Mapp sure has made the Amway Canadian Championship his personal stage.
Toronto FC’s Doneil Henry’s bullet header in the first half was cancelled out by a gorgeous long-range shot from Mapp as the Montreal Impact earned a 1-1 draw in Wednesday’s first leg of the championship final.
It wasn’t the best of performances from Montreal on the night, but it didn’t have to be. TFC failed to capitalize on a first half performance that saw them outplay and dominate the Impact. If not for a lack of creativity in creating scoring chances, Toronto could have wrapped this one up after 45 minutes.
Instead, Montreal was given a life line by their gracious hosts and holds the advantage going into the second leg, as a win or a 0-0 draw would see them retain the Canadian championship. TFC needs a victory or at least a 2-2 draw in next Wednesday’s return match at Stade Saputo.
Voted tournament MVP a year ago when the Impact won the Canadian championship for a second time, Mapp’s moment of inspiration allowed Montreal to claim a share of the spoils on a night when they looked second best for long stretches. It wasn’t just his goal, either. Mapp was one of the few bright spots for Montreal with his deft touch, probing runs and effective link up play. Toronto coach Ryan Nelsen heaped praise upon Mapp in the post-match press conference.
“It was a quality [goal] from a quality player. In my opinion, Justin’s been one of the best players, arguably, in [MLS] last year and this year,” Nelsen offered.
Mapp stressed that he’s worked hard to be more consistent, something that crafty winger was often criticised for during his time with the Philadelphia Union and in his first season with Montreal in 2012.
“It’s nice of [Nelsen] to say. I’m just trying to stay consistent and do my job each week,” Mapp said. “I’m trying to hold myself to a high standard, trying to stay fit. I’ve had some injury problems in past years but I’ve been fit for the most part, and hopefully that continues.”
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With Michael Bradley away on national team duty and several players injured, Nelsen fielded a somewhat makeshift starting 11 that included Ashtone Morgan, Daniel Lovitz and Jeremy Hall. Starters Jermain Defoe, Kyle Bekker, Justin Morrow and Mark Bloom were on the substitutes’ bench.
Montreal coach Frank Klopas also had injury issues to deal with, but put out a strong starting lineup featuring Mapp, Marco Di Vaio, Patrice Bernier and Hernan Bernardello. Klopas was forced to make a change less than two minutes into the game when Colombian defender Nelson Rivas, playing for the first time in 2014 after a lengthy layoff due to a thigh injury, limped off the field.
TFC compounded the Impact’s woes in the 20th minute. Daniel Lovitz’s corner kick was met at the edge of the six-yard box by an unmarked Henry who powerfully headed it home while Montreal’s defenders were caught napping.
“For us to fall asleep again on a play like that, it’s not good enough. We have to wake up in moments like that,” Klopas stated. “[Sometimes] you’re going to get beat but when you have a [tall player like Henry] and no one around him from six yards out, to give away a goal like that, it’s unacceptable.”
The Impact were lifeless in the first half—their uninspired play marked by sloppy possession play and a limp attack.
“It was tough. They had a little more bite, winning all of the second balls,” Mapp admitted. “At half time we said leave it all out there, good or bad—at least pick up the intensity. We definitely came into the game more in the second half.”
Indeed, the Impact came out flying after the break, with Bernardello’s cross hitting the crossbar and Mapp’s shot taking a deflection before whispering past the post.
Dwayne De Rosario nearly doubled TFC’s advantage moments later, only to see Montreal goalkeeper Evan Bush dive and tip his blistering shot from the edge of the penalty area onto the post and out. Then a furious two-minute spell saw the Impact denied a clear penalty on a hand ball by TFC captain Steven Caldwell, and De Rosario’s chipped shot hitting the crossbar with Bush well out of goal.
Klopas wasn’t too impressed with the officiating on the night.
“Two clear hand balls in the box. For me, it’s embarrassing. It’s embarrassing,” Klopas fumed.
Montreal’s second half resurgence hit its peak in the 73rd minute. With Caldwell backtracking, Mapp ran at the heart of the defence before thumping a beautiful shot from 20 yards out into the top corner.
“Nobody really put pressure on the ball and I found myself at the top of the [box] and I just had a go, and it snuck in,” Mapp modestly offered.
NOTES: Toronto returns to MLS action on Saturday when it hosts the Columbus Crew. Montreal plays the New England Revolution at home the same day… The winner of the Amway Canadian Championship advances to the group stage of the 2014-15 CONCACAF Champions League… Toronto won four Canadian championships in a row from 2009 to 2012. Montreal won last year and the inaugural competition in 2008….