Toronto FC roll past Montreal into Canadian Championship final

CF Montréal defender Rudy Camacho (4) and Toronto FC forward Ayo Akinola (20) battle for the ball during second half Voyageurs Cup semifinal soccer action against CF Montréal in Toronto on Wednesday, June 22, 2022. (Nathan Denette/CP)

There will be a new Canadian Champion crowned this year.

Ayo Akinola scored twice while Jesus Jimenez and Alejandro Pozuelo also had goals as Toronto FC cruised past CF Montreal 4-0 at BMO Field on Wednesday to advance to the 2022 Canadian Championship Final while eliminating the 2021 champs.

“We came out on the front foot,” Akinola said. “We attacked and pressed them and didn’t want to give them a chance to breathe.”

Akinola opened the scoring in the 40th minute for the Reds, when he was on the finishing end of a three-touch play toward the goal initiated by Jimenez. The forward found Luca Petrasso on his left side. Petrasso passed the ball across to Akinola, who easily beat Montreal goalkeeper James Pantemis for the 1-0 lead.

TFC had several chances before Akinola’s first goal.

Jayden Nelson nearly opened the scoring for Toronto FC in the first minute when he broke clear of Montreal’s defence and put his right-footed shot from outside the box off the far post. He also had a shot late in the opening half.

Montreal’s best chance to score in the opening half came in the 20th minute as Montreal captain Samuel Piette’s chance from inside the box was blocked by a TFC defender just in front of the goal.

Toronto FC led in shots, 7-2, in the first half, although Montreal had 57 per cent of the ball possession.

“We had a good first half,” CF Montreal head coach Wilfried Nancy said of his team’s play. “They scored their goal but before that we were quite good.”

In the second half, Montreal made two substitutions to put on an attacking formation but were caught on the wrong end of a turnover while pressing for an equalizer. Pozuelo took the ball up the field and found Akinola, whose shot from the centre of the box went off the bar and into the back of the goal in the 54th minute.

Akinola is finding his form after missing nearly a year with a torn ACL in his knee. The Canadian striker admitted it’s been a challenge to find his game since returning in early May and wasn’t fully satisfied with his effort against Montreal, despite his two-goal performance.

“The goals gave me a confidence boost, but if I’m being realistic, I thought overall with how the game went that I didn’t do a good job,” Akinola said. “I just gave too many balls away, didn’t connect, didn’t get too involved in the play, so that’s on my part. But when I had my chances, I buried them.”

Montreal had a shot on goal five minutes after Akinola’s second goal. Second-half substitute Kei Kamara had a shot from inside the box that was punched out by Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg.

Jimenez scored in the 75th minute when Toronto FC’s corner kick opportunity bounced off Pantemis, leaving an easy tap-in for the TFC forward.

Pozuelo scored three minutes later and made it 4-0 TFC, when he went to the net with ease and fired a ball past Pantemis.

“That’s probably rock bottom right there,” Montreal defender Alistair Johnson said after the match. “You lose a game to your local rivals 4-nil in a game where you’re not sure the score line reflected it, but at the same time they put four past us and we didn’t score any on them. It wasn’t good enough from us.”

Toronto FC is one win away from claiming a record ninth Voyageurs Cup. They picked up their eighth title earlier this month by winning the two-year-delayed 2020 Canadian Championship. For a team that is trying to build itself back following a difficult 2021 MLS season, the Reds have found solace in the Canadian Championship, despite what has been a challenging season in league play.

They sit 13th in the Eastern Conference of the MLS standings with a 4-8-3 record.

“We all know the work to become a better team is ongoing,” TFC head coach Bob Bradley said. “In the midst of all that, when you can have a night where at the end, there’s a trophy and everybody’s excited, yeah, that’s important.”

TFC will play the winner of the other semifinal between the Vancouver Whitecaps and Canadian Premier League-team York United FC. The championship is scheduled to take place in July.

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