TORONTO—Sometimes you just need a bit of luck.
Although outplayed for most of Tuesday night’s first leg of the Amway Canadian Championship final, Toronto FC still managed to earn a 1-0 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps before 20,011 fans at BMO Field.
Sebastian Giovinco has scored some gorgeous goals during his time with TFC—his winner on this night doesn’t rank among them. The Italian’s shot from outside the box just before halftime took a big deflection off a Whitecaps defender that handcuffed goalkeeper Paolo Tornaghi and settled into the back of the net. Fortunate doesn’t even begin to describe Giovinco’s goal, as Tornaghi appeared to have it well covered before the shot radically changed directions.
Nevertheless, TFC holds the advantage in the two-game aggregate series, needing only a draw in next Wednesday’s second leg in Vancouver. The Whitecaps need a two-goal win in order to repeat as Canadian champions.
Good fortune was only part of Toronto’s success story on the night, though. The defence looked well-organized at times, and goalkeeper Clint Irwin put in man-of-the-match performance in earning the clean sheet.
“We were terrible in the first half, and much better in the second half,” Toronto coach Greg Vanney admitted.
Whitecaps manager Carl Robinson, a former TFC midfielder during his playing days, bemoaned his team’s bad luck on the Giovinco goal, although he felt Toronto deserved the win.
“I think we had a number of key chances, but we were unable to take [advantage]. We have to get on with it. The goal they scored was fortuitous… but it was probably a fair result,” Robinson said.
Toronto was without captain Michael Bradley (U.S. national team duty) and forward Jozy Altidore (hamstring injury), but still managed to field a full-strength line-up that included Giovinco, Will Johnson and Drew Moor. Vancouver’s starting line-up wasn’t nearly as strong—goalkeeper David Ousted and defender Jordan Harvey were on the bench, while midfielder Matias Laba travelled to Toronto but did not dress. Alphonso Davies, a 15-year old from the youth academy, started for Vancouver.
It was the Whitecaps who bossed the game from the opening kickoff, with Octavio Rivero forcing Irwin to tip his header from the edge of the six-yard box over the crossbar in the fourth minute. Moments later, the Uruguayan was played in on goal via a great pass from Pa-Modou Kah, only to fire his angled shot into the side netting. Irwin was again called into action when he parried a raking shot from Sam Adekugbe after the Whitecaps defender went on surging run through the heart of Toronto’s defence.
Having been second-best for most of the half, TFC took a surprising lead just before the break. Giovinco danced around the edge of the box with the ball before unleashing a shot that took a wicked deflection off of Adekugbe and went past Tornaghi, who had no chance. It was 1-0 at the break for Toronto, a score line that flattered the hosts based on the balance of play.
“It’s sick to give up a goal just before halftime, especially with the way we played,” Robinson said.
The Reds swarmed the Whitecaps to begin the second half, carving out three scoring opportunities within the first 10 minutes. The best chance came in the form of Giovinco’s curling shot from 25 yards out that smashed against the post after the Italian went on a darting run that left Vancouver defender Kendall Waston in his dust.
Irwin preserved the win for Toronto in the 70th minute, making a diving save on an overhead kick from Waston that seemed destined to nestle inside the far post.
“You can’t earn [clean sheets] unless you have a goalkeeper who can make the saves that need to be made along the way. Clint’s done that all year, and again he was there in the moments that we needed him,” Vanney said.
NOTES: Vancouver returns to MLS action on Saturday when it visits the Philadelphia Union. Toronto plays at Orlando City on the same day… Last year, the Whitecaps knocked off the Montreal Impact in the Canadian final to win its first Voyageurs Cup… The cup itself was originally funded and awarded by the Voyageurs, a Canadian soccer supporters group founded in 1996. Since 2008, the Canadian Soccer Association has presented the Voyageurs Cup to the tournament champion… The Canadian tournament winner will also qualify for the group stage of the 2017-18 CONCACAF Champions League as Canada’s lone representative in the continental competition.
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