MONTREAL – Barcelona vs. Bayern Munich, this wasn’t. Not even close.
Jack McInerney’s second-half tap in from inside the six-yard box stood up as the winner in the Montreal Impact’s 1-0 victory over Toronto FC on Wednesday night in the first leg of their Amway Canadian Championship semifinal.
McInerney’s goal was the lone bright spot in a dull and lifeless game that failed to capture the imagination, although that will hardly concern Montreal, the two-time defending Canadian champions.
The Impact now hold the advantage going into next Wednesday’s decisive second leg at BMO Field in Toronto, needing only a draw to advance to the final. A TFC win by two goals or more would see them move on.
Both camps like their odds.
“It’s important that we kept a clean sheet today,” Montreal coach Frank Klopas offered. “We’re very positive going into the (return match). … We’re feeling good. The one goal is good; two would have been better, but we have confidence.”
TFC coach Greg Vanney simply offered: “I can’t say I’m disgusted with the result.”
He later added: “I like our chances a lot. … I think we’re in decent shape (for the second leg).”
A week ago, the Impact drew 61,004 fans to Olympic Stadium for their showdown with Mexican powerhouse Club America in the CONCACAF Champions League final. It was a vibrant contest, heaving with atmosphere and plenty of goals during a night to remember.
This was a night we can only hope to soon forget. Only 12, 518 spectators passed through the turnstiles at Stade Saputo on Wednesday night for what was a dire spectacle that lacked creativity and moments of inspiration. No wonder so many local fans chose to stay home on a gorgeous Montreal night and watch the Lightning-Canadiens game on television.
We knew it was going to be a long night an hour before kickoff when the lineups were released. Both coaches fielded what were, in essence, their “B teams,” and rested a number of key men for their upcoming weekend fixtures. Pragmatic and cautious—hardly a recipe for entertaining soccer.
TFC designated players Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore, as well as Joe Bendik, Robbie Findley and Jackson didn’t even travel to Montreal. Starters Ashtone Morgan, Benoit Cheyrou and Damien Perquis were on the subs bench. Winger Marco Delgado started and made his debut for Toronto. Forgotten man Luke Moore started up top.
“It’s not a group that’s played a lot of matches together so we weren’t fully sharp in terms of our movement to support each other,” Vanney said in a massive understatement.
For Montreal, DP midfielder Ignacio Piatti, fellow Argentine Andres Romero, goalkeeper Evan Bush and defender Bakary Soumare were on the bench. Canadian midfielder Patrice Bernier earned a rare start, while backup goalkeeper Eric Kronberg was also in the first 11.
How badly this contest could have used Giovinco, TFC’s dynamic Italian who has been the talk of MLS this season with his dynamic play and knack for scoring highlight-reel goals. Piatti entered the game in the 74th minute, but the introduction of the mercurial playmaker added very little spark to the proceedings.
The opening half was a non-descript affair—it was 45 minutes, but felt much longer—with both teams looking very tentative, and featuring little movement off the ball.
The most entertaining moment came when Montreal fans held up the cheeky banner seen below, reminding TFC of the Impact’s recent run to the CONCACAF Champions League final.
It was more of the same after the restart before the Impact opened the scoring in the 68th minute through McInerney. Moments after wasting a golden opportunity on a one-on-one break, the Impact forward found himself unmarked and tapped in a Nigel Reo-Coker cross played to the back post. It was an inch-perfect pass from the Englishman, but TFC’s defence was caught flat-footed and should have easily dealt with it.
Vanney described the goal as “entirely preventable.”
“(Reo Coker) is a right-footed player on the right side, and you should never allow him to hit a right-footed cross. The whole set up to it was four seconds long. It’s impossible that we don’t step to his right foot and prevent the cross,” Vanney explained.
Toronto never pressed for an equalizer with anything even remotely resembling urgency as Montreal comfortably held on for the win.
“There were some ‘sort-of’ chances (we created) but I thought we were okay for being on the road,” Vanney stated.
Montreal was coming off that setback to Club America last week, and without a win in its first four MSL games (two losses and two draws) Klopas hopes this victory can help the Impact turn things around.
“To get this under our belt after that emotional game vs. Club America, it was important,” Klopas said.
NOTES: Both these teams return to MLS action this weekend: Montreal hosts Portland on Saturday, and Toronto plays its home opener vs. Houston on Sunday… The winner of the Amway Canadian Championship claims the Voyageurs Cup, and will be Canada’s lone representative in the group stage of the 2016-17 CONCACAF Champions League… The Vancouver Whitecaps face the NASL’s FC Edmonton in the other semifinal. Their opening leg on Wednesday night was cancelled due to snow in Edmonton. They will play the first leg next Wednesday in Vancouver, with the return match slated for May 20 in Edmonton…