Piatti lifts Impact over Toronto FC in first leg of Canadian Championship

Montreal Impact midfielder Ignacio Piatti (10) controls the ball away from Toronto FC midfielder Richie Laryea (22) during first half of the first leg of the Canadian Championship Final action in Montreal on Wednesday, September 18, 2019. (Paul Chiasson/CP)

MONTREAL — A wonder goal by Ignacio Piatti gave the Montreal Impact a 1-0 victory over rivals Toronto FC in the first leg of the Canadian Championship final on Wednesday night.

Goalkeeper Clement Diop made four saves for his second clean sheet of the tournament for the Impact, who last won the Voyageurs Cup in 2014.

Alex Bono was beaten once on four shots for the three-time defending Canadian champs Toronto FC, who have lifted the trophy a record seven times.

The return leg will be played next Wednesday at Toronto’s BMO Field. The winner of the home and away aggregate series will represent Canada in next year’s CONCACAF Champions League.

It is the third meeting between Toronto and Montreal in a Canadian Championship final, with each team winning once before.

The last two months have looked very different for the Impact and TFC in Major League Soccer play.

An awful 2-9-1 slump has Montreal sitting eighth in the Eastern Conference and on the verge of missing the playoffs for the third consecutive season, while Toronto is undefeated in its last nine games (5-0-4).

But it was Wilmer Cabrera’s men who completely dominated the first half of play at Saputo Stadium.

Chance after chance came to nothing in the first quarter hour until Piatti got the breakthrough from distance in the 18th minute. The Argentine, fully recovered from a recent adductor injury, one-touched a ball from Saphir Taider and fired a rocket into the back of the net from 25 yards out.

Toronto’s only real opportunity of the half belonged to Jacob Shaffelburg, from Port Williams, N.S., whose volley from inside the penalty required Diop to make a dramatic one-handed outstretched save.

TFC coach Greg Vanney added firepower for the second half, subbing leading scorers Alejandro Pozuelo and Jozy Altidore into the game.

The visitors controlled more of the ball in the second half but Montreal came closest to scoring again.

A wide-open Piatti nearly got on the end of a Taider free kick in the box in the 52nd minute. On the very next play, winger Lassi Lappalainen lobbed a ball over Bono from a few yards out but his shot went just wide.

On a counter attack in the 73rd, Maximiliano Urruti accidentally got in the way of Taider’s shot on goal.

The Impact need a win, a draw, or a one-goal defeat in which they score a goal in the second leg in order to hoist the Voyageurs Cup.

Montreal is now undefeated at home in the Canadian Championship in 14 consecutive matches (9-0-5) dating back to April 2011.

The Impact punched their ticket to the final by defeating Calgary’s Cavalry FC 3-1 on aggregate in the semifinal while Toronto easily downed the Ottawa Fury 5-0.

Notes: Canadian tennis star Bianca Andreescu was in attendance at Saputo Stadium, where there was a total 10,803 fans. … Previously injured players Justin Morrow (quad strain) and Nick DeLeon (hernia) were both in Toronto’s starting lineup.

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