Voyageurs Cup a rare chance of Whitecaps’ Tornaghi to shine

Vancouver-Whitecaps;-Paolo-Tornaghi;-MLS

Goalkeeper Paolo Tornaghi in action for the Whitecaps. (Darryl Dyck/CP)

TORONTO—The Vancouver Whitecaps may have fallen to Toronto FC 1–0 in the first leg of the Amway Canadian Championship final on Tuesday evening, but Paolo Tornaghi was all smiles after the loss.

The reason? For one, the Italian goalkeeper was celebrating his 28th birthday. And although he’d conceded the lone goal of the game—a right-footed strike from countryman Sebastian Giovinco that deflected off Vancouver central defender Kendall Waston in the 43rd minute—he was satisfied with his performance, and thrilled to be playing.

“It’s a good feeling. I’m happy,” Tornaghi said. “I don’t have many chances to play, so I had the chance to celebrate my birthday and play in a game—that is the thing I like the most.”

“That is good,” he added of the opportunity to play, emphasizing “good” in a way that made him look like he might bring his fingers to his mouth as one would to celebrate something extraordinarily tasty.

Since joining the Whitecaps in February of 2014, Tornaghi has yet to make a single appearance for the club in a Major League Soccer match. He’s in the unfortunate—for him, at least—situation of being blocked by one of the league’s most outstanding ’keepers, 31-year-old David Ousted.

The Voyageurs Cup, then, is a rare chance for Tornaghi to take the spotlight. And on Tuesday night, he relished those minutes and delivered—making a string of crucial saves in the second half.

“It’s my job to try to save that kind of situation—the other team is attacking, and maybe your teammates are a little bit tired at the end of the game,” Tornaghi said. “The goalie has to come up, and I was ready to do my job.”

The Whitecaps had been the stronger, livelier side in the first half; Toronto looked sluggish. Vancouver was unlucky, then, to concede that clumsy goal right before the break—coach Carl Robinson said it was “sick to give up a goal right before halftime.”

Still, Tornaghi wasn’t dwelling on it.

“We had a laugh at the end of the game,” he said, explaining that he’d joked to Giovinco—whom he’s known a long time—that it had been a lucky little break for the Toronto forward.

“Of course, because Toronto didn’t have many chances, clear chances on the goal, to concede around 40 minutes for a deflection, it always hurts,” Tornaghi said. “I was going for the ball on my right, and then the deflection put the ball on my left. So that’s when you feel unlucky.”

Tornaghi expressed his confidence heading into the second leg, which goes on June 29 at BC Place.

“1–0 is a result that still opens the game,” he said. “We have another 90 minutes.”

Midfielder Russell Teibert, who made his 16th appearance in the Canadian Championship, a new record, echoed Tornaghi’s hopes. “We know we can bounce back,” he said.

Teibert, who wore the captain’s armband in the second half—“I wear that armband with a lot of pride,” he remarked—had nothing but praise for Tornaghi, who kept Toronto’s advantage to a minimum by denying the team a second goal, even while facing an onslaught from a home side determined to improve on their lead (he drew more than one “Yeahhhh—ughhhhhh!” from TFC fans as a result).

“Paolo’s one of the best teammates, if not the best teammate, I’ve ever had,” Teibert said. “He’s always supporting the team whether he’s playing or not, and he doesn’t get too many chances, but when he does he always steps up to the occasion, just like he did tonight.”

In the second leg of last year’s final, Robinson opted to use Ousted. It was, he later explained, a decision based on urgency—the team had never won the Voyageurs Cup, and Robinson wanted his most experienced men on the field.

This year, with Vancouver as reigning champions, there’s still a sense of urgency, but it’s propelled by a desire to defend the Cup rather than prove something. Robinson has shown his faith in Tornaghi, and it’s hard to imagine that the Italian won’t get the opportunity to start the do-or-die championship game he missed out on last time around.

“At the end of the day the coach will make his decision, and he always makes the decision for the best of the team,” Tornaghi said. “So I won’t complain. But I hope to play. I really want to play.”

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