TFC defeat Whitecaps, capture 3rd straight Canadian Championship

Sportsnet’s chief soccer reporter John Molinaro joins The Jeff Blair Show to discuss Toronto FC’s road to the playoffs.

• Vancouver Whitecaps 2 (Kamara 63’, Shea 77’), Toronto FC 5 (Altidore ’39, 49’, 53’; Giovinco 44’; Ricketts 80’)
• TFC wins 7th Canadian Championship, 3rd in a row
• Toronto qualifies for CONCACAF Champions League

TORONTO – The winners and still champions of Canada, Toronto FC.

Jozy Altidore bagged a hat trick, and Sebastian Giovinco and Tosaint Ricketts also scored, as TFC hammered the Vancouver Whitecaps 5-2 on Wednesday to clinch a third consecutive Canadian Championship in convincing fashion..

The Reds won the two-legged final 7-4 on aggregate, having battled the Whitecaps to a 2-2 draw in last week’s opener in Vancouver.

After the final whistle, Toronto captain Michael Bradley hoisted the Voyageurs Cup trophy as fans vociferously cheered the team on and confetti rained down on the players. It was a rare celebratory scene inside BMO Field this year for a Toronto side that has had quite the fall since being crowned MLS Cup champs last December. Winning another Canadian championship will provide some relief for TFC, who have struggled in MLS this season and are in serious danger of failing to qualify for the playoffs.

“Tonight was an important night in our season. League wise, we haven’t been able to take off that way we wanted to. That’s one of the reasons why tonight was even more important. It was a final, but it was also for us an important night to win a championship, to get that back under our belt, to use this as a way to build confidence and momentum down this final stretch [of the MLS season],” Toronto coach Greg Vanney said.

Rickets is hopeful TFC can use this victory as a springboard to success in MLS during the final 11 games of the campaign.

“Now our main objective is MLS, and pushing for that playoff spot. We have to remain focused and pick up points along the away,” Ricketts offered.

In addition to being crowned Canadian champions for a seventh time, TFC also earned an automatic berth in the 2019 CONCACAF Champions League as Canada’s lone representative by virtue of winning the Canadian Championship. Toronto came up heartbreakingly short in the 2018 Champions League final back in April, losing to Mexican club Chivas in a penalty shootout in the decisive second leg in Guadalajara.

“This is our ticket back into the Champions League, which is still very much on everybody’s mind,” said Bradley, who added the team has unfinished business to take care of in the CONCACAF competition.

Toronto native Jonathan Osorio capped off a special night – Wednesday marked a record 200th appearance for TFC in all competitions – by being named the tournament MVP.

“Having a [soccer] career, it goes by so fast. It’s crazy that it’s already been 200 games. It’s a blessing, it’s everything I dreamed of as a kid, it’s everything I worked for,” Osorio said.

“People closest to me know how hard I’ve worked for this, and how I hard I want to work to play in 200 more. It’s a great feeling to win a championship on my 200th game. You can’t ask for more.”

Like Toronto, Vancouver is currently on the outside looking in when it comes to the MLS playoff race, and will no doubt be cursing the fact that it has now finished runners-up at this tournament a record nine times, with its lone title coming in 2015.

TFC officials said Altidore was feeling sick after the game. The hat-trick hero did not speak to reporters.

Both teams were missing key starters on Wednesday night. Vancouver was without midfielder Felipe due to suspension, while fullback Auro Jr (hamstring) was out for Toronto. Midfielder Victor Vazquez was originally named to TFC’s starting line-up, but he was forced to withdraw with a sore knee, and was replaced by Marky Delgado.

Alphonso Davies, the Whitecaps’ star attacker who will join Bayern Munich after the MLS season, shook off a groin injury to start for Vancouver. But the 17-year-old Canadian had a quiet night, and didn’t have a meaningful impact.

Even though the Reds had the benefit of two road goals, they didn’t sit back, and went for it right form the opening kickoff. Vancouver proved to be tough to break down at first, staying organized and compact in its defending. Eventually, though, the Reds managed to find a way through.

A flowing, tic-tac-toe passing sequence saw Delgado deliver a gorgeous back-heeled ball into the path of Altidore who slotted it through the legs of Whitecaps goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic.

Minutes later, Vancouver defender Kendall Waston was caught in possession, and Toronto quickly countered, with Delgado shifting the ball out wide. Osorio delivered a pinpoint cross into the box for Giovinco who headed it past Marinovic just before halftime.

The MLS Cup champs put the game out of reach early in the second half. Altidore banged home a low cross from Giovinco played deep into the box from the right wing, and minutes later he nodded a corner kick from the Italian inside the far post.

Kei Kamara fired past Toronto goalkeeper Clint Irwin after being sent in alone on goal by teammate Russell Teibert. Brek Shea added another goal for the Whitecaps, scoring from in close after some slack defending from the Reds inside their penalty area.

Regular service was restored for Toronto when Rickets scored just two minutes after entering the game as a substitute, as the Canadian connected on a header off a Bradley free kick that nestled into the back of the net.

NOTES: The Voyageurs Cup 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… TFC returns to MLS action on Saturday with a road game versus the San Jose Earthquakes. Vancouver hosts the New York Red Bulls on the same day…

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