TFC, Impact rivalry not cooling down anytime soon


Toronto FC defender Drew Moor, left, knocks the ball away from Montreal Impact midfielder Ignacio Piatti during first half of the first leg of the Canadian Championship soccer final action, in Montreal on Wednesday, June 21, 2017. (Paul Chiasson/CP)

Toronto FC 1 (Altidore 30’), Montreal Impact 1 (Mancosu 19’)
• TFC nets valuable road goal in 1st leg of Canadian Championship final
• Impact need to score in next week’s return match in Toronto

MONTREAL – The “unfriendly rivalry” between Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact continues unabated, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to cool down anytime soon.

Another chapter in the heated feud between these Canadian rivals was written on Wednesday night, with TFC escaping Stade Saputo with a 1-1 draw in the first leg of the Canadian Championship final after Impact playmaker Ignacio Piatti failed to convert a second-half penalty shot.

With a valuable road goal, Toronto is in control of this two-game aggregate series. A TFC win or a 0-0 draw in the second leg at BMO Field next Tuesday would see the Reds repeat as Canadian champions and hoist the Voyageurs Cup. Montreal needs to score at least one goal, and quite possibly win in Toronto, in order to claim its first Canadian Championship since 2014.

Wednesday’s tilt marked the first meeting between these sides since last November’s epic Eastern Conference final, heralded as one the best playoff series in MLS history. An “unfriendly rivalry” is how TFC coach Greg Vanney described it earlier this week, and there was evidence of that on this night. No nasty or dirty tackles, but plenty of animosity, and players squaring up against one another, with TFC’s Jozy Altidore and Marco Donadel of Montreal most notably getting in each other’s face.

The intensity of the game, and the rivalry at large, was not lost on both coaches on this perfect summer night.

“I don’t think either team wants to give an inch in this rivalry … Whenever two rivals play each other in meaningful matches where there’s emotion involved, it adds to the storyline and it continues to build,” Vanney offered.

“It’s a rivalry, for sure. We’re going to go into Toronto with [a sellout crowd] and try to spoil the party,” Montreal coach Mauro Biello promised.

With an MLS match to play in less than 48 hours, Vanney fielded a surprisingly strong lineup that included two of his three designated players in Altidore and captain Michael Bradley (he’s suspended for Friday’s match), and all three of his current starting defenders (Drew Moor, Eriq Zavaleta and Chris Mavinga).


Likewise, Biello held little back in trotting out a starting 11 that featured DPs Piatti and Blerim Dzemaili, Italian forward Matteo Mancosu, and Canadian midfielder Patrice Bernier.

A fairly open first half, littered with a few contentious moments, saw TFC control the pace with their possession game, while the Impact sat back and effectively hit out on the counter-attack.

Toronto goalkeeper Clint Irwin was called into action when he tipped Laurent Ciman’s knuckle ball of a shot from 40 yards out over the crossbar. On the ensuing corner kick, the ball eventually fell to Donadel, and Irwin couldn’t handle the Italian’s long-range effort. Mancosu caught TFC’s defence ball-watching and he headed the rebound home past a helpless Irwin.

Mavinga came to Irwin’s rescue when he made a great recovery run and an even better tackle on Piatti inside the box after the Argentine was played in on goal via a fabulous through ball from Dzemaili.

Tensions boiled over when Altidore scored off a pass from Canadian Raheem Edwards, slipping a shot underneath Impact goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau. In the build-up, Ciman clattered into teammate Daniel Lovitz (a former Toronto player) who dropped to the ground in agony inside the penalty area. The referee didn’t stop the action, and TFC rightly played on, much to the outrage of Impact players, before Altidore equalized. Lovitz injured his knee on the play and was replaced by Hassoun Camara.

Biello was miffed not only at referee Silviu Petrescu for allowing play to continue, but also at Toronto for not kicking the ball into touch so Lovitz could get examined by the trainer.

“In the end, that’s the choice they made, and if [we’re in that same situation] we know how we’re going to react,” Biello warned.

Vanney defended his players, saying they were under no obligation to stop playing. He even went so far as to say he wasn’t sure his players even saw Lovitz down on the ground, which, of course, Biello balked at when told of his counterpart’s comments.

Early in the second half, Piatti ran onto a pass played over top of TFC’s defence, and broke in on goal before being brought down by Irwin. It was a poor play by Irwin, but he was given a reprieve when Piatti ballooned his penalty shot high into the West Stand. Irwin redeemed himself somewhat when he made a save at the back post to deny Camara moments later.

Vanney subbed in attacking reinforcements in the 62nd minute when he introduced Sebastian Giovinco and Victor Vazquez at the expense of Canadians Jordan Hamilton and Jonathan Osorio. It was a bold move by Vanney, a clear indication of his intent to go for the win on the road. But Ciman and his defensive cohorts kept the dangerous attacking duo in check. Crepeau parried away Altidore’s angled shot in the 78th minute, the Reds’ last quality scoring chance of the contest.

Irwin denied Ciman late in the regulation, tipping the Belgian’s dangerous free kick out over the crossbar.

NOTES: Toronto returns to MLS action on Friday when it hosts the New England Revolution. Montreal visits the Columbus Crew the next day… If TFC win this year’s Canadian Championship, they will qualify for next season’s CONCACAF Champions League. If the Impact win, Toronto will host Montreal in a one-game playoff in August to decide who advances to the CONACAF competition…

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