The 1st leg of the Amway Canadian Championship final was played at BC Place Stadium last night. Three time defending champions Toronto FC came to town to face the Vancouver Whitecaps. Toronto scored half way through the second half and the Whitecaps equalized late in stoppage time to tie the game 1-1 thanks to the late game heroics of Eric Hassli. Toronto may have an away goal advantage but Vancouver has the momentum thanks to Hassli. The Whitecaps have never won the Amway Canadian Championship but that could all change next Wednesday in Toronto when these two teams play at BMO Field (5pm pt/8pm et) in the 2nd leg of this final.
Toronto FC have an 0-8 record in MLS this season but somehow managed to knock out the Montreal Impact 2-0 in there semifinal two game leg early this month. Toronto has given up 18 goals this season in MLS play and sit dead last in the league. Although the Whitecaps have never won anything in their two years of MLS existence they are clearly the better team on paper. The Whitecaps are 4th in the Western Conference with a 5-3-2 record. The Whitecaps have played excellent defense this season and have surrendered only 11 goals in 10 games. With that nugget of information you might have expected to see the Whitecaps win easily by a score of 2-0 or 3-0. This was simply not the case. Toronto FC shut the door defensively and the Whitecaps could hardly muster any offense. The way the Vancouver Whitecaps were playing on offense you might have thought they were facing a back line that featured Zambrotta, Cannavaro, Nesta, and Chiellini.
The first half was played like a violin putting you to sleep after a long day of work. Since Toronto FC have a horrible time scoring goals this season Toronto tried to close the door and limit the Whitecaps offensively. Camilo had some great runs early on but couldn’t score on any of his weak attempts on goal. Vancouver carried the play but was unable to put the ball past Toronto FC goalie Milos Kocic. Toronto was pleased to sit back and play a calm, and cautious first half. If you wanted to see a glimmer of offense that came in the dying moments of the opening forty-five. Toronto FC midfielder Ryan Johnson connected on a cross to produce a great attempt on goal. However Whitecaps goalie Joe Cannon dove across his net to make a wonderful save. Just one minute later Sebastien Le Toux broke down the wing and fired a rocket on goal that was turned aside by the left hand of Toronto FC goalie Milos Kocic.
The second half started off much the same way the first half did. Toronto was content to keep the game scoreless and the Whitecaps looked for that all important goal to give them an advantage heading to Toronto next Wednesday. The Whitecaps ball control and run of play back fired on them in the 66th minute. Toronto FC opened the scoring thanks to a lovely cross by Julian De Guzman. De Guzman curled the ball towards the Whitecaps net from just outside the box. Ryan Johnson jumped over Whitecaps defender Martin Bonjour to head the ball past Joe Cannon.
Joe Cannon made 5 saves and his biggest came in the 85th minute with his team trailing by one goal. Toronto FC substitute Nick Soolsma received a beautiful pass from Ryan Johnson and cut in on goal. Cannon came across to get his leg on the ball to give the Whitecaps a chance to even up the score. Whitecaps captain Jay DeMerit talked about the importance of Cannon’s key save. “It’s huge. We’ve said all a long your goalie although he doesn’t have to make a lot of saves a game he needs to make the big ones to keep you in it. That’s what good goalkeepers do and Joe did that again for us tonight.”
Vancouver Whitecaps Coach Martin Rennie has been superb in his substitution selections of late. Eric Hassli, Darren Mattocks, and Davide Chiumiento have all made huge contributions coming off the bench for the Whitecaps this season. Rennie brought on the dynamic duo of Eric Hassli and Davide Chiumiento to rescue the Whitecaps from defeat. Chiumiento had assisted on the last 5 Whitecaps goals and Hassli has recently scored against San Jose, FC Edmonton, and the New England Revolution. Both players have great vision, and chemistry together on the field and were instrumental in the trying goal in extra time.
As he was falling down Davide Chiumiento passed the ball to Whitecaps left back Alain Rochat. Rochat made a great cross to Eric Hassli who did all the work. Hassli one timed Rochat’s pass out of mid-air and fired a cracker to the top corner past a shocked Milos Kocic. The crowed of 14,878 roared with excitement and Hassli played hero once again. Milos Kocic played great in net and unfortunately will end up on YouTube because of Hassli’s wonder goal. Kocic talked about Hassli’s goal after the game. “I haven’t seen any goals like that in my life. It’s one of the best goals I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately it’s against me but what are you going to do.”
Notes: Vancouver native, and former Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder, Terry Dunfield made a return to his hometown. Dunfield fell out of favour last summer and was traded to Toronto for allocation money and prospect Keven Aleman. The Whitecaps will host Seattle on Saturday May 19th, while Toronto FC play at DC United on Saturday May 19th.