Toronto FC

Toronto FC triumphs 3-0 against CS Saint-Laurent: "It’s a magical night” 


It was a proper cup night in Montréal.

Toronto FC defeated CS Saint-Laurent 3-0 at Complexe sportif Claude-Robillard on Wednesday evening to take a commanding lead in the first leg of their Canadian Championship quarterfinal series.

Following a hard-fought, scoreless first half, Matty Longstaff broke the deadlock in the 50th minute with a fierce right-footed shot into the top corner from a Cassius Mailula layoff. Deandre Kerr added a second nine minutes later, latching onto a long pass from Deybi Flores and holding off a defender before slotting a low shot in off the post. And Federico Bernardeschi sealed the result in the 76th minute when his quickly taken free-kick caught Saint-Laurent unprepared.

The return leg will be played at BMO Field on May 21.

John Herdman was full of praise for the semi-professional opponents post-match.

“What a performance by Saint-Laurent, they were outstanding tonight,” he hailed. “Hell of an atmosphere. Loved it, it felt like a proper cup match. 6000 tickets sold. A lot for Saint-Laurent to be proud of tonight.”

“They pushed us, they pushed us hard,” Herdman continued. “What I'm happy about is clean-sheet – that was one of the missions tonight, a professional performance, no injuries, and we got out of here. Tough night, tough night, cup match; everything you expected it to be.”

The sides traded chances through the opening 45 minutes, fully aware that the first goal would be crucial on the night. The longer it remained scoreless the more it favoured the home side – deny that precious away goal, aim to take a lead into the second leg.

Herdman’s half-time message was simple.

“Just be patient. Be patient,” he urged. “There were a few things tactically. There was a bit of a gap opening on our right-hand side. They did a hell of a job posting up against [Kosi] Thompson and the wing-back running off Kobe [Franklin] – they got in behind us three times on that side.”

“We tried to clean that up and just solidify, and then there was opportunities on that left side to roll out the midfielders and create that overload. We knew if we did more work on the left, the right would open up; that's where we felt we had our biggest threat tonight,” Herdman recounted. “It paid off, but at the same time, the message was just be calm, be patient.”

“It's a cup game,” he added. “They are bringing everything they’ve got, you’ve absorbed everything they’ve got at the moment, and our quality will come through.”

A trio of changes after the break saw Toronto look to put those instructions into practice.

Longstaff’s opener came from just such a move: a cross-field ball from Kevin Long was touched in-field by Franklin from the right touch-line to the Englishman, who spotted the diagonal run of Mailula into the area. Longstaff followed his clipped ball into the box and received the return from the South African, wellying it into the top corner, short-side, TFC drawing first blood.

As the rain continued to fall, the match was at a crossroads, Toronto looking to add to their advantage, Saint-Laurent looking for an equalizer. Something had to give.

In delicate moments little things turn big, seconds prove vital, fate swings.

A ball kicks off the heels of Alonso Coello, Saint-Laurent’s Loïc Kwemi collects, his shot takes a bounce off Coello and hits the arm of Aimé Mabika, the home bench erupts in protest, Flores plays a long exit ball to spring Kerr and Toronto score.

12 seconds from handball shout to 2-0 down. The game can be cruel.

“They deserved something tonight,” said Herdman post-match. “Everyone has seen they deserved something out of that game. A goal, two goals probably, the scoreline could have been a lot closer.”

Even after Bernardeschi cheekily added the third there was no quit in Saint-Laurent, they never bunkered, they went toe-to-toe with the eight-time Voyageur’s Cup winners and never waived.

“We expected an open game. They had a very deliberate style that involved really utilizing their strengths. The coaching staff did a great job,” hailed Herdman. “They knew exactly where their strengths would be and they were brilliant at exploiting that right-hand side of ours through some clever little tactics, that up back and through rhythm. You can't defend against that. Your timing has got to be right and if they have rehearsed it more than you've rehearsed it then you're going to suffer.”

“They did a great job tonight. They were brilliant. They were brilliant against Halifax [HFX Wanderers FC],” he continued. “They never give up, Right at the end, they probably could have scored one or two to get back into the game, so I just tip my hat to them.”

“It will be different in Toronto. It will be very different there,” Herdman anticipated. “But tonight, hats off to them. ‘Great job’ to their coaching team and their lads can hold their heads high.”

Cup games on this sort are a gut check for Goliath.

Herdman had a particular 2019 FA Cup match on his mind.

“I was telling the lads, I watched the Newport County game versus Man City in the FA Cup and they were held scoreless at Newport [to half-time],” he recalled. “[I was] just saying to the lads, ‘Anything happens on these nights.’ You might get a lad, put his hand up, score a hat-trick, and it’s the best game of his life, you just never know.”

“All we can do is be disciplined, recognize the clean-sheet was really important, and then take our moments,” Herdman continued. “A couple of our lads were really on the ball tonight with that. Mabika was really solid back there and Kerr, we knew he would get one or two chances, and he was clinical.”

Manchester City would go on to win the treble that season.

“All in all, it’s a magical night,” he added. “We got here last night, we seen the pitch, we knew it wasn't going to be a game you were going to be able to put an expansive brand of football on. It's a 64-metre pitch and then we turn up in the wind and the rain, and you're like, ‘It's a proper cup night, lads. Anything is going to go. Just stay in the fight. Keep fighting. Stick together and we'll get through.’”

“And,” Herdman closed. “Thankfully, we did.”