Jason Bent

Academy Down After First Leg

A wonder goal from Ashtone Morgan was not enough, as Toronto FC Academy lost the first leg of their CSL Quarterfinal 2-1 against Hamilton Croatia on Wednesday evening at Centennial Stadium.

The visitors asserted early pressure and Aidan O’Keefe headed over the bar for Hamilton after a corner kick was swung into the box. Then in the 8th minute, TFC defender Doneil Henry had a heavy touch on the wet turf which allowed Preston Corporal an opportunity but the quick reactions of Jordan Murrell and goalkeeper Angelo Cavaluzzo prevented Corporal from punishing the Reds.

TFC began to settle into the match after an initial 20 minute period where they failed to get anything going. Morgan went on a direct slalom-type dribble past a couple of players before unleashing a shot that Melford James did well to save. Jonathan Lao was up next to try his luck when he collected a second ball at the top of the box and fired a shot that the James was forced to save high.

Referee J. Tasov was at the centre of attention when Josh Janniere played a delightful through ball for Tristan Jackman who got to the end of it and went around the goalkeeper. It was clear that James then brought Jackman down, but the referee failed to point to the spot and instead awarded a goal kick.

That moment proved decisive as Hamilton Croatia took the lead in the 32nd minute. Corporal was on the receiving end of a lovely weighted through ball to get in behind the TFC backline and calmly passed it into the net beyond Cavaluzzo, who rushed out to cut down the angle. Hamilton went up 1-0.

TFC responded with a chance at the 36th minute. Morgan dribbled in field past a defender and found Lao in space while continuing his run. Lao played a return ball to Morgan, his right footed shot off the post behind an advanced James. The teams went into intermission with Hamilton leading, but with encouraging signs from the Academy.

Coach Jason Bent remarked on the opening half saying, "Tonight in the first we were very timid in our play and I think the boys allowed the occasion to stifle their football. It wasn’t until they scored their goal that we settled down and passed the ball with more accuracy and purpose."

Toronto started brightly in the second half and it paid dividends. At the 51st minute Morgan, who had been in fantastic form, picked the ball up from half and dribbled towards goal before unleashing a left footed shot from 40-yards. It was a remarkable effort that nobody in the stadium expected as the ball picked out the top left of corner of goal behind an outstretched James in the Hamilton net. It was a goal of the year caliber strike from the Toronto left fullback leaving the team and Toronto FC supporters celebrating enthusiastically.

Morgan tried his luck again from similar distance shortly thereafter, but this time James was able to get his body behind the ball and parry it off the wet surface.

The game was going back-and-forth during which Cavaluzzo kept Hamilton from taking the lead at the 66th minute. The Toronto keeper acrobatically pushed Corporal's header onto the crossbar and received some deserved good luck, when O'Keefe missed a sitter on the rebound.

As events continued to unfold in a very tense playoff match, TFC Academy created their best chance to take the lead. In the 79th minute Oscar Cordon’s very direct dribble at the heart of the Hamilton defence forced Jamie Dodds to bring him down in the box and referee Tasev had no choice but to point to the penalty spot.

Up stepped Keith Makubuya from 12 yards but his low shot was saved by James in goal in what was surely the turning point of the match.

That missed opportunity became pivotal as Hamilton Croatia went on and got the winner at the 84th minute when a wide free kick found an unmarked Ivan Razumovic, who had the simple task of redirecting a free header into goal past a helpless Cavaluzzo.

TFC created one last opportunity to level in the last minute of the match when Janniere received a pass in space at the top of the box but his effort from 20-yards flew over the crossbar and the referee blew the fulltime whistle .

Despite the loss, Bent wasn't unhappy with the Academy performance.

"We had some very commanding performances tonight and the boys really put in a fantastic effort. In what was a good game of football I think we did enough to win the game."

The missed penalty however, turned the tide in Hamilton's favour.

"The turning point of the match was obviously the penalty kick miss in the 79th minute when the game was 1-1. The players are really down at the moment and rightfully so as they put in a tremendous amount of effort and got nothing out of that football match."

The visitors have a 2-1 lead going into the 2nd leg of a home and away quarter final series which is scheduled for Sunday October 17th at Brian Timmis Stadium in Hamilton, Ontario with kick off at 7pm.

Toronto will look to reverse the result. Bent closed by remarking, "this sport can be very cruel at times and tonight was certainly one of those occasions."