TORONTO – Amidst a season of ups and downs, a recent string of results has Toronto FC believing in the power of three.
The Reds advanced to the final of the Canadian Championship on Wednesday day with a 3-0 win over Ottawa Fury FC at BMO Field, furthering their aim of lifting a third-straight Voyageurs Cup with a 4-0 aggregate win over their Ontario rivals.
Thanks to a trio of goals from three Canadians, TFC now boast a three-game winning streak in all competitions.
“First and foremost, we're happy to get through,” said Greg Vanney post-match. “Ottawa have been a very organized group, difficult to break down. [And] pleased that we had three Canadians score tonight. That's always a nice thing in the Canadian Championship to have those guys front and centre.”
“The objective tonight was to get through, to get to the championship of this tournament. We're pleased to do that,” continued Vanney. “And we were able to rest some guys for the weekend as well. We wish [Ottawa] well through the rest of their season. They've got a good group, good coach; were challenging to play against.”
Ayo Akinola opened the scoring in the 36th minute, finishing at the left-post after Liam Fraser's lovely long ball was directed towards goal by a sliding Ryan Telfer. Jeremy Gagnon-Lapare cleared the slow-rolling touch off the line, but Akinola was on hand to tidy up the loose ball.
“Good performances from our young guys,” heralded Vanney. “Ayo, strong, shows his capabilities against professional players. That's fantastic.”
“Another young player, Canadian player, who shows a ton of potential,” added Vanney. “Just 18-years-old. He shows a physical presence in these games, to be able to compete with big centre-backs, be strong and hold the ball, runs hard in the box; be able to turn in between lines and still keep the game moving forward. That shows a lot of confidence.”
“He's one of our young guys that we're proud of,” continued Vanney. “With every game he shows his competency and growth. It was great for him to get his first goal. [For] all goal-scorers, it's nice to get on the board, get yourself moving in the right direction. Very happy for him, a kid who is coming along and has a bright future.”
For Akinola, making his home debut with the first team having featured off the bench in a pair of league matches and getting his first start in the away leg in Ottawa, the goal came with some relief.
“Finally,” smiled Akinola. “I was in the right place at the right time. I want more. I strive for more; that's what I'm aiming to do.”
“A proud moment for myself, friends and family,” added Akinola, who had his mother, brother, and several others in attendance. “Now, many more to come.”
And that it came playing alongside Jozy Altidore for the first time, added a little extra.
“I've always watched Jozy: at the World Cup, with TFC,” said Akinola. “[Someone I] admire. Very honoured to play with him tonight.”
Two years ago, it was Jordan Hamilton bagging his first senior goal in the competition.
“I'm happy for him to have his first goal,” said Hamilton of Akinola's night. “He loves contact. I'm sure you guys can see: he'll throw his body in front of anything. Keep working hard, training hard and he'll get more chances. Hopefully we can be together on the field one day as the two main forwards.”
Hamilton himself then sealed the result in the 76th minute, touching in a delicious left-sided Ashtone Morgan delivery.
“The play before, Ash had the same position and I saw the ball that he put in,” explained Hamilton. “He told me that was what he wants. Then five minutes later, I made the run and he put [it] on a platter. It made my job easy, it was a good team goal.”
And Jonathan Osorio added the cherry on top with a sumptuous finish, kissing his blast off the underside of the bar in the 84th minute.
The CanCon was in full effect on all three goals.
“It always feels good to play in the Canadian Championship,” said Hamilton. “It's where I got my first professional start, it's something I take pride in.”
Added Fraser: “Any time I represent this club and this city is something I really look forward to; something I really take pride in; the other Canadians do as well. The tournament means a lot to us.”
Much as for the young Canadians, this competition is a proving ground for the club as well, their pathway to earning a spot in the Concacaf Champions League.
“It's something we go for every year,” said Hamilton. “We want to prove ourselves as the best on the continent. You start here, qualify for the Champions League and then take it from there. To be on a three-win streak at this point is important. The guys are happy; we have to keep it going.”
It has been reinvigorating.
“You can tell the guys are getting behind it,” said Fraser. “The momentum is what we wanted, what we were looking for. It's massive. We'll look to build off that.”
That Toronto were able to both take care of business, but also cast an eye forward to Saturday's home match against the Chicago Fire only bolsters their ambitions.
Several players were held in reserve – Michael Bradley, Sebastian Giovinco, and Osorio were on the bench – while those still building match sharpness got a solid run without being over worked.
“[It was] good to get Chris [Mavinga] and Jozy some more minutes. We're trying to build their fitness as we continue forward,” said Vanney. “Jozy was set for 45 no matter what. Chris, we kept him out a little longer, he looked as professional as anyone on the field tonight.”
“Justin [Morrow] ended up playing a little longer, but we moved him into a centre-back role, so he wasn't having to get up and down on the outside. And Marky gave us some minutes,” continued Vanney. “Those two didn't play in the first leg much, so they were due a few minutes.”
“All in all we were able to get some guys out there,” added Vanney. “We're starting get guys back, our depth is starting to come around again, so we were able to put a good mixture of guys out there and still look ahead to this weekend, an important game against Chicago, as well.”