90 minutes down; 90 more, at least, to go.
Toronto FC drew 2-2 with Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Wednesday night in the opening leg of the 2018 Canadian Championship final series at BC Place.
Kei Kamara gave the hosts the lead from the penalty spot in the 24th minute, only for Jonathan Osorio to respond with a thunderous volley two minutes later. Down a man, Whitecaps FC found a breakthrough in the 84th minute when Erik Hurtado sprung the offside trap, but a 96th minute own-goal from former TFC defender Doneil Henry saw the teams reach the halfway point level at twos.
“The score line is in our favour,” said Greg Vanney post-match. “With two road goals, that’s a decent result. We go home now with a need to win the game or keep the game in a good position for ourselves.”
“A draw is a draw, but it’s nice to get the road goals in case we need them back home,” added Vanney. “The vision of the game wasn’t necessarily the way we anticipated, but at the end of the day it’s the result that matters.”
Vancouver took the lead through Kamara, who tucked an unstoppable penalty kick past Clint Irwin after Tosaint Ricketts committed a handball from a corner kick. While Vancouver danced, Toronto plotted their response, scoring shortly after the restart when Auro Jr. laid a ball down the right-side of the area for Marky Delgado, who picked out Osorio in the middle for a well-taken volley past Stefan Marinovic.
“It was a good play,” said Osorio of his goal. “We got Marky in a good position to cross and I saw an opening. Their defence was dropping off trying to cover the goal, I made a late run to the penalty spot, and Marky put in a perfect ball. It was just about technique at that point and getting the ball in the net.”
The goal was Osorio's 15th of the 2018 season through all competitions and his sixth in the last eight matches. He has scored in all three Canadian Championship matches so far.
“These are finals; games that mean a lot,” explained Osorio of rising to the occasion. “These are the games you want to play, games you want to step up the level, so it’s not hard.”
“Every player wants to win trophies and I have a strong desire to win,” continued Osorio. “I’m willing to do whatever it takes for my team to win; doesn’t matter if its scoring goals or defensively helping a lot. For me, it doesn’t matter, [as long as] at the end of the day, I’m holding up a trophy with my teammates.”
A rash tackle from oft-villian of the piece, Felipe, who was in the middle of several incidents over the years when with the Montreal Impact, saw a red card produced that reduced Vancouver to ten men for the remainder of the match.
With Toronto unable to make the most of their numerical advantage through the second half, Vancouver would retake the lead when Hurtado timed his run to perfection, springing in on goal courtesy of a ball from Russell Teibert.
“With them being down a man and us having so much possession in the first half, we got a little bit too casual and the look of the second half became different,” explained Vanney. “Too causal on the ball; too slow in everything we were doing.”
“These are grinds,” continued Vanney. “Tough games midweek after both teams have been travelling across country. For us, it’s a set-up game; for them a really important game, their home leg.”
Then a stunning late own-goal from a former Red, Henry, under pressure from Ricketts looking to get on the end of a Jozy Altidore headed knockdown, would silence the home crowd and see Toronto return home with the score level and the away-goal advantage in hand.
“We gifted them the first goal with the handball; they gifted us the last goal with the own-goal,” said Vanney. “It’s a tough play for Doneil: the ball has been put across the face of the goal, our forward is trying to work off his back shoulder, he’s trying not let the ball get by him. It’s a tough play.”
“That’s part of the game,” continued Vanney. “When you put centre-backs in tough situations, sometimes those things happen. We’ll take it. We’ll use it when we go home.”
TFC returns home to face NYCFC on Sunday in MLS play, while Whitecaps FC make the short trip to meet the Portland Timbers on Saturday, before the second leg at BMO Field next Wednesday.
The Voyageurs Cup has a history of late action that turns the tide – Toronto has won the last two finals on stoppage-time goals – there could still be more twists in the tale. It's only half-time; there are another 90 to go. The same scoreline at BMO Field is the only scenario that would force extra time.
“When you get to the second leg, teams are desperate, the scoreline is telling you what you need to do, one team is throwing caution to the wind and anything can happen. That's what knockout series are about, what makes them interesting,” said Vanney. “Every goal matters and every play matters. You don't want to make mistakes because any one can be the difference. That's the way these things play out.”
Throughout the 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs, TFC spoke repeatedly about the value of having these decisive second legs on their territory. It is a factor that has served them well.
“We’re a very confident team at home; we can beat anybody at home,” said Osorio. “[The first leg] wasn’t the way we envisioned, wasn’t the way we planned for this game to go, but before the game, if you tell us we’d take two away goals back home, we’d take it.”
“We had a chance to win here, but it is what it is,” added Osorio. “We’ll go back home looking to close it out.”