TORONTO – A fourth-straight final.
Toronto FC earned themselves a spot in the 2019 Canadian Championship final with a 3-0 win over Ottawa Fury FC at BMO Field on Wednesday night, advancing 5-0 on aggregate.
Nick DeLeon opened the scoring after 14 minutes, sweeping in Richie Laryea's square ball. Patrick Mullins added a second in the 37th minute, side-footing in a ball from DeLeon after he pounced on the second phase of a corner kick, and DeLeon himself added the third two minutes later to quell any hopes of an Ottawa comeback.
“When you draw up how you hope it goes, that was it,” said Greg Vanney post-match. “Come out with a good start, be professional, set the tempo and the mode for game and try to get some early goals.”
“It was a professional performance from the guys,” continued Vanney. “Keep the zero – that's two games in the Canadian Championship where we keep a shutout, so I like that. I was pleased. Now we turn our attention to the league for a while and we'll come back and revisit this in a month.”
In goal, Alex Bono made four saves, backstopping his team to 180 minutes of shutout soccer in the cup.
“We defended, by and large, really well today. Bagging a couple early goals really helped us out a lot, made it easier that we weren't having to fight off their offensives for 90 minutes,” said Bono. “That Ottawa team can be a handful at times. For us to keep a shutout against them, we take pride in that. Those are the kinds of performances you need to win a tournament like this.”
Back from a knock that kept him out of the match against Orlando City SC on the weekend, DeLeon was the driving force in the first half.
“He was excellent, looked fresh, quick. Just at a different level,” observed Vanney. “When you see him out there tonight, you realized we missed him on the weekend. He was sharp: getting a couple goals and an assist. He didn't know what a brace was – just so you guys know and can give him a hard time if you see him – we had to explain it to him.”
Echoed Bono: “His work rate, his quick feet, his ability to get around defenders and to score.”
“He's a big boost of energy for us,” continued the goalkeeper. “A really exciting player, so to get him back from injury, have him feeling good is great for our team going forward.”
“You'll have to ask him, but I'm not sure how many times he's scored multiple goals in one game,” ribbed Bono. “He heard the word 'brace' and he was like, 'What's that? I just took that off my knee'.”
“That spread pretty fast,” grinned DeLeon, laughing when asked if he had another in his pocket: “We'll see about that.”
Erickson Gallardo, who made his debut off the bench in the first leg, put in a full 90 minutes.
“I liked it,” said Vanney of the Venezuelan's performance. “He's dynamic and explosive, you see how quickly he can get to top speed, he got some great crosses off. He needs to play a bit to get connected to the group, get a feel for everything in the flow of game.”
And 19-year-old midfielder Noble Okello made his first team debut, coming on at half-time for Jonathan Osorio.
“It felt good,” said Okello. “I've been at the club since I was 12-years-old, so it felt good to finally get my chance and play for the first team.”
“[Vanney] told me to be confident and play my game,” relayed the teenager of his coach's message before entering. “I tried to do that and work hard.”
Bono, in particular, was pleased to see Okello get his chance.
“Such a good kid, hard-working. He's got a ton of ability, great frame. For him to come out and play some solid minutes for us was exciting for me to see,” said Bono. “It's going to be cool to see him grow because with the right work ethic and the right guidance he could have a really bright future.”
With Ottawa dispatched, Toronto, who have lifted the last three editions of the Voyageurs Cup, will compete for a fourth next month with the away leg on September 18 and the home one on September 25.
“We know the importance of it,” stressed Bono. “A lot of the guys in this locker room have felt that joy of winning a Canadian Championship, so to have another crack at it, to go back to the finals, is exciting. No matter who we face we know it will be a difficult task with a trophy on the line. We've got a little while until then, but we'll be focused.”
The other semi-final was just beginning while TFC spoke, but within hours it was known that the Montreal Impact, who had taken the first leg over Cavalry FC by a 2-1 scoreline at home, would be the opposition following a 1-0 win at Spruce Meadows in Calgary.
So, they meet again.
“It's great,” said Vanney on Thursday. “Any time you have a rivalry game in a meaningful competition it raises the stakes a lot. It should be exciting. It's good for the game, good for the fans, and hopefully we can come out on top.”
Toronto and Montreal will meet in league play at BMO Field later this month, but the promise of two more encounters is mouthwatering: there have been some epic ones in the past.
“Big games; fun games. Not a whole lot needs to be said: trophy on the line, Champions League berth,” said Michael Bradley. “Two more Toronto-Montreal games. Should be a fun week.”
Until then attention turns to MLS play with an away date against Columbus Crew SC set for Saturday. TFC are aiming to have the boost from cup action translate into the league.
“We've got to use the momentum,” urged DeLeon. “It's important to get a fast start and stay tuned in for 90 minutes. Getting the shutout today was a good result for the team. We've got to use that going forward. We don't have a problem creating opportunities, it's finishing them. We need to be more clinical against Columbus and we can get the job done.”