Toronto FC lost the opening leg of the 2019 Canadian Championship final 1-0 to the Montreal Impact at Stade Saputo on Wednesday night.
Familiar foe Ignacio Piatti scored the game’s only goal in the 17th minute when he found space for a shot from distance and his right-footer beat Alex Bono to the top left corner.
The win gives Montreal the advantage heading into the second leg at BMO Field next Wednesday.
“We’re halfway through,” reminded Michael Bradley post-match. “It’s not a perfect result, it’s not the result we came for, but a result that still leaves everything open going into the second game.”
“Going back to BMO for the decisive leg, we feel good about things,” continued the captain. “We know that the atmosphere will be incredible, we’ll have our fans pushing us on and we’ll be ready to go after it in a good way.”
It was a ferocious start from the Impact that saw them take the lead.
“They played a good match tonight,” said Justin Morrow. “They were well-disciplined, structured, they gave us some problems in the first half playing in between lines and Nacho gets that goal. He’s the type of player that can do that, that can hurt you.”
“We have to be aware of that coming home and just bring some energy. We’ll be playing in front of our home crowd, we’ll have the advantage there, we’re looking forward to it,” continued Morrow, making his return to the pitch following injury. “In the second half we came out strong, moved the ball a lot better, we just didn’t make any clear-cut chances for ourselves.”
There were half-chances to level.
Jacob Shaffelburg tested Impact goalkeeper Clement Diop with a stunning half-volley, on his right-foot, in the first half and TFC went to their bench at half-time, bringing on Jozy Altidore and Alejandro Pozuelo. Reinforced, they worked their way into the game, tilting play in their favour and crafting a handful of looks – a Pozuelo ball to Altidore forced a good save out of the keeper, but it was the early pressure and the Piatti strike that proved the difference.
“They were a little more aggressive than they typically are,” said Bradley. “When they lost the ball, they were looking to repress, not crazy, but more than they normally do. We expected them to come out in a strong way.”
“Things haven’t been perfect for them, we knew they would be looking to respond,” he continued. “They were able to find a little bit of control, but it wasn’t like they creating a ton of big chances. You give credit to Piatti, he scores a great goal. And then in the second half, we were able to tilt the bar and push things in a good way. Diop made some good saves. And on the night, we’re probably not quite as sharp with some advantages as we can be, but that’s football.”
For Greg Vanney, the “losses of possession were deadly.”
“Too many straight passes, they were jumping [them] and it was setting off their transitions, which was something they’ve always been good at, especially Piatti and [Lassi] Lappalainen, who is very fast on the wing,” continued Vanney. “Bojan was dropping off of the top line and playing a bit as a false 9 in the midfield, so for us it was getting that organized.”
“That led to them having a bit of possession, but what really hurt us was, in terms of the chances and the flow of the game, was just lost possessions. Lost possessions too quickly in transition; lost possessions where we forced passes,” outlined Vanney. “A little disjointed in terms of some of our positional play that we got sorted out better in the second half.”
On his return to his former club, Laurent Ciman started and made a series of vital interventions to cut out Montreal counters.
“OK, you concede a goal, but 1-0 is not a bad result,” said the veteran defender. “It’s not amazing, but be ready, fight and play like the second half and at home, for sure, you win with the fans [at your] back. I’m confident for the game.”
Returning home from an opening leg in Montreal trailing is not a new situation for TFC.
“This is only half-time of the match,” reminded Morrow. “We’ve been in this position before, we were down in the 2016 Eastern Conference final against Montreal, we were able to come back at home, so we’re confident.”
In that series, Montreal strolled to a 3-0 lead in the first half, only for Toronto to pull two back before the 90 was done. Back at BMO Field, in the rain, an epic match ensued. Tied 5-5 on aggregate after the second 90, extra time was needed where Benoit Cheyrou nodded in the winner and Tosaint Ricketts added the coup de grace for Toronto to win 5-2 on the night and take the series 7-5 on aggregate.
And if Wednesday’s match is anything like that 2016 second leg it is not one to be missed.
“We wanted to get a goal and we didn’t, but 1-0 is doable,” said Vanney. “They didn’t get away from us tonight. Now we know what the result is we have to turn around. We would have liked the get the goal, the road goal always plays an important role in this, but 1-0 is not the worst thing. Now we go home, and we know what we have to do.”
Clarity is a useful asset, so too is home field advantage.
“We always feel good when we get to take a series back to BMO, back to Toronto,” said Bradley. “The experience and the history that we have in that stadium over the last few years, playing some big games, some games we’ve had to really push, we’ve had some special nights. We’re going to go after things in a big way, trying to make another special night.”