In a clash of longtime Canadian rivals, the Montreal Impact took on Toronto FC in the first leg of the Voyageurs cup, and they emerged victorious thanks to some magic from their Argentinean #10.
Advantage Impact. The Montreal Impact came out with a convincing performance in a time of doubt to take the slight edge in the Voyageurs Cup final. Motivated by an especially boisterous home crowd, the Impact took advantage of their home fixture. Meanwhile, Toronto FC will leave fully confident in their abilities. Despite not creating that many chances, they know that the second half of the tie could go very differently on their home turf, especially considering they kept some cards halfway up their sleeve tonight.
The two sides came into this match in different form. While things have been looking up for Toronto FC of late, the Montreal Impact have suffered a couple blows to their MLS playoff hopes in the last few weeks. Supporters of the Black and Blue seemed to get the idea that a lot rests on this competition. Not only could it be their only chance at silverware, this is also qualification to the 2020 CONCACAF Champions League.
A brief history
This represents the final of the 12th edition of the Canadian Championship. In the 11 previous tournaments, Toronto has won 7 times, Montreal 3 times and Vancouver once. Despite the tournament being dominated by Canada’s two biggest cities, it’s only the third time in the current format (since 2011), that Montreal and Toronto meet in the final, having won once each.
With the arrival of the CPL this year, the tournament has been contested by a record 13 teams this. Interestingly, the final represents the first meeting between MLS clubs, as the Whitecaps bowed out early to the CPL’s Cavalry FC.
To raise the stakes, the winner of this tournament receives direct entry to the round of 16 of the Champions League, and we know that special things can happen in that tournament.
Line-ups have always been a hot topic in the Canadian Championship. How to balance a squad between MLS playoff aspirations and hopes of domestic glory? MLS coaches have usually opted to field their best lineups for league matches, but the rule has often been broken once in the final round of the Canadian Championship.
Tonight, Cabrera sent out a just about full strength Impact, while Vanney fielded a strong lineup, but left Altidore and Pozuelo out of the starting XI. The juggling isn’t over, as both teams travel to LA for MLS duties on Saturday before resuming the final next Wednesday.
Since 2017, it is a requirement that 3 players in the starting 11 must be Canadians. It ads a twist to the coaching decisions, and it’s possible that it’s what got Shome or Brault-Guillard onto the field to start this match.
The Impact came out with real purpose tonight. The front four of Bojan, Piatti, Lappalainen and Taïder were dynamic and looked potent all night. After some positive play and a chance which slid by Bojan, Piatti punched through. He picked up the ball in the 18th minute and stuck a thunderstrike into the upper corner.
The goal gave the fans what they had been asking for and they answered with their appreciation. Montreal managed to keep the upper hand for most of the half, building on their momentum. Despite a number of blue seats left unfilled, the supporters in the stadium came out in full force, and really chanted as if their season depended on it.
“We felt the continuous passion of the supporters tonight and their enthusiasm gave us wings”Zachary Brault-Guillard
Former Impact player Ciman struck a free kick with some venom near the end of the first half which forced Diop into action. Diop followed up with a spectacular stop on Shaffelburg to keep Toronto at bay. Montreal still had the advantage, but, It was that spell that gave TFC a bit more confidence, and a foothold in the match.
From an offside position, Bojan put a low shot into the far corner in the 42nd minute to put the stadium into jubilation, before the referee brought to everyone’s attention the infringement. After that chance Bojan felt some discomfort. The details and severity of the injury are not yet known, but if he is to miss the second leg it could be a big blow to the Impact.
In the second half Toronto started to have a little bit more of the ball, but despite that, Montreal probably still had the best chances. Less than ten minutes into the second half, Lappalainen was played through perfectly by Taïder. He was face to face with the keeper but only managed to volley the ball a foot wide of the far post.
Toronto probably came closest via an Altidore shot which was saved at the near post. He did well to shield off Impact defender Cabrera before quickly releasing the strike, as he has come known for doing so well. Despite getting a better hold of the match and ultimately winning the possession battle, TFC left gaps for the Impact to make some dangerous counter-attacking breaks. If the Reds are to swing things in their favour next week, they will have to play the game in different terms.
Greg Vanney believes that the key is simply to be smarter with the ball. “What really hurt us what just lost possessions in transitions ” he said post-match. The obvious problem was not getting enough of their attacking players involved. But that very likely depends on how the midfield three perform and what they do with the ball, as Vanney’s referring to.
The Impact, on the other hand, knew that a 1-0 home victory would be a very favourable result. As the game came closer to it’s closing stages, Montreal played more and more conservatively to hold onto the result. And hold on they did.
For Montreal the message post-match was mostly a mental one. “ We were (conceding) goals… that was killing us mentally and putting more pressure on us, and that kind of pressure affects your performance because you (lose confidence) and stop taking risks.” On the contrary, he noted, positive play can also be contagious. A message he hopes to also bring to his team for it’s MLS playoff run.
Man of the Match:
There were question marks around Piatti going the full 90 last weekend and what would be left tonight. He answered them ecstatically. Piatti was a man on a mission. He popped up all over the field and was very lively. Contributing to the positive energy in the team, Cabrera would say. Of course, produced a stunning goal like his doesn’t hurt either.
Looking ahead, there may not be any opportunities for rest. Head Coach Wilmer Cabrera admitted that the plan was to keep Piatti in Montreal during the team’s trip to LA, but that knocks to Bojan and Urruti may change that.
This result means that a second leg tie or win for the Impact would see them lifting the trophy. If Toronto wins by at least two goals, they will be victors. It gets interesting if Toronto FC wins with a one-goal margin. Away goals would come into effect, meaning that if Montreal were to score one, Toronto must get three. Of course, a reversed 1-0 would leave the sides inseparable, leading to extra time, and penalties if necessary. Anyways, it’s still all to play for.
“This is the first half in a 180 minute game”Greg Vanney
Toronto FC – Montreal Impact, Wednesday, September 25th, 19:30 ET / 16:30 PT (BMO Field)
Cover photo: Canada Soccer by Mike Sturk