The Montreal Impact fell 2-1 to Toronto FC in the latest chapter of the 3 team Canadian mini-tournament. The result eliminates the Vancouver Whitecaps from contention for the Canadian Championship final and a chance to represent Canada in the 2021 CONCACAF Champions League.
A lot was on the line when the Montreal Impact hosted Toronto FC at Stade Saputo on Wednesday night. A win for either side would have them in prime position to finish top of the three team table and advance to the Canadian Championship final while a tie would have very much left it in the balance. There was also the MLS standings to keep an eye on, which are not to be disregarded in this 23-match regular season. Yet, with a plurality of competitions being at play in one game, there was one cause which was surely first on the mind of players: the rivalry.
Every time Montreal and Toronto meet the chapter they write builds on the drama of the previous match in a way the spectator couldn’t have imagined. In the third match – and the rubber match – between the two teams in their post-Orlando series it was anyone’s guess as to who would leave victorious. A tie would be the easiest prediction to make. It looked as though that’s the way it would go, in a match where there wasn’t much separating the two teams. Except given that neither of the last 15 games finished in draws, we should have known better. In the final minutes of the game Jozy Altidore’s goal broke the tied score to hand Montreal a crushing defeat, in a match where they felt that if a winner had to be chosen, it should have been them.
Here’s how it played out:
Montreal started with the same XI as in their previous meeting. It was a back four in this one, although a bit of an asymmetrical one, as Zachary Brault-Guillard pushed especially high at times as he is used to doing as a wing-back. Thierry Henry appears to have found a working formula in a central midfield of Victor Wanyama, Emmanuel Maciel and Samuel Piette, which were solid again tonight. There are still question marks around Piette’s attacking role however, as he often appears lost when making runs in the final third.
Toronto FC was the less rested of the two sides, coming off a game last Saturday in Vancouver. They made three changes to the side that started in their loss to the Whitecaps. Chris Mavinga took Laurent Ciman’s spot in central defence and Altidore played instead of Ayo Akinola, while Richie Laryea started in a less familiar spot at left midfield at the expense of Liam Fraser.
Early in the game Montreal were the brightest of the two sides. The midfielders were finding the speedy Brault-Guillard on the right side who played a couple of balls from the same position to Saphir Taïder at the back post. The Algerian international came closest in the 10th minute when he got free at the back post but couldn’t get his header right from just a few yards out.
As The Reds settled into the first half they started to get a better hold of the game and forced a few good saves out of Diop in the Impact goal. The breakthrough would come on a counter attack in the 32nd minute. Brault-Guillard had made a deep run but couldn’t get to the ball before TFC keeper Quintin Westberg, who played Laryea quickly. Camacho tried to close him down quickly but he spun past the Impact defender, then beat Wanyama to set up a favourable one on one duel with Luis Binks who he got past and finally found Piatti at the back post who didn’t have much work left to do to put Toronto ahead 1-0. It was a fantastic run from Laryea which started in his own half. It wasn’t the only occasion he would break free either. The speedy Laryea could be matched by pace by fellow Canadian national team fullback Brault-Guillard, but he managed to catch his Impact counterpart out of position a few times which lead to promising opportunities.
The Impact will consider themselves unfortunate not to have gone into halftime with a goal. In the 38th minute Quioto had only Westberg to beat, but he couldn’t get his shot to go between the legs of the Toronto keeper. Looking back on the missed opportunities post-match, coach Thierry Henry lamented his team’s finishing on the night. “If you look at the two last games we created numerous opportunities in the game, we had many one on ones, and unfortunately we couldn’t put them in.”
In the second half the goal the Impact thought they deserved finally did come. It started with a free kick a little ways from Toronto’s goal, which Binks deflected to find Wanyama at the back post who got his effort past Westberg. Defending set pieces was also a problem for Toronto FC in their last match against Vancouver, but they thought that their troubles had been spared by the assistant referee when he raised his flag for offside following the ball entering the goal. The play was taken to VAR and after getting a good look at the play, referee David Gantar ruled the play to have been onside and awarded the goal to the Impact.
At 1-1 with over just over a half an hour left to play it was anyone’s game. Chances were traded at both ends. Quioto got behind the TFC backline but couldn’t score. So did Altidore, and when he was denied from point blank range in the 81st minute it really didn’t seem like it would be his night. He missed a few good chances and never really got involved in the game. But strikers can stay dormant for as long as they want, as long as they can create a moment of brilliance. They are very much judged by certain moments. His moment came in the 89th minute.
As the game felt as though it would finish level, the Impact committed a costly mistake. Camacho had a free kick in the middle of the park which he played along the ground to nobody in particular in the end as it fell to the feet of DeLeon. The TFC midfielder played it quickly over the top to Altidore who was thinking quicker than either Raitala or Binks. Altidore got in behind the two Montreal centre backs and shot the ball through the legs of Diop who had come out to the top of the box. The Impact were left scratching their heads afterwards, as such a careless giveaway by Camacho let slip away a game they had fought so hard to stay in, and very well could have ended up winning.
The feeling that an opportunity was missed was evident in Samuel Piette’s post-match comments. “We matched Toronto today, I think we even played some better football at times. We created a lot of chances, but we couldn’t really finish them or they were offside by a little”, referring to a shot Quioto put into the back of the net only to have it be ruled offside. “It’s a tough one because we had the game in our hands and we let that slip for no reason.” Add on the fact that it was against their biggest rival, and it makes this one a very tough pill to swallow for Piette and co..
Man of the Match:
The Canadian International made a fantastic run on the first goal but was a real threat throughout the game. It was all the more impressive considering the eyebrows that were raised when the lineups came out with him slotted in midfield. He’s shown both Greg Vanney and John Herdman that he can play higher up the pitch as well.
How it stands now
Here are the updated standings for Canadian Championship. The top team once everyone has played each other three times will advance to the Canadian Championship final against the winner of the CPL, which has narrowed its field to four teams. The champion of the one-off game will clinch a spot in the 2021 CONCACAF Champions League.
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With Toronto’s latest victory, Vancouver is left out of the picture for the Canadian Championship final. For Montreal to advance they would need to win both matches at BC Place by a combined goal differential of 3 or 4 goals, depending on the number of goals scored they finish with.
The Impact will travel to Vancouver to conclude this Canadian mini-tournament with a pair of matches against the Whitecaps. There is no doubt they’re in tough concerning their Canadian Championship hopes, but Piette insists that until they’re mathematically eliminated, there will be belief within the group. “It’s up to us to roll up our sleeves and show that we have character and that was just a little bump on the road. We won’t give up just because we gave away a game like that.” Beyond the Canadian Championship, both sides will be competing for MLS points, so there should be no shortage of motivation. For Vancouver the league will be their only focus, as they now only have one competition remaining this year.
As for Toronto FC, this was their last match in the first phase MLS play since the MLS is Back tournament in Orlando. As they wait to see when, and most importantly where their next game will be, there is nothing but uncertainty in the air. The league has yet to announce details of how it plans to continue matches and how it will overcome the border issue which has kept all Canadian teams north of the 49th parallel since they returned from Orlando. For now, fans of The Reds can only follow Montreal’s trip out west and hope they clinch their spot in the Canadian Championship final.
“We will play on a synthetic field, a surface we’re not necessarily used to. Vancouver, having just won against Toronto, is in good form. Yes, it will be complicated, but it’s not mission impossible. We beat them here 2-0. In MLS, all kinds of things can happen.”Samuel Piette
Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps FC vs Montreal Impact, Sunday, September 13th, 18:30 PT/21:30 ET (BC Place, Vancouver)