Toronto FC beats Whitecaps to win Canadian Championship
For once, the music blared in the Toronto FC locker-room.
The worst team in Major League Soccer is now champion of Canada thanks to a 1-0 win on the night and 2-1 on aggregate over the Vancouver Whitecaps.
"You lose nine games, all of a sudden you're a champion," said Toronto goalkeeper Milos Kocic, acknowledging the irony while enjoying Wednesday's result.
"It's kind of like a different mentality in the locker-room now. You can hear everybody's happy, everybody's laughing. We need to celebrate. You need to feel happy inside."
The Amway Canadian Championship win before 13,777 at BMO Field allowed Toronto FC to retain the Voyageurs Cup for a fourth straight year — and returns them to the CONCACAF Champions League, where they made it to the semifinals this year.
Reggie Lambe scored in the 83rd minute to give Toronto the victory.
Substitute Nick Soolsma, positioned in the centre of the penalty box, headed a Ryan Johnson cross down to Lambe, and the Bermudian danced left and right before firing a right-footed shot past Vancouver goalkeeper Joe Cannon.
Now the challenge is for TFC (0-9-0 in the league) to reproduce its cup form (3-1-4 in combined CONCACAF Champions League and Canadian Championship play) in MLS.
"We can do it," manager Aron Winter said. "We have a good team ... I think the confidence is going to grow for the players, because we have demonstrated we can play football — good football."
The two teams tied 1-1 last week in Vancouver (5-3-3 in league play), with Johnson's goal for TFC followed by a magnificent volley by Eric Hassli in stoppage time for the Whitecaps.
For Whitecaps coach Martin Rennie, whose team underwhelmed Wednesday, there was only disappointment and a little bewilderment.
While congratulating Toronto for its win, he wondered about the wisdom of appointing a referee (Silviu Petrescu) from Ontario.
Petrescu issued eight yellow cards (four to each side) and ejected Toronto's Julian de Guzman and Vancouver's Sebastien Le Toux after a melee near the touchline 12 minutes into the second half.
De Guzman got a straight red and Le Toux a second yellow.
"I was literally two yards away from it so no one can have a better view than I had," said Rennie. "De Guzman came across and threw someone on the ground, then hit someone — I'd say punched him in the face.
"From that incident we gained nothing. I'm absolutely at a loss at how that can happen in a game of football and us end up with 10 men. That to me was a hugely disappointing moment in the game."
Rennie did not stop there.
No issues with refereeing
"And I think there's more pressure on the official because he's from Toronto. And I'm very surprised that the CSA decided to do that. ... Surely there's enough officials within Canada that we could have someone who's not from Toronto."
Not surprisingly, Winter had no issues with the refereeing.
Johnson said de Guzman "barely tapped" Jun Marques Davidson after the Vancouver player stepped on his foot "really hard." Davidson went down like a ton of bricks after the de Guzman contact.
"I'm glad that at least the referee was able to give Le Toux a red card also for his actions in the ordeal," said Johnson, who did not feel de Guzman should have been sent off.
The Toronto forward said he thought Le Toux got tossed for shoving him, but acknowledged he was surprised that it warranted a red.
"The luck kind of played our way a little bit," he added.
The ejections — "a huge moment," said Rennie — opened up the field and made a scrappy game even scrappier.
Toronto players poured into the southeast stand at BMO Field after the win to celebrate with their fans before getting championship medals and posing behind a winner's banner.
"We just needed a win to get our confidence back up," said Lambe. "We need to go into Saturday [against the Philadelphia Union] playing the same way as we did today and we should get a win on Saturday as well."
Said Kocic: "This is a good beginning for us."
The ejections made for a wide-open finale to the final which also saw an 81st-minute goal by Soolsma whistled for offside.
Toronto outshot Vancouver 13-4 (3-0 in shots on target).
Rennie put the loss down to missed opportunities on his side.
"Definitely we could have done better. I think there'll be very few of our players who's said they played to their absolute best tonight."
"As disappointing as tonight is, we've still got a lot to look forward to and play for this season," he added. "It's going to require better performances than we gave tonight."
The second-half ejections showed the kind of tension that the Canadian championship can produce.
In the Toronto-Montreal semifinal, Impact coach Jesse Marsch and then-Toronto assistant Bob de Klerk had to be separated at the end of the second leg at BMO Field.
The opening 45 minutes on Wednesday night saw Toronto attack but not take advantage.
Ecuador forward Joao Plata, who has not been much of a factor for Toronto in recent weeks, used his speed to rip into the Whitecaps defence. He came off to loud applause in the 78th minute.
Toronto looked like the team with the winning record in the first half. The home side moved the ball and found holes in the Vancouver defence. But it lacked the finishing blow.
The return of Toronto captain Torsten Frings, sidelined the last two games with a shoulder injury, was evident from the get-go. He found Plata with several pinpoint passes early on.
There was a brief burst of early offence from the Whitecaps. Fullback Alain Rochat's header was off the mark in the 22nd from a Camilo free kick. Then John Thorrington sent a shot over the bar.
But Vancouver struggled to get target man Hassli involved, with Rennie saying he did not get enough support from his teammates.
Toronto ousted the Montreal Impact and Vancouver defeated FC Edmonton to advance to this year's final.