The artistry Justin Mapp displayed in scoring Montreal's lone goal drew rave reviews from even Toronto FC coach Ryan Nelsen on Wednesday night.
Mapp danced through Toronto's defence to score on Montreal's only shot on net as the Impact salvaged a 1-1 draw in the first leg of the Amway Canadian Championship against a TFC side missing star striker Jermain Defoe.
"He's a lovely man," Nelsen said of Mapp. "He goes about his business quietly.
"That was a classy classy goal, to tell you the truth, and the only way I think really they were going to score, to break us down.
"Sometimes, you have to tip your hat."
Defender Doneil Henry scored the lone goal for Toronto.
The draw could be considered a victory for Montreal, since road goals carry more weight. If next Wednesday's second leg in Montreal was to end in a 0-0 tie, the Impact would win based on Mapp's goal at BMO Field.
"Coming away, the first leg, you score an away goal, it's very important," said Impact coach Frank Klopas. "But also I felt we finished the game the second half, we played some good soccer, we had some good opportunities and so it's a good result on the road.
"But nothing's done yet."
The draw was the latest chapter in a Canadian Championship battle between these two teams. Toronto has won four of the six titles, Montreal has won the other two, including the inaugural tournament in 2008, and then last year. The winner earns the right to represent Canada in the CONCACAF Champions League.
Toronto dominated possession for most of the night and had five shots on net to the Impact's one in front of 18,269 mostly red-clad TFC fans at BMO Field.
Nelsen sat Defoe because the former Tottenham Hotspur star was feeling "a wee bit tight." The coach admitted that, with the lineup he fielded, he was looking ahead to Saturday's MLS game against the visiting Columbus Crew.
"But in saying that, I put out the team that I thought should have won that game," Nelsen said. "We gave a lot of guys a chance to prove themselves and it looked a bit like they hadn't played together.
"Sometimes, it wasn't pretty. But they worked hard."
Henry leapt to head home a corner from Daniel Lovitz in the 20th minute, a blistering shot from the top of the six-yard box that Impact goalkeeper Evan Bush had little chance of stopping.
The goal was a positive — finally — for Henry, who's been mired in negatives lately. Most recently, in Toronto's 2-2 draw at Sporting Kansas City, a foul by the Toronto defender inside the box cost the team a Kansas City penalty shot.
"For Doneil, he showed his character," Nelsen said. "Obviously, he's had a couple of tough ones that everybody likes to remind him of.
"It's the ability to get back on the horse and get back in the arena that I love about the kid."
Mapp tied the game in the 70th, dribbling through Toronto's back line and beating a lunging Steven Caldwell to fire a shot past 'keeper Joe Bendik.
"Just collected it on the right side, started driving toward the top of the box ... ultimately, nobody put pressure on the ball and I found myself at the top of the 18 and just had a go," Mapp said. "Snuck in.
"Nice of him to say," he added, when told of Nelsen's praise.
"Just trying to stay consistent and do my job each week. It's been tough for us, just trying to play my part and, hopefully, it continues."
"Tough" is an understatement for a Montreal team that has been struggling mightily this MLS season, looking nothing like the squad that made the playoffs last season. Montreal sits dead last in the league with one win, six losses and four draws. Toronto FC is 4-4-1.
But the Impact picked up their pace in the second half, and are in the driver's seat heading into Wednesday's game.
"It was tough, [Toronto] had a little more bite [in the first half], winning all the second balls," Mapp said. "The soccer really wasn't pretty from either team.
"But it's a Toronto-Montreal Cup final and, at halftime, we just said 'Look, leave it all out there and, good or bad, you just don't know when you'll have this chance again.'"
Klopas raged about the refereeing in his post-game news conference.
"For me, to come here again and complain with the referees - two clear hand balls in the box - for me, it's embarrassing, it's embarrassing," he said. "It was a good game played by both teams.
"But me, the referees, to be talking about two clear hand balls ... if you're going to have a final, at least let the players decide, not the referees making calls like this. For me, it's an embarrassment."
Nelsen said he had little sympathy for the opposing coach.
"Talk about bad calls, we've been on the back end of a few of them this season, so I'm not going to feel too bad for Frank," Nelsen said.
Toronto controlled possession for much of a game that saw few scoring chances by either side.
Dwayne De Rosario, who is tied for the tournament's all-time lead in goals with four and won back-to-back tournament MVP honours (2009 and 2010), almost put Toronto up by two goals in the 58th minute when he rung a hard shot off the crossbar from about 25 yards out, drawing groans from the crowd. DeRosario sat on the turf in disbelief at his bad luck.
De Rosario had another great chance in the 70th, lobbing a high ball over the head of Bush, who was well out of his net. But Heath Pearce was there to head the ball off the goal-line.
De Rosario would have a third chance in the 84th minute, when Toronto was awarded a free kick just outside the 18-yard box, but he fired it high of the net.
Lovitz had perhaps the best opportunity in the first half, one-timing a rebound off a beautiful cross from Ashtone Morgan. But he launched it well over the top of the crossbar.
Toronto, which is 7-1-3 all-time against the Impact in Canadian Championship action, defeated the Vancouver Whitecaps to make the final, while Montreal edged second-division side FC Edmonton to earn its spot.