Soccer

Toronto FC dominate CF Montreal, advance to Canadian Championship final

Ayo Akinola scored twice while Jesus Jimenez and Alejandro Pozuelo also had goals as Toronto FC cruised past CF Montreal 4-0 at BMO Field on Wednesday to advance to the 2022 Canadian Championship Final while eliminating the 2021 champions.

Whitecaps will host fellow MLS side in final following victory over York United

Toronto FC forward Ayo Akinola (20) celebrates his second goal of the game with teammates midfielder Ralph Priso (8) and forward Jayden Nelson (11) during second half Voyageurs Cup semifinal soccer action against CF Montréal in Toronto on Wednesday, June 22, 2022. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

There will be a new Canadian Champion crowned this year.

Ayo Akinola scored twice while Jesus Jimenez and Alejandro Pozuelo also had goals as Toronto FC cruised past CF Montreal 4-0 at BMO Field on Wednesday to advance to the 2022 Canadian Championship Final while eliminating the 2021 champs.

"We came out on the front foot," Akinola said. "We attacked and pressed them and didn't want to give them a chance to breathe."

Akinola opened the scoring in the 40th minute for the Reds, when he was on the finishing end of a three-touch play toward the goal initiated by Jimenez. The forward found Luca Petrasso on his left side. Petrasso passed the ball across to Akinola, who easily beat Montreal goalkeeper James Pantemis for the 1-0 lead.

TFC had several chances before Akinola's first goal.

Jayden Nelson nearly opened the scoring for Toronto FC in the first minute when he broke clear of Montreal's defence and put his right-footed shot from outside the box off the far post. He also had a shot late in the opening half.

Montreal's best chance to score in the opening half came in the 20th minute as Montreal captain Samuel Piette's chance from inside the box was blocked by a TFC defender just in front of the goal.

Toronto FC led in shots, 7-2, in the first half, although Montreal had 57 per cent of the ball possession.

"We had a good first half," CF Montreal head coach Wilfried Nancy said of his team's play. "They scored their goal but before that we were quite good."

In the second half, Montreal made two substitutions to put on an attacking formation but were caught on the wrong end of a turnover while pressing for an equalizer. Pozuelo took the ball up the field and found Akinola, whose shot from the centre of the box went off the bar and into the back of the goal in the 54th minute.

Akinola is finding his form after missing nearly a year with a torn ACL in his knee. The Canadian striker admitted it's been a challenge to find his game since returning in early May and wasn't fully satisfied with his effort against Montreal, despite his two-goal performance.

"The goals gave me a confidence boost, but if I'm being realistic, I thought overall with how the game went that I didn't do a good job," Akinola said. "I just gave too many balls away, didn't connect, didn't get too involved in the play, so that's on my part. But when I had my chances, I buried them."

Montreal had a shot on goal five minutes after Akinola's second goal. Second-half substitute Kei Kamara had a shot from inside the box that was punched out by Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg.

Jimenez scored in the 75th minute when Toronto FC's corner kick opportunity bounced off Pantemis, leaving an easy tap-in for the TFC forward.

Pozuelo scored three minutes later and made it 4-0 TFC, when he went to the net with ease and fired a ball past Pantemis.

"That's probably rock bottom right there," Montreal defender Alistair Johnson said after the match. "You lose a game to your local rivals 4-nil in a game where you're not sure the score line reflected it, but at the same time they put four past us and we didn't score any on them. It wasn't good enough from us."

Toronto FC is one win away from claiming a record ninth Voyageurs Cup. They picked up their eighth title earlier this month by winning the two-year-delayed 2020 Canadian Championship. For a team that is trying to build itself back following a difficult 2021 MLS season, the Reds have found solace in the Canadian Championship, despite what has been a challenging season in league play.

They sit 13th in the Eastern Conference of the MLS standings with a 4-8-3 record.

"We all know the work to become a better team is ongoing," TFC head coach Bob Bradley said. "In the midst of all that, when you can have a night where at the end, there's a trophy and everybody's excited, yeah, that's important."

Whitecaps through to final

For the first time in four years, the Vancouver Whitecaps are headed to the Canadian Championship final.

There were some tense moments late in Vancouver's 2-1 victory over York United on Wednesday, though, moments when head coach Vanni Sartini wasn't sure whether his club's recent troubles in the tournament would persist.

After taking a 2-0 lead midway through the second half, the Caps coughed up a goal in the 84th minute and Sartini's nerves were tested.

Was his Major League Soccer club about to be ousted from the Canadian Championship by a Canadian Premier League side for the third time?

"That's the curse of the Canadian Championship," Sartini said. "But luckily we live in a humanistic society where rationale is better than anything else. And so curses don't exist and exist only in the fact that we did very well and we won."

The Whitecaps held on and will now host MLS side Toronto FC in the final in late July. It will be Vancouver's first appearance in the tournament's decisive game since 2018.

The winner of the Canadian Championship will hoist the Voyageurs Cup and represent Canada in the 2023 CONCACAF Champions League.

For York's Isaiah Johnston, Wednesday's defeat stung.

"I think we could have got a result here," he said. "I think the goals were just a lack of communication and little errors on our part and they capitalized on it. And that's what happens against better opposition. So yeah, it definitely hurt."

Vancouver took a comfortable 2-0 lead midway through the second half thanks to a brace from striker Brian White, but the visitors refused to quit.

United substitute Mouhamadou Kane dished a ball to Johnston in the 84th minute and the midfielder dribbled deep into the penalty area, sidestepping Vancouver defender Jake Nerwinski and putting a low shot past goalkeeper Cody Cropper to get York back in the game.

Vancouver Whitecaps' Brian White is mobbed by his teammates as they celebrate his first goal against York United goalkeeper Niko Giantsopoulos. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

"I'm happy that we didn't panic, and we basically didn't concede anything after the goal," Sartini said. "That's good."

The Caps took a 2-0 lead in the 74th minute with White putting a shot past United goalkeeper Nikolaos Giantsopoulos.

Attacking midfielder Ryan Gauld sent a solid cross in and White tapped in a left-footed shot from the centre of the box for his second goal of the game.

York nearly evened the score in the 61st minute off a free kick. Diyaeddine Abzi put a shot around the wall and forced Cropper to make a diving save.

The Whitecaps netminder had two saves on the night and Giantsopoulos stopped four of six on-target shots for United.

Vancouver finally snapped the scoreless deadlock in the 53rd minute when midfielder Ryan Raposo fired a shot from just outside the six-yard box. Giantsopoulos punched the ball out of the air but White picked up the rebound and quickly punted it into the back of the United net, giving the home side a 1-0 cushion.

"It just landed right in front of me and it was `Oh, thank you," White said. "Sometimes you need those as a goal scorer to get the ball rolling. So I was in the right place right time and you know, good play by [Raposo] put the ball in a dangerous area."

Dominant 1st half

The strike was the American's first goal in Canadian Championship play and his third of the year for the Caps.

The Whitecaps dominated the first half, controlling 60.9 per cent of the possession and outshooting the visitors 13-2 total and 4-1 in on-target shots.

White nearly put the Caps on the board in the 25th minute, converting a cross from Gauld into a header that skimmed over the crossbar.

Four minutes later, Vancouver's Lucas Cavallini streaked into York territory and blasted a shot from just outside the six-yard box, only to see Giantsopoulos get a leg on it for a stop.

United countered with four corners in quick succession near the end of the half but couldn't capitalize on its chances.

York was the final CPL team left in the tournament.

"We were able to make it close against a quality opponent that's in a good moment right now. So I'm real proud of the guys. To have that fight and battle to the end was great to see," said York head coach Martin Nash.

"And it's a great experience for them and I think it was good for our guys to show that we can go toe to toe with MLS teams and hold a good account of ourselves."

Both clubs will be back on the field Sunday, with York hosting Valour FC in CPL play and the Whitecaps entertaining the New England Revolution in MLS action.

Giantsopoulos was briefly a member of the Whitecaps earlier this season. He acted as an emergency backup goalkeeper in Vancouver's MLS game against Charlotte FC on May 22. An announced crowd of 10,503 took in the game at B.C. Place.

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