Toronto clips Montreal in Champions opener
Marco Velez's header off a set piece midway through the second half gave Toronto FC a 1-0 win over the Montreal Impact in the opening game of the inaugural Canadian Champions League on Tuesday night.
Velez rose above a crowded goalmouth in the 72nd minute to knock home Laurent Robert's expertly delivered free kick from the right sideline, and Toronto kept the pressure on to secure the victory in front of about 12,000 fans at Montreal's Saputo Stadium.
Despite coming from an inferior league, Montreal held its own in the early going, outshooting Toronto in the first half. But the Reds took over after Impact defender Stefano Pesoli was given his second yellow card and ejected in the 52nd minute following contact on Toronto forward Jeff Cunningham.
Montreal coach Nick De Santis was pleased with his team's showing, especially during a first half in which Montreal outshot Toronto 9-6.
"If you create those three or four chances and you put one away, the game changes because they have to open up the game, so it's frustrating that we didn't score in the first half," said Montreal coach Nick De Santis. "But I think we can say we can compete with an MLS team."
Banged-up Dichio leaves early
Toronto FC coach John Carver admitted he was a little surprised by the quality of the Impact's players, and he would like to see more Canadian rivals join his club in North America's top soccer league.
"Some of the opposition performed and opened up my eyes, there's not that much difference between the two leagues," Carver said. "I would love to see Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto in the MLS. I think it would be fantastic."
Despite the victory, Robert was not very impressed with his side's showing.
"That was not the real Toronto FC," Robert said. "I've been here two months and I haven't seen us play that badly."
Toronto's win was not without a cost, as leading scorer Danny Dichio left the game around the 40-minute mark after aggravating a groin injury. Dichio played well before departing, coming close on a few scoring chances.
Spot in FIFA tournament at stake
The Canadian Champions League is a three-team round-robin tournament involving Toronto FC (Canada's lone representative in the 14-team Major League Soccer), the Montreal Impact and the Vancouver Whitecaps, who compete in the USL First Division (one level below MLS).
The competition also serves as the Canadian qualifying tournament for the CONCACAF Champions League.
The qualifying competition runs through July 22, with each team hosting two games. The top team in the final standings will be Canada's representative at the CONCACAF Champions League, an international club competition that crowns the best pro team in North and Central America and the Caribbean.
The CONCACAF Champions League winner then goes on to play at the FIFA World Club Championship in Japan in December 2009 against continental champions from Europe, South America, Asia and Africa. Italian giants AC Milan won the 2008 FIFA World Club Championship.
The next game in the Canadian Champions League sees the Impact take on the Whitecaps in Montreal on June 17. Toronto's next Champions League contest is on July 1 (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 3 p.m. ET) when it hosts Vancouver.
Toronto resumes its MLS schedule with a home game Saturday against David Beckham and the Los Angeles Galaxy (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 3:30 p.m. ET).
The contest is part of CBC's Soccer Day in Canada broadcast, which begins at noon ET.
With files from the Canadian Press