MONTREAL – It's only the end of the first leg, and you can smell penalties already.
Toronto FC came to Québec for the first leg of their Amway Canadian Championship semifinal and shut out the Montreal Impact, holding them to a cautious 0-0 draw contested in front of 13,405 spectators on Wednesday night at the Olympic Stadium.
The tightly contested, physical affair foreshadowed by both sides did not really materialize, and the emotion usually related to derbies could only be found in the stands. Montreal and Toronto remained relatively disciplined, with a late Davy Arnaud tackle in the second half the pick of the bunch.
It took a while for Montreal to settle on their expected gameplan: sending balls in from wide areas, as Toronto sometimes struggled to defend those against Real Salt Lake on Saturday. On the left, Lamar Neagle was a threat throughout the 70 minutes he played, constantly finding space behind Doneil Henry and forcing TFC goalkeeper Milos Kocic into making a spectacular save on a well-struck half-volley at the 25th minute.
The game, it must be pointed out, started extremely slowly, with a static Impact mostly hogging the ball in their defensive half with no real options in midfield. Toronto held their shape well throughout the first 20 minutes, denying their opponents any space in the center of the park where they could launch their assaults on Kocic’s net.
Toronto failed to muster up a decent spell of possession but did manage a few good defensive plays. Reggie Lambe notably saved his team when he cleared a Shavar Thomas header of the line midway through the first half. The Reds did not hit the target before the 48th minute, a long-range shot from Eric Avila which Donovan Ricketts comfortably saved.
Montreal believed they had broken the deadlock at the 65th minute as Sanna Nyassi put the ball in Kocic’s net from close range, but the play was called back for offside.
In the end, though, neither side was able to breach the other’s net. For the Impact, it will leave a bitter taste from a match they’d have expected to win, while for TFC it represents some progress as they avoided defeat for the first time since a CONCACAF Champions League match against Santos Laguna back in March.
The second leg of the tie will take place on May 9 at Toronto’s BMO Field.