VANCOUVER, B.C. — Toronto FC withstood an onslaught from Vancouver Whitecaps FC in the first leg of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship on Wednesday at Empire Field to head into the deciding leg with a 1-1 tie.
Finally able to field their regular starters, Vancouver looked as good as they have since their March 19 MLS season opener against Toronto. Vancouver looked the more aggressive side throughout and took the lead courtesy of an Eric Hassli strike in the 64th minute, but Toronto responded with a deft goal from Maicon Santos nine minutes later.
While Vancouver enjoyed the run of play and threatened from the early going, their best chance of the match didn't come until a half-hour in, as Camilo cut into the box and struck a hard shot to the near corner only to be denied by a terrific save from Stefan Frei.
However, TFC wouldn't go into the rest period quietly. Just before the halftime whistle, Reds striker Nick Soolsma turned 'Caps defender Alain Rochat at midfield and raced down the right wing before hitting a shot towards the near corner that was denied by a diving Jay Nolly, sending the teams into the dressing rooms tied 0-0.
Looking to take a crucial lead into the second leg, Vancouver came knocking with a flurry of chances. In the controversial play of the match, Camilo went down in the box just two minutes after the restart off a sliding challenge from TFC's Adrian Cann but no call was made.
Nonetheless, the 'Caps kept pushing forward for the lead and twice found the woodwork. First, in the 48th minute, Hassli turned at the top of the box and fired a low shot off the post. Six minutes later, Camilo took his turn, stinging a shot past Frei but off the crossbar.
Finally, four minutes past the hour, Vancouver's efforts paid dividends as Davide Chiumiento broke up the field and found Hassli on the far side. The big striker then cut to the middle of the park and unleashed a curling left-footed shot past Frei for a 1-0 lead.
Toronto eventually found their legs in the second half and nearly scored on 72 minutes, when Adrian Cann found the ball at his feet after a corner kick but was shut down by a Nolly kick-save. However, the visitors found an equalizer a minute later as Maicon Santos deflected a cross from Soolsma into the net to tie the game.
Vancouver had one final chance in stoppage time to retake the lead as a prayer launched up the field by defender Greg Janicki was nearly answered when Rochat got to the bouncing ball before Frei and rose up to head the ball towards goal only to see it hit the wrong side of the net.
The two sides will meet again in a week’s time for the deciding second leg in Toronto at BMO Field on Wednesday, May 25. The winner of the two-game aggregate goals series will take home the Voyageurs Cup as Canadian champions and qualify for the 2011-12 CONCACAF Champions League.
VAN -- Eric Hassli (Davide Chiumiento) 64’
TOR – Maicon Santos (Nick Soolsma) 73’
TOR -- Dicoy Williams, caution 52'
VAN – Gershon Koffie, caution 68'
VAN – Terry Dunfield, caution 77'
Toronto FC -- 24.Stefan Frei; 27.Richard Eckersley, 31.Dicoy Williams, 12.Adrian Cann, 8.Dan Gargan; 23.Jacob Peterson (26.Matt Gold 33'), 6.Julian De Guzman, 22.Tony Tchani (16.Oscar Cordon 45'); 18.Nick Soolsma, 29.Maicon Santos, 7.Joao Plata (20.Ty Harden 76')
Subs not used: 30.Milos Kocic, 3.Nana Attakora, 10.Alen Stevanovic, 11.Nathan Sturgis
Vancouver Whitecaps FC -- 18.Jay Nolly; 25.Jonathan Leathers, 14.Greg Janicki, 6.Jay DeMerit, 4.Alain Rochat; 22.Shea Salinas (31.Russell Teibert 83'), 7.Terry Dunfield, 28.Gershon Koffie, 20.Davide Chiumiento; 37.Camilo (16.Nizar Khalfan 78'), 29.Eric Hassli (17.Omar Salgado 74')
Subs not used: 1.Joe Cannon, 8.Wes Knight, 12.Jeb Brovsky, 50.Mouloud Akloul
Referee: Silviu Petrescu
Assistants: Darren Clark, Kevin Duliba
4th official: Drew Fischer