A sense of déjà vu was descending on BMO Field as the minutes ticked down in the second leg of the Canadian Championship final against the Montreal Impact, with extra time on the horizon. That was how things ended in last year’s Eastern Conference Championship between the two teams, with TFC also emerging victorious in that playoff meeting.
But Sebastian Giovinco’s winner deep into stoppage time, his second goal of the night, earned Toronto a 2-1 win on the night, a 3-2 win on aggregate – and the right to not only hoist the Voyageurs Cup for the sixth time, but also the opportunity to compete in the CCL for the first time since 2015.
The result also saved TFC from having to contest a Champions League playoff on Aug. 9, which would have been necessary had Montreal claimed this year’s Canadian Championship title.
Another one for the ages
Somehow, some way, the finals of the Canadian Championship have managed to produce more than their share of memorable moments and controversial flashpoints.
Among them were the “Miracle in Montreal” in 2009, the infamous abandonment of the final’s second leg in 2011 and Will Johnson’s leg-breaking winner in 2016. Luckily for TFC, Giovinco didn’t need to break his leg to provide a similar moment of magic this time out.
There was also controversy on Tuesday night. Impact defender Kyle Fisher could have been sent off for a first-half collision with Steven Beitashour, then also got off lightly in the 88th minute, when he took down Giovinco in the penalty area. A minute later, Patrice Bernier saw a questionable red card from Dave Gantar, the same referee who sent him off in last year’s Canadian Championship semifinal.
Given the anger on both sides in the second half’s waning minutes, extra time – had it been necessary – could have been a bloodbath.
To the Max
It was a tale of two legs for Impact goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau, who’s yet to start a league game in his five years as a member of the senior roster.
In the first half, he denied Tosaint Ricketts on a header from point-blank range; then, after the break, he got his fingertips to a prime-position shot from Giovinco.
He was powerless to stop the Atomic Ant’s eventual winning goal – set up by a sweet pass from fellow Canadian international Raheem Edwards – but still did enough to keep his team in contention right until the very end.
Cup competitions often occupy a secondary place in the hearts and minds of players and fans. Yet there’s no question that the Canadian Championship, having come from humble beginnings, has entrenched itself in the souls of those involved.
Nearly 27,000 fans were sent into delirium alongside their team on a Tuesday night, while the visitors apoplectically accosted the officials over the result. The two teams’ combined five Designated Players all took part in both legs of the final, despite playing on short rest after games on the weekend – and it may have burned the Impact, who saw their talisman Ignacio Piatti limp off with an apparent groin injury on Tuesday.
Earning the Voyageurs Cup was unquestionably a priority for both of these teams.
The intensity of the Toronto-Montreal rivalry, with their respective supporters’ sections trading inappropriate tifos over the course of the two legs, surely helps fuel the fire. But in terms of prestige and profile, the entire tournament is on very solid footing as it enters its second decade and prepares for expansion. The champs of the semipro League1 Ontario and PLSQ will join in next year, and the nascent Canadian Premier League is expected to play a part as soon as 2019.