PHOTOS: Paul Giamou / Toronto FC
By Théo Gauthier
Toronto FC will meet the Vancouver Whitecaps in the Canadian Championship Final after defeating Ottawa Fury FC 3-0 in Toronto on Wednesday night. The final aggregate score from the two matches was 4-0.
Over the course of 180 total minutes—and especially during the final 90 at BMO Field—TFC showed some of the killer instincts that propelled them to the CONCACAF Champions League Final back in April. TFC Head Coach Greg Vanney chose to boost his lineup over the one that started in Ottawa last week by inserting Jozy Altidore and Chris Mavinga into the lineup over Malik Johnson and Nicolas Hasler. Just to be sure, the looming threat of Michael Bradley, Sebastian Giovinco and Jonathan Osorio were ready to spring from the bench should the Fury defy the odds and nick a goal or two.
In the end, only Osorio was brought on—he had played and scored the only goal in the first leg in Ottawa—to provide insurance to the home side, which is precisely what he did. The Canadian international scored TFC’s third and final goal of the night and nailed the Fury’s coffin shut with an 84th-minute golazo.
The match had started positively enough for the Fury, who hung in with their provincial cousins from Major League Soccer for the first 30 minutes of the match. Fury Head Coach Nikola Popovic was forced to make a crucial change at left back due to Onua Obasi’s one-match suspension over yellow card accumulation and thus handed Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé his first start for the Fury since his return to the club last week. Unfortunately, Gagnon-Laparé’s first significant action would be to fail to properly clear a ball off the line. He was successful in keeping the ball from crossing the goal line, but his weak clearance gifted Ayomide Akinola with an opportunity to score his first professional goal. Akinola was up to it, and in so doing further dimmed the Fury’s hopes of coming back in the tie.
You have to feel for Gagnon-Laparé. The Fury chatter after his signing last week was mostly comprised of the lasting memory fans had of him, which is his mistake in the 2015 NASL Championship Final that led to a crucial New York Cosmos goal. Here he was once again, at the right place at the right time, only to flub his lines. It’s a cruel game at times, and hopefully, Fury fans will give the young man from Sherbrooke a chance to shine and show his quality.
The Fury’s hopes would be all but extinguished in the 76th minute when substitute Ashtone Morgan presented a perfect cross from the left side to Jordan Hamilton, who made no mistake and put TFC up 2-0 and 3-0 on aggregate. At that point, the Fury would have needed three goals in 15 minutes. Tie over.
The Fury will have good reason to feel that, just like last year, the final aggregate score failed to be representative of the overall gap between the two sides. After the match, even Popovic was willing to concede that Toronto had been the better side over two matches: “We have to understand that when we play a team with such level and quality, any small detail and mistake will punish us. I think in the end, Toronto has a fair win.” In reacting in such a way, Popovic restored the Fury’s reputation as being classy in defeat in cup competitions.
Fury defender Nana Attakora admired his former team’s ability to pounce on mistakes, and then put a positive spin on his club’s ouster from this year’s Canadian Championship: “It’s the difference between certain levels: you cannot make certain mistakes we made today, because they are clinical and they took their chances. But it was fun, we learned a lot, and now we get to focus on our USL season.”
The Fury will rue their inability to capitalise on scoring opportunities over the course of the two matches but can take heart from the fact that they played a higher-level opponent tough. Such lessons can only help them as they attempt to solidify their playoff aspirations in the USL for the rest of the season.
Gagnon-Laparé’s start at left back all but confirms what Fury fans have been speculating for weeks: fan-favourite Colin Falvey has become persona-non-grata in the eyes of Head Coach Nikola Popovic. If Falvey were a regular squad member, one option would have been to replace Obasi by partnering the Irishman at centre-back with Nana Attakora and slide Thomas Meilleur-Giguère to left-back, a position he played earlier this season. Why Falvey has fallen out of favour is still the biggest mystery surrounding this team.
Gagnon-Laparé and Meilleur-Giguère have not had much time to get familiar with one another, and at times that manifested itself negatively Wednesday night. TFC were happy to exploit the channel between them and found a lot of success doing so.
The Vancouver Whitecaps came back from 1-0 first leg deficit to beat the Montreal Impact 2-0 at BC Place. This one might be on Impact Head Coach Rémi Garde for trying to rest Ignacio Piatti and Alejandro Silva. He would eventually throw them into the mix after conceding two goals, and although the tenor of the match immediately changed, it was too little too late.
The Canadian Championship Final will be played over two legs beginning in Toronto on August 7th. The return legs will be at BC Place in Vancouver on August 14th. Toronto is already three-time defending champions. Can Vancouver break the cycle of TFC dominance?
Fury Man of the Match: Cristian Portilla. He wasn’t able to boss the game as he did on Saturday against Nashville, but the Spaniard was very effective as the Fury’s fulcrum. Now that he’s healthy watch for him to be one of the Fury’s most important players heading into the second half of the USL season.