The Montreal Impact overcame a crazy second-half to down their rivals Toronto on their own turf and win their 10th Voyageurs Cup on Wednesday, putting an end to a remarkable year for the competition.
On a cool fall evening in Toronto, rivals Montreal Impact and Toronto FC met at BMO field in what promised to be an entertaining affair, with the Voyageurs Cup and a CONCACAF Champions League spot on the line. With Montreal holding a slim 1-0 lead heading into this one, it meant that Toronto would have to score at least 1 to stay alive, while Montreal had the chance to put their Eastern foes under some real duress if they could find a vital away goal at any point during the game.
And, despite an up and down game that saw them absorb pressure from Toronto all night, Montreal emerged victorious, picking up their 10th Voyageurs Cup crown via a penalty shootout. After a slow first half, things picked up in the second half, as there was referee drama, a Toronto goal, a red card and some post action, sending the game to a shootout after 90 minutes with things all tied up. From there, Montreal was deadly with their spot-kicks, converting all 3 of their chances from 10 yards out, while Toronto could not match that same efficiency, missing 3 of their 4 to lose out on a victory in front of their home fans.
“I would like to give credit to Nick De Santis and Remi Garde,” Interim Montreal coach Wilmer Cabrera said, as he kicked off his post-game press conference thanking the former Impact technical director De Santis and head coach Remi Garde.
“They did most of the job throughout the year, and I cannot take full credit for this. They started off, and I am the fortunate coach to finish. But I want to mention them because definitely they work really hard, both Nick De Santis and Remi Garde. They’re not here right now. But they worked really hard with the players, And, of course, full credit to the players, because they are the ones that put the effort, they did what they needed on the field. And they deserve this for the fans and for the city of Montreal.”
The game started out slow, with both teams playing like they were feeling the nerves of a cup final. Toronto controlled more of the game, holding possession nicely, but Montreal had arguably the best chance of the first 15 minutes through striker Maxi Urruti, but the Argentinian sent the ball just over on a half-breakaway chance to the left of Toronto goalkeeper Alex Bono.
Toronto came close to opening the score in the 21st minute, as winger Tsubasa Endoh found some space on the left side of Toronto’s attack, and he whipped in a glorious cross to the target-man Jozy Altidore at the penalty spot. Altidore, who had wedged himself in between centre backs Victor Cabrera and Rudy Camacho, did well to pluck down the ball and set up a left-footed volley, but his shot would fly hopelessly over the goal despite his great offensive position.
Soon after, Ignacio Piatti would test Bono in the 26th minute, as he snatched down a great ball from in the midfield up to the left-wing in stride, and he did well to cut inside and shoot far post, but his curled effort was comfortably punched away by Bono to keep things level. Omar Gonzalez came close on the other end in the 35th, but his header off of an Alejandro Pozuelo corner was unable to find the target and give Impact goalkeeper Clement Diop his first test of the game.
Altidore, who looked lively all half for Toronto, would nearly break the deadlock right at the stroke of halftime. After sneaking his way behind the Impact defenders to get on the end of a carefully crafted Pozuelo low through ball, the American International was unable to wrap his foot around the ball, as his strike would skip just wide of Diop. The referees 3 blasts on the whistle soon after marked the end of a relatively uneventful start to the Voyageurs Cup final, as Montreal was content to sit back and defend their result, while Toronto hadn’t quite found a way to consistently unlock the Impact’s carefully crafted set-up.
Toronto had to feel like their play was going to get rewarded soon enough, as they had 72% of possession and 9 shots heading into the second half, but they were unable to test Montreal’s Diop in goal. Defensively, they limited Montreal to a few chances, and while those were dangerous opportunities, they had to have felt good heading into the second stanza.
“I think by and large it was a good effort on the night,” Toronto coach Greg Vanney said post-game. “I think we created a lot of opportunities. It’s disappointing because I think we were in a fair number of good spots that we probably should finish at least one or two more of those (chances). Defensively, we were sound, we had to put out a couple of fires, as we say, in the transitions, but we knew if we were going to have to push the game a little bit that at some point they were going to break out.”
Surged on by their home support, Toronto came out strong to kick off the second half. They nearly got on the score sheet immediately, as Altidore found himself open in the box to direct a good Osorio cross towards the goal in the 47th minute, but he would mistime his header and send the ball well wide. Less than 5 minutes later, Richie Laryea made a bursting run up the left wing after a failed Montreal corner, stretching out Montreal with his speed. Despite being on his opposite side of the pitch, he did well to get deep into the Montreal half before playing in Osorio through the middle, but the midfielder’s low and venomous strike was denied by the uprights.
“I think we’re doing a great job of putting pressure on the goal and on the back lines,” Vanney said of his team’s sustained pressure. “But we’re not putting more pressure on the goalkeeper to have to come up with saves. And I think that’s something that again, with maybe some training time, some fresher legs, we’ve got to down the stretch hit the target a little bit more.”
Montreal, despite their conservative tactical set-up, found some light of day in the 56th minute. Bojan, one of the best players on the evening, stole the ball off second-half substitute Justin Morrow to embark on a lengthy run. He would feign off a pair of strong Toronto tackles to make his way into the box, where he would cut the ball back to Urruti in a great position. It seemed like the Argentine would be destined to score, as he struck a vicious strike towards goal, but Bono stood strong on the effort to keep things deadlocked heading into the final 30 minutes of regular time.
The game would turn on its head after that chance, as Montreal would have an excellent spell of possession, where they would nearly score after a nice cross from out wide. Auro Jr, who had just come on less than 10 minutes prior for Toronto, went up for a header to clear out the ball, but he stuck out his arm in doing so, bundling the ball out via his outstretched limb. But, despite a clear view from referee Drew Fischer, the desperate appeals for handball would be ignored, leaving players and fans alike to ponder the huge missed opportunity.
“Yes, of course, for me was a penalty, a clear penalty,” Impact coach Wilber Cabrera said after the game. “I think we all watched it. But, you know, we don’t have VAR. But it was for me it was obvious and clear that the PK happened in the second half. But you know, that’s the game. We continue playing, we continue pushing.”
And in a cruel twist of fate delivered by Toronto, Montreal would soon after concede the game’s opening goal. A nice ball from Pozuelo off a short corner found Osorio in the box, who would do well to weave in between a couple of defenders before latching out a shot. It would be blocked, however, deflecting to the nearest man, which happened to be Toronto’s Endoh. The crafty winger would be quick-thinking with the opportunity, nearly immediately hitting the ball towards goal, and his idea worked brilliantly, as the quick flight of the ball caused Diop to misjudge the strike as he would only have time to get a soft hand on the ball before it trickled into the net for the opener.
After it seemed unlikely that they would ever score, and with the missed penalty call nearly gifting Montreal a glorious chance to kill the game, all of a sudden Toronto had found themselves with all to play for heading into the final 15 minutes of the match. With things all squared up on aggregate, the next goal was going to be pivotal, as if Montreal found the back of the net, Toronto would need 2 goals to emerge victorious, and if Toronto scored, Montreal could get right back ahead with only 1 tally.
The Impact would keep their heads up after the chance, as they would get right back up after the blow and kept on fighting. The dynamic Lassi Lappalainen, who had come on earlier in the half for Maxi Urruti, got in behind the TFC defenders for a breakaway, forcing defender Chris Mavinga to haul him down to avoid a sure goal. Fischer, with the earlier penalty decision surely in mind, immediately reached to his back pocket for a red card, forcing Toronto to drop to 10 men. While Bojan sent the ensuing free-kick just wide, avoiding more harm for Toronto, the home side now had to find a victory with the numerical inferiority making things a lot more complicated than they would have hoped.
With Toronto down to 10 men, Montreal jumped on the chance to push them further underwater, as they kept their hands firmly clamped on the throats of their longtime rivals. Ignacio Piatti continued to buzz, finding a couple of good chances, none better than a 90th-minute effort that would slam off the crossbar and out of play, causing the TFC faithful to exhale painfully after it was realized that his left-footed strike would not be bulging the net for a winning goal.
“I think considering the fact that they did have a lot of numbers around the goal, we still created some really good opportunities,” Vanney said. “And had some good moments. But these games as you know, these games come down to execution, it comes down to those key moments. You got to do it, and tonight it wasn’t about the defending side, it was more about finishing opportunities.”
Soon after, Drew Fischer blew the final whistle to signal the end of full time, which due to the rules of the tournament, meant the game would go directly to a penalty shootout. And there, despite the home crowd advantage, Montreal would be ruthless in their execution, scoring all 3 of their penalties, while Toronto would miss 3 of 4 as they shot first. Altidore hit the crossbar as the second Toronto shooter, before Patrick Mullins was saved by Clement Diop, and Jonathan Osorio would end things by hitting the last one off of the post, putting an end to Toronto’s dream of hoisting the cup in front of their home fans.
For a Toronto side that has had its fair share of heartbreaking penalty losses, most notably in the 2016 MLS final as well as the 2018 CONCACAF Champions League final, it wasn’t an easy result to stomach.
“I don’t really care for shootouts, obviously, we’re not very good (at them),” Vanney said. “I don’t care for them. Because I feel like I like the game to be won on the field, you know, but at the end of the day, we were down to 10 men as well. So a bunch of extra time for us would have not been great on the night, either. So it was it’s a way to end the game so that you’re not going on forever, but it’s not served us very well over the years.”
With the victory, the Impact notched their 10th win overall in this competition, and first since 2014. For a lot of players, that meant their first trophy with the club, as only goalkeeper Evan Bush was still around when they triumphed that year against Toronto. Star midfielder Samuel Piette, who was usual dependable self in the midfield tonight, had never actually played in a final, so it meant a lot for him to be able to lift the trophy for the marquee competition in this country. With this revamped Voyageurs Cup only going to grow from here, Canada’s teams and players will benefit from that, and Piette was just happy to be part of the history of that.
“This is what Canada wants to do,” Piette said of the revamped competition. “They want to put Canada back on the soccer map and with a serious competition like this one, it proves that soccer is growing here. But to be able now to go to Champions League to represent Montreal, Quebec and Canada as well. It’s something really special for sure.”
Cover Photo Credit: Canada Soccer and Martin Bayzl