Toronto FC Make History and Advance To MLS Cup Final

In one of the best games in MLS history, Toronto FC made history when they became the first ever Canadian team to advance to the MLS Cup Final, beating Montreal Impact by a score of 5-2 on the night, 7-5 on aggregate.

Toronto FC had a hard-fought season just to get to the playoffs and in fantastic style, they secured their playoff birth with a third place finish in the Eastern Conference. For those unfamiliar with American sports and Major League Soccer, the league is basically one massive tournament just to see who makes the playoffs, and then the 12 teams that make it to the playoffs play for the ultimate prize of all, the MLS Cup (sorry that it doesn’t have a cool name like the NHL’s Stanley Cup). After beating the Philadelphia Union by a score of 3-1 and New York City by an incredible aggregate score of 7-0, Toronto FC booked their place in the semi-finals against their arch-rivals Montreal Impact for a place in the final. Ever since Montreal’s arrival to the MLS in 2012, their rivalry with Toronto has been one of the most explosive in the entire league with red cards being pulled out nearly every single time these two play. So with a brief yet fiery history between these two sides the MLS Cup Semi-Final encounter between Montreal and Toronto was always going to be a special one and this did not disappoint by any stretch of the imagination.

Greg Vanney’s side weren’t brilliant in their first ever MLS Cup semi-final match as inside the first 53 minutes of the first leg of the tie they quickly capitulated to a 3-0 deficit. But Toronto FC’s playoff hero Jozy Altidore and captain Michael Bradley found goals out of nothing to get the Reds back into the tie and decreae the deficit back down to 3-2. That meant that going into this match with two away goals, all Toronto FC had to do was win by a goal and not concede two or more goals and they would be through, setting up what would become one of the greatest matches in Canadian sports history.

Almost as soon as the game began, Toronto FC’s aspirations of making the final were quickly put in serious doubt as ex-TFC player Dominic Oduro came back to haunt his old side, finding the back of the net just 24 minutes into the match. Patrice Bernier picked up the ball at the half-way point of the field before playing an incisive pass to forward Matteo Mancosu. The 21-year old forward who was keeping Didier Drogba out of the side in what would prove to be his last ever match for Montreal then found the feet of Oduro after Nick Hagglund failed to track his run and the former TFC man slotted the ball into the bottom left corner from the top right of the box, beating Clint Irwin and giving the Impact a 1-0 lead, 4-2 on aggregate.

But desperate to make the final, the Reds did not stop fighting and found a way back into the match thanks to Armando Cooper who was Johnny-on-the-spot when Nick Hagglund’s header was cleared off the line and came right back to the feet of Cooper who slipped it past goalkeeper Evan Bush narrowing the score to just 4-3 on aggregate. As the stakes intensified, so did the game and after a stupid mistake by Impact defender Victor Cabrera to give away a silly corner kick, the Reds instantly punished them with Sebastian Giovinco’s perfect cross right on to the head of Jozy Altidore who netted his 5th goal of the playoffs with a fantastic header. Altidore’s goal not only earned him the record of being the first ever player to score in five straight MLS playoff matches but also put the Reds on top for the first time in the series, 4-4 on aggregate with the Reds ahead on away goals.

Just as Toronto FC started to look like the better side again it was Ignacio Piatti who spoiled all the fun and put Montreal Impact back into the lead after another piece of shaky defending from Nick Hagglund and Piatti tucking away a dramatic yet absolute garbage goal. So with TFC now down 5-4 on aggregate in this crazy playoff series, Greg Vanney decided to throw on 29-year old striker Toisant Ricketts who would later go on to change the game. Shortly thereafter, the Reds found a way back into the game yet again as Justin Morrow floated a ball up in the air to the box and Nick Hagglund finally got a sense of redemption as he hammered home a header from far out, giving Toronto FC a 3-2 lead in crazy circumstances, 5-5 on aggregate. As the game went on, Montreal became more and more tired and the Reds started to up the tempo putting a constant amount of pressure on Le Impact de Montreal, yet Altidore, Ricketts and Giovinco could not find the back of the net no matter how hard they tried. That meant that extra time was the order of the day with the sides all tied up 5-5 on aggregate at full time.

Just when Montreal started to look completely out of the game, just defending for dear life hoping that TFC wouldn’t score, Biello’s side were given a glimour of hope when Sebastian Giovinco pulled up injured after a mis-hit shot. Just when all hope began to look lost with their star man out injured, on came Benoit Cheyrou and the rest was history. 90 seconds after coming on the experienced 35-year old who has had to play a peripherial role from the bench this season, held off attempts by Hassoun Camara to knock him to the ground and got on the end of Steven Beitashour’s cross, heading in the go-ahead goal and giving Toronto FC an amazing lead. Greg Vanney’s intentions by putting on Cheyrou would have undoubtedly been to shut up shop and refigure their shape again, but the former USA international got more than he bargained for when the ex-Saint Etienne player popped up with the winner. As extra-time continued with the stadium still in ecstasy, Jozy Altidore used his bullish size and strength to hold off several challenges from the fatigued Laurent Ciman and Ambroise Oyongo before delivering the perfect cross into the box which was met by the foot of substitute Toisant Ricketts, giving the Reds an insane two goal lead in this 12 goal thriller of a series. Ricketts’ incredible moment gave Toronto FC a 7-5 lead on aggregate giving the Impact hardly any chance of finding a way back into the match. As extra time wore on the Impact threw everything they had forward but could not find the back of the net, especially not with Clint Irwin in goal who made two fantastic saves to keep Mauro Biello’s side out. Ricketts and Altidore continued to cause all sorts of problems for the Impact going the other way and with their continued bit of pressure on the opposition’s defense, Montreal just could not get back into the match and surrendered to a 7-5 loss on aggregate.

In the end, in fantastic circumstances, Toronto FC became MLS Cup Playoff Finalists for the first time in their history in just their second ever time being in the playoffs at all. Despite a few shaky moments at the back, the Reds had a fantastic campaign to make it this far with every single player from back to front playing a massive role in their rise to the top. Greg Vanney’s side became the first ever team to advance after losing the first-leg of a playoff series in MLS history and made even more history by becoming the first ever Canadian club to make it to the MLS finals. Now the Reds take on Seattle Sounders in the MLS Cup Final on December 10 with every chance of coming out as surprise victors.

Toronto FC have never been a top MLS side but in recent years under Greg Vanney have been a whole new club and have played like they never have before. Now they sit in the playoff final, prepared to battle against the Seattle Sounders for glory in the most important match in the history of the club. TFC we wish you good luck.

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