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Impact, Kings of the North - CONCACAF, Here We Come!

Montreal back on the honours trail after five long years ... Toronto FC ... 1 Impact ... 0 (1-1 on aggregate. Montreal wins 3-1 on pens)

MLS: Canadian Championship-Montreal Impact at Toronto FC
IMFC goalkeeper Clement Diop celebrates with team-mates after the Impact wins the Canadian Championship on a penalty shoot-out.
Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

Overnight, it’s become, oh so simple, to select a season’s highlight if you’re a Montreal Impact fan!

Determination, guts, fortitude and craft. They were all there in abundance at BMO Field last night. Plenty of drama too with a clear penalty denied, a 70th minute goal conceded, a red card, the physically-shot Piatti rapping the crossbar in the last minute and the normally dreaded penalty shoot-out, which turned out pretty nicely, actually.

Montreal for once this season, played like a team, that simply refused to be beaten, while Toronto FC runs the danger of being labelled ‘PK Shoot-out Chokers’, having now lost in this manner in a Canadian Championship decider, to add to similar reverses in MLS Cup and CONCACAF Champions League.

MLS: Canadian Championship-Montreal Impact at Toronto FC
Anxious moments - The Impact needn’t have worried. Bojan, Lovitz and Camacho all finished expertly from the spot, while TFC left their shooting boots at home ...
Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

That shoot-out will have caused Toronto coach Greg Vanney nightmares belying his cool and still confident post-match demeanor. His side mirrored its accuracy, or lack thereof, displayed over the previous ninety minutes in which they registered just one shot on target (Endoh’s goal) from 15 attempts. In the shoot-out they scored once from four, against the Impact’s perfect three from three.

And that was it. International club soccer will return to Montreal in 2020, Piatti has his team prize to add to all those individual awards and Wilmer Cabrera becomes the first coach to win the US Open Cup and Canadian Championship. Not only that, he’s done it in successive seasons!

Just before his noisy, boisterous and jubilant team burst into the press conference room en bloc, showering champagne over the Colombian and anyone else that got in the way, Cabrera, humbly, was paying credit to departed Remi Garde and Nick De Santis.

“I’m very proud, but I need to share this trophy with Nick De Santis and Remi Garde. They did most of the job throughout the year; I cannot take full credit for this. They started off and I am the fortunate coach to finish.”

Moments later his smart suit was a much darker shade of green as the celebratory bubbly flew across the room in torrents.

The first-half of the game hadn’t suggested the incident-packed second-half we witnessed, but this was a cup final and you had a proud Toronto FC side, playing at home and determined to retain a title they’ve jealously guarded across recent seasons.

The second 45 was always going to be a test. And so, it proved. Toronto had dominated the first-half, Jozy Altidore, so often the Impact-slayer in these clashes had two decent chances and failed to hit the target each time. His English Premier League form had come back to haunt the well-built, American striker, a trend that carried right through to the penalty shoot-out, when his thunderous drive came back off Clement Diop’s crossbar, offering the first chink of real light for the visitors.

MLS: Canadian Championship-Montreal Impact at Toronto FC
Jozy - He’s had many better nights ...
Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

Gonzalez too, on the stroke of half-time saw a firm header fly past from Pozuelo’s corner, with Diop rooted to the spot.

The Impact’s best chance fell to Ignacio Piatti on 26 mins, running onto Cabrera’s long raking, diagonal pass and making space in front of Laryea before bringing a diving save from Bono between the Toronto posts.

MLS: Canadian Championship-Montreal Impact at Toronto FC
A championship in North America at last for Nacho Piatti, seen here battling with Omar Gonzalez.
Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

Bojan, still only 29, rolled back the years throughout, giving a masterclass of forward play, ingenuity and technique that suggested he was peerless amongst those he was playing amongst, whether dressed in red, or white. A perfect stage for the Spaniard, his virtuoso performance lacked only a goal, although he did dispatch Montreal’s first shot from the penalty mark crisply and with aplomb past Alex Bono.

The longer the game remained scoreless, the more intense the Toronto onslaught would become. Montreal had a let-off on 51 mins when Osorio’s 20 yarder rebounded from a post after good work by Laryea had set him up.

But Montreal were still showing signs of life at the other end too. Bojan cleverly tried to fool Bono from inside his half, the execution, just not quite accurate enough.

Then for Toronto, an Altidore back-post header was dealt with by Raitala, and Pozuelo’s dangerous ball across goal just eluded Endoh, and There was no-one else to apply a finishing touch.

It was fast and furious and on 65 mins, Montreal should have had a penalty. It was as clear as night and day. The excellent Bojan played an exquisite ball for Shome, who cut back for Urruti. The Argentinian’s cross should have provided a glory moment for Bayiha running in at the far post, only for Auro Junior to flick the ball away with his hand.

Both Mr Fisher the referee, and his assistant, missed it. VAR, much maligned and a divider of opinion since its introduction, was not used in this year’s Canadian Championship, but here was one situation where events unequivocally leant on the case ‘for’. Had the technology been available, arguably there wouldn’t have been the need for a penalty shoot-out.

MLS: Canadian Championship-Montreal Impact at Toronto FC
Bojan, the outstanding performer on the night, making life difficult for TFC captain, Michael Bradley.
Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto took the lead on the night, on 70 mins, Endoh forcing the ball home from close range. Despite the firm hand of Diop, the ball squeezed over the line. Level. Game on!

And less than a minute later, Toronto almost had a second. Osorio and Endoh, again, may have been caught in each other’s way in reaching for Auro Junior’s cross and the connection flew high and wide.

Montreal had each of the two best chances in the game’s concluding 10 mins. First Lappalainen, a fleet-footed 77th minute substitute for Urruti, beat the offside, running clear onto a Bojan slide-rule pass. As he approached the box, the Finn was tripped by Mavinga, the only debate being, with Gonzalez closing, whether it was a clear goalscoring opportunity or not.

Mr Fisher produced red, not yellow, and the French centre-back was banished.

Then in the last minute, more good work by Lappalainen, his thirteen-minute appearance telling and significant, set up Piatti. Despite looking tired, Impact’s number ten retained the presence of mind to wriggle free of his opponent, creating space, before rifling off the bar. It would have been a fitting conclusion to the contest had the dispatch been a few inches lower, but Montreal’s joy would not be long coming.

Pozuelo briefly put Toronto ahead for the only time in the tie, scoring the first goal in the shoot-out, but it was the last positive of the evening for the Reds, Altidore (bar), Mullins (saved by Diop) and Osorio (post) all failing from the spot.

Bojan, Lovitz, who coach Cabrera declared afterwards was brought on late in the game with penalties looking ominous, and Rudy Camacho all clinically executed their responsibilities and the cup was headed back to Montreal after an absence of five years.

MLS: Canadian Championship-Montreal Impact at Toronto FC
Piatti lifts the Voyageurs Cup.
Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

Line-Ups -

Toronto FC - Bono, Laryea (Auro Jnr), Mavinga, Gonzalez, Morgan (Morrow, 46) - Bradley, Delgado, Endoh (Patrick Mullins, 82), Osorio - Pozuelo, Altidore

IMFC - Diop, Sagna, Camacho, Cabrera, Raitala (Lovitz, 90+1) - Piette, Shome, Bayiha, Piatti - Urruti (Lappalainen, 77), Bojan.

Match Officials -

Referee - Drew Fischer
Asst Refs- Michael Barwegen, Phil Briere
4th Official - Silviu Petrescu

Penalty shoot-out -

Pozuelo - scored - 1-0 TFC
Bojan - scored - 1-1
Altidore - missed, hit crossbar - 1-1
Lovitz - scored - 1-2 IMFC
Mullins - saved - 1-2 IMFC
Camacho - scored - 1-3 IMFC
Osorio - missed, hit post - 1-3

Attendance - 21,365