The Vancouver Whitecaps and Toronto FC played to a 1-1 draw at Empire Field in the first leg of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship. Unfortunately for the Whitecaps the draw was not an indication of how the game went as the home side deserved a two or three goal victory. The game was filled missed chances and a couple of blown calls by the referee that kept TFC from falling behind by multiple goals. The game’s scoreless deadlock was broken in the second half by Eric Hassli but TFC responded with a goal from their captain Maicon Santos that evened the score line.
The first half saw the Whitecaps pushing forward right away for the first goal as Dunfield fired a pass from Chiumineto wide of the net in the first five minutes. The Caps had another couple of chances near the 30 minute mark as DeMerit’s header was cleared off the line and then Camilo’s shot was stopped Frei three minutes later. The visitors saw a couple of their players injured in the first as both Jacob Peterson and Tony Tchani had to be substituted off. TFC had their best chance of the half as Soolsma’s header was deflected over the bar by goalkeeper Jay Nolly.
The Caps came out flying to start the second half as Camilo made a run into the box but was knocked down by Adrian Cann. It was the first blown call as the play was definitely deserving of a penalty kick but no call was made by the referee who allowed play to continue. The chances continued as a minute later Hassli’s shot from inside the box hit the bar and then a cross found DeMerit who headed the ball across an empty net but was just missed by Camilo. A couple of minutes later went around a couple of defenders before unleashing his shot that Frei pushed onto the bar and out of bounds.
An own goal was almost produced off a Salinas corner and then Chiumiento was one on one with Frei but pushed the ball over the net. The deadlock was finally broken when Nolly threw the ball upfield to Chiumiento who found Hassli outside the box. A couple of touches to make space and the French striker fired a ball past Frei towards the far post to open the score. With the crowd still buzzing over the goal TFC started to apply constant pressure for the first time in the match and were rewarded as Santos scored nine minutes later to draw the contest even.
With the important away goal TFC decided to stay tight and play for the draw which allowed the Caps to press for the lead. Salgado, who came on for Hassli, had an opportunity to put the Caps up ahead but fired wide even though he had a couple of teammates to his right. Another couple of opportunities for the rookie to score through the air occurred but was stopped by Frei both times. Another blown call by referee happened with four minutes left as TFC defender Dan Gargan made a clear backpass to Frei was there was no call on the play. The Caps had one final chance in injury time as a header by Alain Rochat eluded Frei but went into the side netting as the a draw was how the game would end.
There was no doubt after the game that this performance by the Whitecaps was their best of the season despite having to settle for a draw. Based on their play and the chances created in the match, the Caps were unlucky not to win this leg by a couple of goals. The match saw their captain Jay DeMerit play a full 90 minutes for the first time since the opener and it looked as though he was at fitness. The weekend off looked to do the job as there were a number of Whitecaps, especially Hassli, Dunfield and Camilo, who looked refreshed on the pitch for the first time in a number of matches. Hassli seems to have found the line of where he can play physical and be dangerous but not be called out by the referee with fouls and cards.
Even with the great performance by the Caps, it is TFC who now hold the edge to win the Voyageur’s Cup next week at BMO Field. The away goal means that the Caps will need at least one goal as a 0-0 draw will mean that TFC retains the title for one more year. The Whitecaps can claim the Cup if they win the game or play to a draw where they score at least two away goals. TFC now must prepare for a weekend match with Colorado on the road while Vancouver has the weekend off and will have a complete week to prepare for the 2nd Leg in Toronto.