After the highs of the international break for the Canadian Men’s National Team last week, a week that saw Canada top the table in World Cup Qualifying and reach a record high of 40th in the FIFA world ranking, it was time to get back to club business.
November is always an important month in the calendar, and few would argue this weekend wasn’t the most important so far in the Canadian soccer calendar. We had Vancouver in MLS playoff action, Canadian Premier League playoff semi’s to contend with and Montreal and Toronto battled it out for the right to lift the 2021 Canadian Championship trophy. There’s a lot of Canadian soccer to digest from this week, so let’s get right to it.
MLS Playoffs – Sporting Kansas City 3 – Vancouver Whitecaps 1
The Vancouver Cinderella story struck midnight in Kansas for Vanni Sartini’s men as Sporting simply had too much on the day. Vancouver was riding high going into this game, having lost just one of their last 11 games but found themselves behind early on. Dániel Sallói‘s deep cross found an unmarked Graham Zusi on the right-hand side of the 18-yard box who made no mistake picking out Khiry Shelton who showed great composure to make it 1-0 Kansas City after 17 minutes.
Kansas City had their tails up and was looking more likely to score again until Vancouver won a free-kick. Ryan Gauld’s flighted ball initially appeared to have been routinely cleared unit a VAR review showed the ball came off Luís Martins outstretched arm, giving the Whitecaps a chance from the penalty spot to equalize. Cristian Dájome made no mistake making it 1-1 heading towards halftime.
Vancouver, unfortunately, couldn’t hold on as a stoppage-time corner from Jonny Russell wasn’t dealt with and the commotion in the box eventually lead to the ball falling to the feet of Nicolas Isimat-Mirin who made it 2-1 Kansas just before halftime.
Things wouldn’t get much better to start the second half, on the 57th minute, the ball was played across midfield to Graham Zusi who from roughly 25 yards out, hit a rocket of a shot into the top left corner of the goal leaving Whitecaps keeper Maxime Crépeau no chance and giving Vancouver a mountain to climb. The Whitecaps made sure it wouldn’t be for a lack of effort their season ended and they piled pressure on Sporting’s goal, they even scored again on 85th minute but unfortunately, Lucas Cavallini’s effort was ruled out for offside in the build-up.
Kansas held on to win 3-1 and advance to the West Semi-Finals. While it may have ended a little earlier than they wanted it to, the Vancouver Whitecaps can hold their heads high for getting to this position when it seemed unthinkable in August. They’ll be for sure looking to be a threat in the West next season, and I certainly wouldn’t be betting against Vancouver making the playoffs next season.
Canadian Championship Final – CF Montreal 1 – Toronto FC 0
After the disappointment of missing out in the playoffs, there can’t be many better tonics for Montreal fans than beating the old enemy Toronto in a final. The game at Saputo Stadium pitted together the two most successful teams in the Canadian Championship, Toronto was looking to win their eighth title while Montreal went into the game looking to take the crown for the fifth time.
Montreal wasted no time at all in this game as just 14 seconds in, Romell Quioto was through on goal with just the keeper to beat but Toronto goalie Quentin Westberg was up to the task early on. Montreal, who finished 18 points ahead of Toronto in the MLS regular season looked to keep the pressure up, 23 minutes in, Mathieu Choinière put a dangerous low cross into the box that found Quioto again and the Hondurans cross goal effort went just wide.
Montreal had indeed dominated the first half when it came to goal-scoring opportunities and Quioto again went close on the 40th minute mark after a brilliant run into the box once again had Toronto thanking Westberg for keeping the score 0-0. Montreal must’ve been wondering if it just simply wasn’t to be after they came agonizingly close around the hour mark.
Kenyan midfielder Victor Wanyama controlled the ball beautifully on the edge of the penalty area and found the half a yard he needed to get a shot off that rattled the cross bar. Those worries would evaporate quickly 10 minutes later. On the 71st minute, a long ball up field from Rudy Camacho made its way all the way to the Toronto penalty area and the danger man all day, Romell Quioto timed his run perfectly to meet the ball and lob the ball over a flat-footed Westberg into the Toronto net making it 1-0 Montreal, sparking jubilant scenes among the home fans.
It was Quioto’s third goal against Toronto this season and looked set to be the difference maker in deciding who would lift the Voyageurs Cup. Montreals earlier misses meant that Toronto still had a chance though to make them pay, in the 89th minute, a long cross-field pass from Michael Bradley found Nick DeLeon, and the substitute was now one on one with just the Montreal keeper to beat, but Sebastian Breza was up to the task. In the immediate frantic aftermath, Ifunanyachi Achara picked up the loose ball and with Breza well out from his goal, he found striker Jordan Perruzza who, with the goal at his mercy, somehow hit the post with his effort letting Montreal off the hook.
That was as close as Toronto would come as Montreal held on to beat their biggest rivals just as they did in the 2019 Canadian championship final. While the MLS season didn’t end the way they wanted it to, this young Montreal side now have a perfect platform going into 2022. Time will tell how Toronto bounce back after a challenging season, 2017 must seem a long time ago.
CPL Semi-Final – Cavalry 1 – Pacific 2
It took extra time and a rather unorthodox and controversial winner to separate these two but ultimately it was Pacific FC who held on at Foothills Stadium to punch their ticket to the Canadian Premier League Final. Theres been little to separate these two all season, but perhaps Calvary had more confidence and momentum having won the last game between these two 1-0 just two weeks ago. Pacific made their intentions clear almost straight from kick off when a fast counter attack lead to the ball falling to Terran Campbell who’s shot across the box came off the post narrowly preventing a goal within the first 60 seconds.
Pacific pilled the pressure on early, and after surviving a scare from a Calvary corner in the 30th minute, wasted no time breaking the deadlock. Josh Heard’s cross found Manny Aparicio in the box who headed the ball into the path of Campbell who made it 1-0 after 32 minutes.
Going into halftime, Calvary knew they had to respond and were a team on a mission after the restart, they won a corner almost immediately to start the second half and on the 46th minute, Ben Fisk’s corner found Karifa Yao who’s header was perfectly placed into the top near corner making the score 1-1. The goal seemed to give the Calgary side all the momentum, as they knocked at the Pacific goal throughout the second half but just couldn’t find that elusive second goal which meant we were going into extra time to separate these two.
The deciding goal would come at the end of the first half of extra time and was not without its controversy. A dangerous counterattack from Pacific FC looked to have been dealt with when Tom Field looked to have done enough to force Kunle Dada-Luke off the ball, and the Calvary defence assumed the ball went out for a goal kick.
Dada-Luke was deemed to have just kept the ball in play and from a tight angle, his shot sneaked in through Calvary keeper Marco Carducci who was still claiming the ball had gone out. The referee allowed the goal to stand and it was marked as a Carducci own goal making it 2-1 Pacific. The controversial goal proved to be too much for Calvary to overcome as Pacific FC held on to reach their Canadian Premier League Final, where they would play the winner of Forge and York United.
CPL Semi-Final – Forge 3 – York United 1
Forge took a step closer to capturing a third successive Canadian Premier League title after they defeated provincial rivals York United in front of a home crowd at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton. It wouldn’t take long for Forge to take the lead, just eight minutes in, Tristan Borges played a defence splitting ball to striker Woobens Pacius who placed the ball smartly across the goal and once it hit the post sending it goal bound it was time to celebrate for the young Canadian striker.
Forge would ride the early momentum well and continued to have the best chances, but they would fail to double their lead. A Max Ferrari cross on the 37th minute lead to miscommunication amongst the Forge goalkeeper and defenders who both went for the ball and York’s Michael Petrasso took full advantage of Forge keeper Triston Henry being out of position to make it 1-1 with a smart finish from the edge of the box.
As the second half began, Forge continued to have the better chances. In the 65th minute, Omar Browne picked up the ball and ran towards the York goal, he then picked out Joshua Navarro with a pass and Navarro, with pressure on him from the York defence managed to get a shot away in front of goal and slot it passed York keeper Nathan Ingham to make it 2-1 Forge with under half an hour to play in the second semi-final of the day.
Forge wouldn’t have to wait long to give themselves an insurance score, just seven minutes later, a Forge corner to the near post was met by Navarro who’s header deflected in off York midfielder Noah Verhoeven for an unfortunate own goal to make it 3-1, giving York a mountain to climb to keep their season alive. It wasn’t to be, however, as Forge saw out the game to make reach their third final and keep their dream of three successive alive.
York will be glad to see the back of Forge after three defats in a row against the team from Hamilton who is now looking forward to a home final against Pacific FC on December 5th to decide the winner of the 2021 Canadian Premier League, a match that will bring what has been an absolutely fantastic year for Canadian soccer to a close.