Missing the playoffs for the second straight year in 2008 surely infuriated the players, coaches, executives and fans, but losing out to the Impact in the Canadian preliminary round burned nearly as much. Two days before the 2008 MLS All-Star Game at BMO Field, Montreal held out for a 1-1 tie that clinched its Concacaf berth, so thrashing the Impact in its stadium carried a double measure of pleasure.
This has been a tumultuous season so far for Toronto with the departure of head coach John Carver, and to his former assistant Chris Cummins falls not only the task of matching Montreal's achievement last year of advancing to the CCL quarterfinals, but riding out a rough stretch of international absences during the Gold Cup to stay afloat in the playoff chase.
One player who may have revived his season Thursday against Montreal is Chad Barrett, the former Fire striker whose agonizing misses this year have triggered an unprecedented number of irate postings on TFC message boards. "He may look like [Wayne] Rooney but the resemblance ends there," was among the mildest entries. In league play this year, he's tallied just two goals on 31 shots.
Dwayne De Rosario hit a hat trick and Amado Guevara scored two, including the last goal, as Toronto stormed back after falling behind. A stunned band of Whitecaps, on hand to receive the Voyageurs Trophy as winners of the competition, watched in disbelief as the rain poured down and the goals flowed in from a Canadian, a Honduran, and an American.
The deciding goal came from Barrett with eight minutes to play. He'd come on for the second half as a substitute and almost immediately drove a pass that wasn't cleared, and De Rosario banged it in for a 3-1 lead. In the 69th minute, Guevara curled home a free kick (4-1), and then hit the corner kick that Barrett headed into the net.
"That shows the caliber of player he is," De Rosario said of Barrett. "He had a couple of good chances and the keeper makes some good saves and then he gets the biggest goal for the club."
Toronto must clear one more hurdle to reach the group phase. It meets another pesky USL-1 team, Puerto Rico Islanders, in a two-leg series July 28 and Aug. 4. In the 2008-09 competition, Puerto Rico advanced out of Group D, upset Honduran club Marathon in the quarterfinals, and after a pair of incredible matches finished tied on aggregate, 3-3 in the semifinals with Mexican club Cruz Azul before losing on penalties (4-2).
Thanks to the goals of De Rosario, Guevara and Barrett, and a couple of key saves from rookie Stefan Frei, TFC pulled off a feat much like that of the U.S. team beating Egypt, 3-0, to reach the semifinals of the Confederations Cup.
"I thought we thoroughly deserved it on the night," said Cummins. "We've gone for broke. People say we can't take our chances but tonight we've taken our chances. The club's going in the right direction. It's the first bit of silverware for Toronto and I can assure you it won't be the last."