[CANADIAN CHAMPIONSHIP] Rivalry Week in MLS began last Saturday with the first renewal of the Seattle-Portland Northwest tete-a-tete, and moved into Canada Wednesday when Vancouver tied Toronto FC, 1-1, in the first leg of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship finals.
Eric Hassli cut inside to blast a left-footed shot into the top corner in the 64th minute for a 1-0 Whitecaps lead, and TFC equalized in the 73rd minute when Maicon Santos re-directed a low cross from Nick Soolsma just inside the far post.
At stake is the a slot in the Concacaf Champions League competition, and in vintage MLS fashion the lead-up to this Canadian square-off featured an American defender throwing down the gauntlet to an Ecuadorean attacker. Vancouver right back Jonathan Leathers declared he and his teammates would be able to shut down 19-year-old winger Joao Plata, and while the ‘Caps did win that battle, they weren’t able to seize an advantage in their home leg.
Vancouver controlled most of the play without scoring in the first half. Keeper Stefan Frei stymied Vancouver in the 30th minute when Camilo veered into the middle to hit a hard shot from about 15 yards. It skipped on its away to goal, yet Frei swatted away the awkward bounce near the base of the post with an excellent save. A few minutes earlier Camilo had hit the crossbar with a shot from the edge of the penalty area.
Hassli scored after trapping a diagonal ball from Davide Chiumiento, gliding past two defenders, and rifling his shot from just outside the box. ‘Caps keeper Jay Nolly nearly gave away a goal a few minutes later when he flapped at and completely missed a corner kick, but he scrambled back into time to block Adrian Cann’s shot. Nolly had no chance to reach Santos’ shot, which he took first-time at the near-post and guided across Nolly into the far corner.
Vancouver piled on pressure in the final 15 minutes but couldn’t punch a winning goal past Frei, who thwarted Nizar Khalfan from close range. After replacing Hassli in the 74th minute, U.S. teenager Omar Salgado hit a low shot narrowly wide of the post. In stoppage time Frei came off his line late to reach a high bouncer that left back Alain Rochat headed over his desperate lunge but into the side netting.
TFC hosts the second leg Wednesday at BMO Field. With the advantage of an away goal, TFC will advance by winning or playing a 0-0 tie. Vancouver must win or score at least two goals while tying to qualify for the CCL. A 1-1 tie forces 30 minutes of extra time, with penalty kicks following if the teams are still deadlocked.
Nutrilite Canadian Championship
Finals, first leg
Vancouver 1, Toronto FC 1. Goals: Hassli 64; Santos 73.
Vancouver – Nolly; Leathers, Janicki, DeMerit, Rochat, Koffie, Dunfield, Salinas (Teibert, 83), Chiumiento, Camilo (Khalfan, 78), Hassli (Salgado, 74).
Toronto FC – Frei; Gargan, Cann, Williams, Eckersley, DeGuzman, Tchani (Cordon, 46), Peterson (Gold, 33), Plata (Harden, 77), Santos, Soolsma.