The 7-5 aggregate win sends TFC, which prevailed despite
losing top scorer Sebastian Giovinco to a late-game injury, into the MLS Cup final Dec. 10 as host. TFC plays Western Conference playoff winner Seattle, another team that exorcised a few
demons by getting to the last dance for the first time.
TFC bounced back from a bad start, quickly matching goals by Dominic Oduro and Ignacio Piatti in regulation and then, after Giovinco’s departure, scoring two less than two minutes apart in a dazzling display of attacking soccer.
Armando Cooper, Jozy Altidore, and Nick Hagglund scored from corner kicks in regulation to tie the series on aggregate, 5-5, and substitutes Benoit Cheyrou and Tosaint Ricketts tallied in extra time to push TFC into a 7-5 lead it held despite the entry of Didier Drogba and several desperate thrusts into its goalmouth.
Montreal quieted the largest crowd (36,604) in BMO Field history by scoring first. In the 27th minute, Matteo Mancosu shook off a challenge from Steven Beitashour and dribbled through the middle and to slip a ball that Dominic Oduro cushioned with his first touch and then fired into the bottom corner. Seven minutes later, TFC first exploited a corner kick when Armando Cooper collected the rebound of a Hagglund header cleared off the goal line and banged it into the net.
In the last minute of the first half, Altidore did the honors to tie the aggregate at 4-4 by darting to the near post and heading a Giovinco corner just inside the base of the upright. BMO Field erupted. Yet Montreal shook off that emotional hammer blow and after a bright start to the second half, regained the aggregate lead when Ignacio Piatti rolled home a shot as he squeezed between defenders Eriq Zavaleta and Drew Moor on a feed from Johan Venegas, who had replaced a banged-up Hernan Bernadello at halftime.
With that goal, the Impact regained the advantage on aggregate, 5-4. Rather than bunker down to protect the lead it kept pressing and forced several turnovers in the middle third as TFC labored to regain the momentum and adjusted to the entry of Ricketts, who replaced midfielder Will Johnson.
Twice before in the playoffs Ricketts had revived the TFC attack at crucial junctures, but Montreal’s counterattacks forced TFC to scramble nervously. A big save from Clint Irwin thwarted Venegas in the 66th minute, and two minutes later Montreal fell asleep on a short corner kick; Justin Morrow, unchallenged on the left wing, chipped into the middle and Hagglund drove forward to connect with yet another header.
Half-chances at either end closed out regulation time, and TFC’s fortunes suffered greatly in the sixth minute of the first extra-time period when Giovinco cramped up taking a shot and hobbled off. He cut a sad figure as he walked slowly, his body and uniform drenched by the rain and his face lined with pain and disappointment.
TFC gave itself and its fans no time to brood. Incredibly, Giovinco's replacement, Cheyrou, overpowered Hassoun Camara to head home Beitashour’s inswinging cross from point-blank range, and on TFC’s next attack Altidore stormed down the right flank to center a low ball that Ricketts touched over the line as three opponents converged too late.
Irwin saved again in the second extra period on a Drogba free kick to snuff out the final faint hopes of Montreal, which played a few memorable scenes in this postseason production by getting to this point in the script. But it is the other representative from eastern Canada that will stage the final act.
Nov. 30 in Toronto
Toronto FC 5, Montreal Impact 2.
(Toronto wins, 7-5, on aggregate.)
MTL: Dominic Oduro (Matteo Mancosu) 27.
TFC: Armando Cooper 34.
TFC: Jozy Altidore (Sebastian Giovinco) 45.
MTL: Ignacio Piatti (Johan Venegas) 53.
TFC: Nick Hagglund (Justin Morrow) 68.
TFC: Benoit Cheyrou (Steven Beitashour) 98.
TFC: Tosaint Ricketts (Jozy Altidore) 100.
Toronto FC -- Irwin; Hagglund, Moor, Zavaleta, Beitashour, Morrow, Johnson (Ricketts 62), Cooper (Osorio 88), Bradley, Giovinco (Cheyrou 96), Altidore.
Montreal -- Bush; Camara, Cabrera, Ciman, Oyongo, Donadel, Bernier (Shipp 103), Bernadello (Venegas 46), Oduro, Mancosu (Drogba 73), Piatti.
Yellow cards: Montreal -- Ciman 8, Camara 82.
Referee: Jair Marrufo.