Toronto FC dominated the Montreal Impact in the final game of the MLS regular season at BMO Field on Saturday, but only managed to win 1–0 on a first half goal from Welsh striker Robert Earnshaw. The loss was a serious blow to Montreal’s playoff aspirations, while the victors ended their difficult season on a positive note.
A win and they’re in. That was what the Montreal Impact could take to the bank going into their crucial final game against already-eliminated Toronto FC. A draw or a loss for the Impact could mean some nervous moments hoping and praying results from Sunday’s games involving the Houston Dynamo, New England Revolution, and Chicago Fire go their way and they “back-door” their way the MLS playoffs.
The Impact showed little spirit, little willingness to go to battle, and Toronto FC could have won by a wider margin. And again, TFC’s keeper Joe Bendik came up with some spectacular saves to thwart the Impact’s best chances.
Throughout the game, TFC’s midfield ruled the pitch with Jonathan Osorio and Kyle Bekker getting the better of Hernan Bernardello and Felipe Martins. The Impact was unable to get adequate service to Marco Di Vaio who finished the season with 20 goals. It remains to be seen if he will win the golden boot award as Chicago’s Mike Magee also has 20 goals and plays tomorrow.
Toronto FC started brightly and took the lead in the 16th minute when Bright Dike got past Wandrille Lefevre and Karl W. Ouimette on the left side of the Impact defense. The burly striker then found Osorio whose shot was redirected by Earnshaw past Troy Perkins in the Montreal goal.
Dike would prove to be a handful the for the Impact defense who was missing the legendary Alessandro Nesta.
TFC kept the pressure on Montreal and could have made it 2–0 on a couple of occasions in the first half. Earnshaw and Dike raced in on Perkins in the 33rd minute but Earnshaw’s shot was stopped by the Montreal goalkeeper.
Five minutes later, Bekker rang a shot off the crossbar.
“We could’ve got the second goal,” said TFC manager Ryan Nelsen at halftime in an on-field interview with TSN. Nelsen called the Impact a “playoff team” and said, “It’s a good learning experience, we’ve got to get used to this.”
Toronto has a young squad, quite in contrast to the Impact, and had little to play for other than pride and the spoiler role.
Di Vaio thought he had equalized just past the hour mark, but Canadian referee David Gantar correctly and decisively ruled that the Italian marksman had steered the ball in with his left arm.
Then in the 72nd minute, Montreal’s first overall pick in 2012 Andrew Wenger jabbed a shot from close range wide of the goal. The feed from Hassoun Camara was ideal and the Impact striker continued to struggle in front of goal.
Late in the game, Bendik made his best save of the match down low to his left off Andres Romero to preserve the lead.
Toronto FC was able to hold on to the slender lead, something they have struggled to do all season. A good deal of credit for the defensive stability goes to the captain Steven Caldwell who took command of the center of the defense. Some physical play from youngster Doneil Henry also came in handy.
The Impact now remains winless on the road in Toronto with five losses and three draws.
The rivalry between the two clubs and their fan bases has been building. This year Montreal knocked Toronto out of the Canadian Championship with a 6–0 win at home after losing 2–0 in Toronto. Montreal went on to represent Canada in CONCACAF Champions League after beating Vancouver, but fizzled in the competition.
Toronto has yet another offseason of rebuilding ahead. With significant changes having been made in the front office throughout the season, ongoing efforts to strengthen the squad will continue.
Montreal’s destiny will be known Sunday; their terrific start to the season has almost gone up in smoke.
Follow Rahul on Twitter @RV_ETSports