Toronto FC managed to defend their Canadian Club Championship for the fourth year in a row with a 1-0 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps Wednesday night at BMO Field. The only goal of the match came from Bermudian winger Reggie Lambe but it was enough to hand the struggling TFC a 2-1 aggregate win and a fourth Voyaguers Cup. The win also means that Toronto will return to the CONCACAF Champions League for 2012-13 where they will look to build on their semi-final appearance this spring.
Coming into the game Toronto FC had to be considered underdogs despite getting a 1-1 draw on the road at BC Place. That status came from the club's terrible league form as they currently find themselves without a point from nine MLS matches and off to the worst start in the league's history. It was that poor run of results that led Danny Koevermans to quip that TFC are "the worst team in the world" following their second straight defeat to DC United.
On Wednesday night, they looked nothing like the worst team in the world though as they turned in a very good performance in what proved to be a very chippy affair. The match began with both teams looking to attack and creating a number of chances. The best of the bunch fell to the head of Joao Plata who managed to get in behind Y. P. Lee but was unable to direct his effort on target.
The match would eventually settle down a little with both teams improving their defensive effort but as the chances decreased the bad tackles increased. The teams kept the referee quite busy as he handed out seven yellow cards and a pair of reds in the final hour of the match. Some of the cards came from bad blood between the two teams but there was also a lot of sloppy play in the match with players missing the ball completely on their tackles.
The pair of red cards were handed out as a result of a bit of a scuffle in the 57th minute. A bit of a bad tackle and shove from Sebastian Le Toux saw the Caps forward eventually receive his second yellow card but the real spark came when Julian De Guzman shoved Le Toux to the ground and followed that action up with a bit of a slap to the face of Jun Marques Davidson. Davidson made a meal of the contact acting like his jaw had been broken but the actions from De Guzman were more than enough to merit his sending off.
With both teams down to 10 men the match was again opened up. It was Toronto though that seemed to get the boost from the dust up as they controlled the ball in the following minutes pinning the Caps in their own end. Toronto had a goal correctly ruled out for offside when Nick Soolsma applied the finishing touch but was clearly behind the last defender. They did make the advantage pay in the 83rd minute as Reggie Lambe collected the ball from Soolsma and applied a calm finish from the top of the box. It was a fitting reward for Toronto who had been on top most of the match.
A late push from the Whitecaps, several strong penalty appeals from Eric Hassli, and Joe Cannon joining the attack were not enough to send the game to extra time meaning TFC fans could once again celebrate their club being the top side in Canada.
Winning a small four team tournament may not seem like a big deal but for TFC fans it is the biggest bright spot in the club's history. The team has never made the playoffs and their poor league start is making it look like that run will continue so all that is left for them is cup play. A loss to Vancouver would basically have meant the end of meaningful games for another season and that would have been a tough pill to swallow for a fan base that is clearly suffering from the team's poor on field performances.
The trip to the Champions League gives the team and the fans something to look forward to again and for at least one day allows them to forget their record setting woes in MLS play. If the team can carry some momentum from this game forward to their meeting with the Philadelphia Union on the week than maybe the good feelings will grow around BMO Field but even if this result is a one off at least it provides a momentary reprieve in what has been a very tough season.
On the other hand, another good CCL run might just be what Aron Winter needs to be able to keep his job in spite of numerous calls for him to be sacked in recent weeks. That run would also give TFC fans, the ones that actually go to CCL games, something to cheer about which is greatly needed these days.
Dave Rowaan is an editor for Toronto FC blog Waking the Red.