The words 'Vancouver Whitecaps' STILL appear nowhere in this photo. Photo courtesy Canada Soccer
I don't get it, but for a day or two at least I don't care. Toronto FC, 0-9, Worst Team In The World, in desperate need of some kind of change, not that anyone can agree exactly what, are Canadian champions again. For the 4th straight year they get to lift the trophy and celebrate with their supporters as Vancouver look on from the outside. No craziness was required in this one, don't get me wrong there was plenty of craziness, but there's no real straws that Vancouver supporters can desperately cling to, nothing to further the conspiracy talks. They just lost the Voyageurs Cup to a team 18 points below them just over 2 months into the MLS season, and very deservedly so. TFC were worthy winners over the two legs, as they were against Montreal in the semi finals. It's all so confusing.
The main difference was a solid defence. Eric Hassli's moment of genius was the only goal TFC conceded in 4 games (as opposed to a whopping 21 goals from 9 games so far in the league), and this particular clean sheet never really looked in doubt, with Vancouver managing to not register a single shot on target. Adrian Cann had a good battle with Hassli starting early with a very physical challenge for a header in the first few minutes that left Hassli looking woozy. He was aided by solid performances by Doneil Henry, Ashtone Morgan and Jeremy hall, who all made important challenges here and there. Hall, Morgan and especially Richard Eckersley who came on as a second half sub also all did very well getting forward, taking advantage of Vancouver's weak combo of lazy wide forwards, old full backs and a narrow midfield.
Up front, Ryan Johnson did his usual hard work, though he never really got any big chances. Joao Plata looked much improved and more dangerous than usual, and Reggie Lambe topped off a good game with a very well taken goal. In midfield Torsten Frings had another good game, and he was joined in that by Eric Avila and Julian de Guzman before both had to leave the game in the second half for different reasons. Avila was taken off with what is hopefully not a serious injury. De Guzman, well he provided the first bit of excitement after a fairly cautious and steady first half from both teams with one of the usual mental errors that have been plaguing TFC all year, though fortunately it didn't cost the team this time.
It had been a chippy game throughout the first half, with ref Sylviu Petrescu barely keeping control and giving out plenty of yellow cards. It all boiled over in the 56th minute, with Sebastien Le Toux clashing with Ryan Johnson, de Guzman shoving over a very easy to knock down Le Toux, then a few seconds later lightly slapping Jun Marques Davidson who proved just as easy to knock down . Both incidents were worthy of a red card despite the enthusiastic selling of them by the Whitecaps in question, not really the sort of composure and leadership you want to see from one of your most experienced and important players. It happily didn't hurt too much as at the same time, Le Toux also earned a second yellow card, presumably for the initial challenge that sparked the repeated appearance of de Guzman's handbag.
That gave Whitecaps coach Martin Rennie all the reason he needed to blame the Ontario based Petrescu for his teams loss, though commendably most Vancouver fans seem to not be following him with that excuse. Rennie said "They put a lot of pressure on the official by putting a Toronto official (sic. He's actually from Waterloo) against a cup final in Toronto, and that's what happens". There's no doubt Petrescu had a rough game, but similar to the first leg, there were decisions made and not made in both team's favour at different times.
No, it was a solidly played game from TFC and some curious lineup choices from Rennie, who still doesn't seem to have figured out an effective way to have Hassli, Le Toux and Camilo Sanvezzo in the team at the same time, that saw TFC come away with the result and a 4th consecutive trophy.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect from TFC is this was no back to basics, grind it out kind of result, there were some genuinely impressive periods of play from TFC, not least of which was the lead up to the goal. That saw 12 consecutive passes in a move from one end of the pitch to the other. First of all some very calm defensive play from a quick Vancouver free kick, calmly keeping possession rather than just hammering it anywhere. That led to a long but accurate break out pass to stretch the Whitecaps, some patient passing to probe for an opening, a good burst of speed down the wing from Ashtone Morgan, some cute play around the top of the box (both those last two allowed by some world class laziness from Davide Chiumiento), before a cross into the box, chested down to Lambe who finished clinically.
Can this finally give the team some confidence in league play? Can they carry on this form in what will be their most winnable game in a while against an almost as equally poor and dysfunctional Philadelphia Union side on Saturday, to avoid having to stare at an 0-10 record for the 3 weeks of the international break? Those are the big questions aren't they? That's the unavoidable context that will inevitably and quickly (and very correctly) dampen the celebrations of this win.
But that's for another day, and another article, for now let's just celebrate the trophy, the title of Canadian champions, the much needed celebrations themselves and the prospect of actually having some important games left to play, hopefully against some exotic and unknown Concacaf teams. And why the hell not, let's childishly revel in the fact that Vancouver still haven't won the Voyageurs Cup, and just managed to lose it, deservedly, over two legs no less, to The Worst Team In The World.