I think it's safe to say that tonight's first leg of the Voyageurs Cup semi-final between Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact could be summed up by a quote from a classic by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts...
I think of you every night and day,
You took my heart, then you took my pride away.
I hate myself for loving you,
Can't break free from the the things that you do.
I wanna walk, but I run back to you,
That's why I hate myself for loving you!
- "I Hate Myself For Loving You", Joan Jett and the Blackhearts
(Desmond Child/Joan Jett)
In a stunningly terrible to watch game, neither TFC nor the Impact were able to find the back of the net without incurring an offside flag. TFC was able to garner a paltry 34% possession in the full match, as the first leg of the "Eastern" Voyageurs Cup semi-final ended in a love-all draw heading back to Toronto for the series decider.
Montreal started the match by basically hogging the ball, hoping to find someway to pierce the porous Reds defence. This went on for a solid 20-30 minutes, with a few chances sprinkled in. A number of excellent runs from the likes of Lamar Neagle, Felipe Martins and Sanna Nyassi (who made a pest of himself in front of the Toronto net all evening), and a run of eight corners did not produce a single goal for the Impact.
Meanwhile, the Reds' backline showed a slight resilience that we've seen a few glimpses of before...while the typical defensive errors (think Adrian Cann and Miguel Aceval) were in play, Montreal's inability to finish was their saviour tonight. Up front, with all the forwards being denied the ball for long spells, they were forced to take whatever chances and possession they were able to get.
A late chance off an excellent Torsten Frings run went begging because the German failed to take the shot, while Eric Avila was the sole player on the park in Red to register a shot on Donovan Ricketts. It was overall a shaky defensive performance from the Reds, who showed very little spark or desire to break the Impact dominance of the ball. And when the final whistle blew, the people who were breathing a sigh of relief, were the people in the stands and at home.
Stats-wise, shots on goal were 12-1 in favour of Montreal, and the Impact dominated possession at 66% but yet they were not able to find a way past Milos Kocic, who had to make 3 excellent saves to keep the Reds in the hunt. However, TFC was able to claw their way to win the duels race, by a margin of 51% to 48%.
So frustrating was the Reds' defence, that during the post-match press conference Montreal coach Jesse Marsch blamed the lack of Impact goals on TFC's lack of ambition and committment solely to defence -- which from the way that the Impact was playing, TFC was literally forced to do from the first minute on. The fact that Montreal's finishing was lacklustre at best with poor connectivity in the penalty area, counters any and all of Marsch's complaints.
For the Reds, their defeat at Real Salt Lake hung heavily and Aron Winter played to this -- but the only positive that we can take from this, is that for the first time since the 1st leg match against Santos Laguna, we were not on the wrong end of the score board...baby steps indeed, especially on what some Rogers Sportsnet commentators called "the worst pitch in MLS." (And we won't even get into the interchange hilarity between Luis Silva, Terry Dunfield and Avila...)
If this match was the one and only match to determine a finalist, it is not a stretch to say it'd be hard to see how either of these teams would be able to get past even FC Edmonton, who lost 2-0 at home in their first leg to the Vancouver Whitecaps. But regardless, the second and deciding leg goes next Wednesday at BMO Field, and you can be sure that it will likely be more of the same again.
These are the games that really do make you hate to love Canadian soccer...but yet, we persevere. Onward we go, indeed.