The more time that Toronto FC play together the better, right? That's certainly the opinion of Manager Ryan Nelsen, although considering the circumstances that led to the extra 30 minutes, Pedro Morales's late penalty, he likely would have preferred the alternative.
His club have now advanced to their third Voyageurs Cup final in four years, where they will face the Montreal Impact, winning 5-3 on penalties after the Vancouver Whitecaps forced extra time with a 2-1 score. But in doing so they have convinced no one that they are in any sort of better position as a team than they were prior to kick off.
Doneil Henry had the lone goal for Toronto FC, a goal that's ugliness was only matched by its level of controversy. Prior to reaching Henry, a freekick by Michael Bradley deflected off Nick Hagglund, who appeared to be interfering with Whitecaps keeper Marco Carducci. When Henry ultimately received the ball, he was in an offside position. Erik Hurtado and Pedro Morales, the latter on a penalty, had the goals for the Whitecaps.
Henry's goal was one of the few bright spots in another game where his defending will be called into question. His overaggressive attributes have been well noted, and were in full effect on this occasion. By the time he slid from behind on Hurtado to gift the Whitecaps a penalty in the 86th minute his aggressive play had already been on full exhibition.
He had a number of other poor tackles, one of which led to a very dangerous free kick, and picked up a yellow card in the process. As if his night couldn't get any worse, he took an accidental punch to the face from Joe Bendik, who had come out to try and claim a ball. Henry appeared to lose consciousness for a moment, but would ultimately play the rest of the match.
The rest of Toronto's defense was fairly solid, as they spent the majority of the match under the gun from a very aggressive Vancouver attack. Bradley Orr had yet another impressive match in the centre of defense, and looked calm and collected, especially when contrasted with Henry. Nick Hagglund continues to look like an excellent draft pick, and made a couple of very impressive plays. Ashton Morgan was good in his return to the Toronto lineup, although Mark Bloom was even better when he came in as a replacement.
Behind them, Joe Bendik was the clear man of the match for Toronto FC. His aggressive brand of goaltending saved the club from being eliminated from the competition on several occasions. He seemed to have Kekuta Manneh's number all night, coming out of his net to steal two excellent chances from the young striker. He also stopped Manneh's penalty kick to win the game for Toronto.
However, moving forward from the back things were once again incredibly concerning for Toronto FC. After scoring the early goal the team had very little in the way of either possession or chances. At times during the match the midfield would disappear completely, something that is very concerning considering the fact that this will be Michael Bradley's last game for some time.
This meant it was hard to tell what Toronto can expect from new signing Luke Moore. The striker had little in the way of service and therefore did not get much of an opportunity to show what he could do when facing goal. He did, however, make a couple of good defensive plays but will very likely be a depth player for this team going forward.
Daniel Lovitz, the other player making his TFC debut in the 64th minute, was excellent. The 22-year-old Toronto FC draft pick impressed with Wilmington in the USL, where he had a goal and an assist in five matches, and was subsequently called up to the first team. Lovitz showed plenty of confidence and flash in his time on the pitch for Toronto, and continues to make Tim Bezbatchenko's draft selections look superb.
On the other hand, Ryan Nelsen's tactics were exposed on the day, as the defensive approach Toronto took only invited consistent pressure from the Vancouver Whitecaps. Pedro Morales was consistently allowed too much time and space as he orchestrated the Vancouver attack. For a club that should be learning to work together offensively, their defensive system did little to give them that sort of practice.
But wins always come coupled with positives, and there were a few for Toronto. For one, they now have a good chance at winning their fifth Canadian Championship, which would be a nice side-story to their somewhat underwhelming campaign so far. Furthermore, they held on (kind of) against a Vancouver team who are absolutely lethal at home, something that is no small feat.
The Voyageurs Cup is not a main focus this season for Toronto FC, nor should it be. But after advancing to the final the club is now truly in it to win it.
The final will be played May 28 (in Toronto) and June 4 (in Montreal).