From the the Montreal Impact’s point of view, moving their home leg of the Eastern Conference final to the Olympic Stadium resulted in one of the biggest single-match events in MLS history.
For Toronto FC, it all became a bit of a circus, with a delay to kick-off and an unsafe and unpredictable pitch to deal with.
“We shouldn't be changing venues two weeks before a game,” TFC coach Greg Vanney said on Thursday. “It shouldn't happen. And then to have the field not be the proper size before the game, again it shouldn't happen.
“We should be well beyond that now in this league. But it did and it's behind us. That's another bullet I think we dodged in the grand scheme of things.”
It’s hard to argue that the Impact’s 3-2 victory at the Big O was not a major moment for both MLS and Canadian soccer, with over 61,000 fans in attendance and a record one million more watching on TV north of the border. The game delivered five goals and no shortage of drama.
As the visiting team with a place in the MLS Cup final at stake, however, TFC were not so impressed - even after they had scored two goals to give themselves every chance of advancing to the season finale. Immediately after the match, Michael Bradley half-jokingly wondered whether the embarrassing mishap with the pitch dimensions that delayed kick-off was deliberate, designed to throw off their preparation.
Another of Toronto’s designated players, Sebastian Giovinco, had expressed his displeasure at having to play on turf before the game, and his body language during it did not suggest it was any better than he feared.
From Neil Davidson of the Canadian Press:
Vanney called the artificial turf under the dome "the worst surface that I've seen in MLS by far over the course of the year." And he said the conditions frustrated his players, "Sebastian in particular," from the get-go.
"He sees that it's a dangerous surface," Vanney said of Giovinco, who played on pristine pitches in Europe.
The idea Toronto had “dodged a bullet” came up more than once in Vanney’s media briefing - both in terms of avoiding any significant injuries and also with regards to the aggregate score, which looked like it could get out of control before the Reds’ late rally.
There may be one more coming their way in the form of the Grey Cup at BMO Field on Sunday, which has the potential to give Toronto surface problems of their own. Falling at the penultimate hurdle to Montreal would be hard to take; feeling as if factors far out of the team’s control had contributed to it would be devastating.