HALIFAX, Nova Scotia - There’s just something special about domestic cup games, isn’t there?
Toronto FC left it late to punch their ticket to the last four of the 2022 Canadian Championship, as an own goal from Peter Schaale ensured Bob Bradley’s men would come away with a narrow 2-1 victory and avoid a ‘cupset.’
The Reds will now face either Forge FC or CF Montreal in the semi-finals.
Tuesday’s game in Halifax was the first time in history a Canadian Premier League side played host to TFC, and with a sold out crowd in attendance, the atmosphere truly did live up to the hype.
Quentin Westberg earned his first start of the season, while Nova Scotia native Jacob Shaffelburg was deemed fit enough to make the bench. Bob Bradley also chose to have the likes of Jonathan Osorio, Jesús Jiménez, and Ayo Akinola among the substitutes.
Both sides began the game in frantic fashion, as seen by careless spells in possession with very little being created in terms of significant scoring chances. Despite that, TFC and HFX were quite physical with their challenges, as players showed no fear when it came to getting stuck into tackles.
The home fans were full of energy throughout the first half, especially when TFC turned over possession. Moreover, a feisty start to the game made up for the lack of action in the final third.
Goal scoring opportunities were scarce in the first 45, with neither side registering a single shot on target. For Toronto, they only had one effort during the entirety of the first half. Cue a mouth-watering triple change from Bob Bradley after the break.
Ayo Akinola, Jesús Jiménez, and Jonathan Osorio were all thrown on for the second 45, and boy did the trio have an impact.
The Reds were injected with a sense of urgency following the substitutions, and they were rewarded for their early second half efforts in the 55th minute. Luca Petrasso swung in a corner that was first met by Jordan Perruzza. The youngster thought he had scored his first of the season, but the final touch came off none other than his captain Michael Bradley, who in the process became the first TFC player to score in multiple competitions this season.
Toronto didn’t take their foot off the gas just yet, as they continued to search for an insurance goal to put the game beyond Halifax’s reach. Akinola came close to scoring his second in as many games, but a well-hit effort drifted just wide of Christian Oxner’s goal.
As the 70th minute mark approached, was there to be any response from Halifax after a period of dominance from the visitors? You bet.
21-year-old Sam Salter stunned Toronto FC and set Wanderers Grounds alight with a gorgeous finish from the top of the penalty area. After beating Luca Petrasso and Osorio to create space for himself, Salter curled one into the bottom corner, leaving Westberg and co. dumbfounded.
Provincial hero Jacob Shaffelburg was brought into the game moments after Halifax’s equalizer, and his return to competitive action was met with thunderous cheers from the entire venue.
Wanderers Grounds was well and truly alive once again. From the 70th to the 85th minute, the place was rocking with chants and cheers on positive occasions for the home side, and deafening boos when a call didn’t go their way.
Many would have thought this game was destined for a penalty shootout given how momentum had swung in Halifax’s favour, but Toronto FC would have the last word and finish off their CPL rival once and for all.
Shaffelburg sent a looping cross into the area that was missed completely by Akinola. Yet, Osorio, who has been Toronto FC’s Mr. Reliable of late, was there to unleash an effort on goal from close range. TFC’s all-time appearance leader may have hit the bar, but Schaale was standing right on the line and could do nothing but stand and watch the ball deflect off of him and into the back of the net.
Following the game, Bob Bradley commended HFX Wanderers on a valiant performance:
“It’s a cup tie, it’s a hard match. Halifax was obviously really well prepared, they were motivated, the crowd was great, credit to Halifax.”
Toronto FC will play their 2022 Canadian Championship semi-final tie during the week of June 20th.