The wind blew and the rain poured relentlessly at BMO Field on a cold November night, as if to say to the Montreal Impact: you are not welcome here. Against this ominous backdrop Toronto FC beat the Montreal Impact in a 5–2 game that was far more nerve-wracking than the score-line might suggest.November 22 — first leg: Toronto FC (TFC) travelled east to play the Impact in what was sure to be the most heated and contentious iteration of the ‘401 Derby’ to date. The fans and teams were ready — but the pitch was not. The grounds crew, tasked with making sure the field was ready for the biggest match in either team’s history, mistakenly painted the penalty areas 16 yards across instead of the required 18. The grounds crew rushed to repaint the lines while fans and players waited, literally watching paint dry.The game finally kicked off about a half hour later, and both sides came out playing hard. But in a span of two minutes it seemed like TFC had blown their chances of playing for the title already. In the tenth minute, former TFC player Dominic Oduro slid one underneath TFC keeper Clint Irwin on a break. Minutes later following weak marking by TFC, Matteo Mancosu blast a shot into the back of the net after receiving a brilliant pass across from Ignacio Piatti.It seemed bleak going into half-time for TFC. Eight minutes into the second half the Impact scored again; this time it was Ambroise Oyongo with a shot from outside the box that Irwin should have had but that nonetheless snuck into the bottom corner. The third goal seemed to be a deathblow, the Montreal crowd was deafening and TFC were shaking.But in the sixty-eighth minute, TFC striker Jozy Altidore headed home an effort from inside the box, and Toronto had come alive. In the seventy-third minute, TFC captain Michael Bradley received the ball and made no mistake putting the ball in the back of the net, bringing his team to within one. Despite TFC throwing everything they had at Montreal in the final minutes of the game, the score ended 3–2 for Montreal.November 30 — second leg: TFC entered the second game of the Eastern Conference final knowing all they needed was a 1–0 win to advance to the MLS cup final. The atmosphere at BMO Field was incredible: the noise, the fans lighting flares, and the never ending rain made for one of the better sporting events this city has seen in some time. Thirteen minutes in, Jozy Altidore and the Impact’s Hernán Bernardello collided hard in midair while challenging for a ball. Tempers threatened to boil over, with players from both sides pushing each other while their teammates writhed on the ground. The second leg of the 401 Derby was off to a heated start.In the twenty-fourth minute, despite TFC dictating the pace of the game, Dominic Oduro found space and slotted in his second goal in as many games. TFC would have to play from behind again, now needing two goals to advance. In the thirty-seventh minute Armando Cooper scored his first ever MLS goal, tying the score. TFC scored again in the forty-fifth minute off a superb corner-kick when Giovinco placed the ball perfectly on Altidore’s head, and he couldn’t help but find the back of the net, bringing the score to 2–1 TFC at the half.The rain continued to fall and TFC fans continued to sing, screaming praise for their beloved Reds.In the fifty-third minute, Ignacio Piatti scored for the Impact, forcing TFC to score once more to force extra-time — and score they did. Nick Hagglund powered a cross header into the net after a well devised set play. In the closing minutes of regular-time, hoping to put his team ahead, Altidore bulldozed his way through the Impact’s back line, only to be thwarted by Impact keeper Evan Bush.In extra-time everyone at BMO Field and all of the fans watching at home held their collective breath as Sebi Giovinco went down and was forced to sub off. On came 35-year-old Benoit Cheyrou, the unlikely hero; less than two minutes after he stepped on the pitch, he connected with a header and gave TFC the lead in extra-time. Moments later Altidore would assist Canadian international Tosaint Ricketts, who found the back of the net, giving TFC a 5–2 lead in the game and a 7–5 series lead on aggregate. They never looked back.December 10 — the finalsIn a winner takes all, single match TFC will host the Seattle Sounders FC at BMO Field to determine who will be crowned the champion. Expect BMO Field to be even more exuberant than usual and for TFC to come out hell bent on winning the trophy for their long suffering and eternally loyal fans — expect the best of North American soccer.
Published: 1:48 am, 5 December 2016
Modified: 2:01 am, 5 December 2016