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Thursday 17 May 2012

Upon First Glance – Toronto FC @ Vancouver Whitecaps – Voyageur’s Cup Final First Leg

    A rematch of epic proportions - in a Canadian sort of way. Past editions fraught with controversy; enduring irritation lingers on one side of the divide; cough, Vancouver, cough, bitter, cough.

    BC Place - less than full - but pregnant with expectation. Pre-match handshakes with the president - unusual pomp - but appreciated. Barbara, a surprise, but given the rigourous schedule, hardly a shock. Early advantage goes to the homers, Toronto unsure of their footing on the unnatural surroundings.

    Camilo’s second-best foot - less a danger than the first - spared the Reds some early blushes. The consistency of the fourth-choice officiating was suspect, but wavered evenly between the two sides. Fair enough in the end.

    There came a few nervy moments, prompted by a failure to collect and clear cleanly from Milos Kocic. Then the best chance out of nowhere – Terry Dunfield latching onto the end of a Plata free kick midway through the first half – for naught however, as the sharp header sailed high over the bar.

    A moment of high comedy, Vancouver outmaneuvering themselves on a short-corner routine, fumbled the ball, the result a cheap turnover.

    Moments of indecision closed a tenuous first forty-five, a Sebastien Le Toux rebound rolled agonizingly free, before finally being dealt with in the end.

    The second phase began as the first; though Toronto began to grab a more assured hold on the proceedings. Sparse inexact half-chances started to come their way, paving the path for a goal to follow.

    Danny Koevermans returned and put in some good work on the right, the ball came to Julian de Guzman, more forward than is usual haunt, at the top of the Whitecaps box. A wonderful delivery, curled towards the back-post with all the grace and poise of his reputation, if not his play.

    Ryan Johnson, that majestic salmon, rose to meet it - as he has many times before - bidding adieu to Martin Bonjour left trailing in his wake. Back across the keeper and in at the right-post.

    0-1 to Toronto.

    There were more to be had, most notably when Joe Cannon turned fortification to deny Nick Soolsma’s shot at an easy finish from Johnson’s clockwise sweeping pass.

    But the match had begun to turn with the substitutions of Martin Rennie after that lead had been taken.

    First came Davide and then on too was Eric. Space was found all too easily and tired legs began to grant fouls in dangerous locations. Possession was lost and with possession goes composure. Darren Mattocks joined the fray late, his speed a concern, pushing the back-line further onto their heels.

    Then just when it seemed that the match was won. Another soft foul, this one deep on the left flank awarded an opportunity. The ball found its way to Alain Rochat someway up the pitch, his service to the plate left Hassli in need of a napkin.

    Salivating as he waited for its arrival, the nearest marker, Doneil Henry, had switched off for only a second - so too had his fellow defenders in fairness - granting all the space that was needed. A wonder-strike; as sweet of a volley as one is ever likely to see – no need to see it again - adding more praise to the big man’s reputation as a scorer of great goals.

    Not another save for Milos, this ball exploded off the outside of the right boot, as gracefully as any exploding thing could. The celestial arc it followed into the top corner left Kocic aghast at its beauty and ramification.

    Away goals are nice, but away wins are better.

    The burgeoning friendship will resume its affair a week hence - Wednesday night next in Toronto - the second leg sees the tie resume, well, tied.

    Tut-tut, looks like rain.

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