By Louis East
Toronto FC relied on the quality of their designated players to secure a first-leg win against a young Vancouver Whitecaps side in the Amway Canadian Championship semi-final.
Goals from Jermain Defoe and Michael Bradley helped Toronto to a 2-1 victory against a young, and spirited Whitecaps side, with manager Carl Robinson fielding a team with an average age of just 21.6 at BMO Field on Wednesday night.
With no game this weekend, Toronto manager Ryan Nelsen fielded a strong side in the first-leg of the Canadian Championship semi-final as he looked to build a convincing lead in the tie.
But that was not the case, as Vancouver battled throughout and have a real chance of progressing to the final in next week’s second-leg.
Toronto looked dangerous in the first-half as Vancouver struggled to contain the attacking threats of Defoe and Issey Nakajima-Farran, who were giving the young Whitecaps defence plenty to deal with.
They opened the scoring in the 27th minute, as Gilberto sent Defoe through on goal with the Englishman making no mistake with his finish, sliding under the young Marco Carducci in the Vancouver goal.
At just 17, Carducci is the second-youngest goalkeeper to have played for Vancouver in their 40-year history but he couldn’t prevent Defoe from scoring his fourth goal for Toronto in just five appearances.
Gilberto will be boosted by the assist, but the Brazilian is still looking for his first goal since joining Toronto and needs to start taking his chances.
The Whitecaps improved in the second-half and grew increasingly confident as the game went on, but Joe Bendik was in fine form in the Toronto goal, stopping shots from Omar Salgado and the impressive Russell Teibert.
Toronto eventually got the second goal they had been looking for in the 89th minute, as Michael Bradley ran from his own box to slot the ball past Carducci, after playing a neat one-two with Jermain Defoe.
The tie looked to be edging away from Vancouver, who had worked so hard, but substitute Kekuta Manneh made sure the Whitecaps are still in the tie.
(All to play for in next Wednesday’s second-leg match at BC Place)
The exciting 19-year-old volleyed in from inside the box in stoppage time, to make it 2-1 on the night, giving Vancouver real hope of making the final in next Wednesday’s second-leg at BC Place.
The winner will play in a two-legged final for the Voyageurs Cup against FC Edmonton or Montreal Impact.
FC Edmonton came from behind and scored a late winner to stun holders, Montreal, in the first-leg last night, winning 2-1 but Montreal will be confident of progressing when they host Edmonton in the second-leg next week.