It took 120 minutes and a penalty shootout, but Toronto FC ultimately defeated the Vancouver Whitecaps in the semifinal round of the Amway Canadian Championship.
TFC did so despite losing 2-1 in regulation on Wednesday night, as the Reds had won by that same score a week earlier in the first leg. Goals by Doneil Henry, Erik Hurtado and Pedro Morales decided the regulation result, while Issey Nakajima-Farran notched the shootout winner.
Toronto got off to a dream start as Henry put his side up in just the fourth minute. The big defender tapped in a rebound after Nick Hagglund headed a floated free kick by Michael Bradley goalward, only to watch it cleared off the line by Vancouver's Christian Dean. Henry was the first one to reach the loose ball, and he had little work to do to volley it into the net from within the six-yard box.
The early goal allowed Toronto to set up shop within its own half, and the Whitecaps faced two defensive banks of four as they searched for the goals that would allow them back into the series. The hosts enjoyed most of the ball but did little to penetrate Toronto's final third for most of the first half.
In the 31st minute, TFC very nearly made Vancouver pay for its lack of ideas in front of goal, as Hagglund once again had a goal-bound header cleared off the line. This time there was no Toronto player around to pounce on the rebound, and the match remained 1-0 for the visitors.
Vancouver finally converted its possession advantage just before halftime, as Hurtado slipped a ball past TFC goalkeeper Joe Bendik following a weighted lob by Pedro Morales that allowed the Whitecaps speedster to get in behind TFC's central defenders.
The goal levelled the match and rejuvenated Vancouver, but the home side still trailed on aggregate. The 'Caps continued to camp out in Toronto's end throughout the second half, and just like in the opening 45 it mostly came to nothing.
TFC looked to hit on the counterattack, and its best chance of the half was a Gilberto chip attempt to which Whitecaps 'keeper Marco Carducci got a hand. Aside from that it was mostly bunker ball for Ryan Nelsen's side, as it looked to see out the game and take the aggregate victory.
However, that plan would go by the wayside with just four minutes left in regulation after Henry fouled Hurtado inside TFC's 18-yard box, and Morales converted the ensuing penalty to give the 'Caps a 2-1 lead in the game and a draw on aggregate.
The extra time session saw the game slow down considerably as both teams tired out. Despite being on the receiving end of most of the attacks in regulation, it was TFC that came closest to putting the game away in the extra periods.
Dwayne De Rosario and Daniel Lovitz, both second-half substitutes benefitting from fresh legs, each struck the woodwork in the second half of extra time. De Rosario hit one of his trademark turn-and-shoot moves at the top of the Whitecaps area in the 122th minute that eluded Carducci and hit the right post, and Lovitz followed that up three minutes later with a rocket from 20 yards that was parried onto the crossbar by the young 'Caps netminder.
Despite those near-misses, the match was destined for a penalty shootout. In the end, a weak effort from Kekuta Manneh was the only miss of the shootout round, belying the youngster's effort on the night.
With the victory, Toronto advances to the final of the Canadian Championship, where it will face the Montreal Impact in a two-legged series to determing this year's Voyageurs Cup winner.
Follow GOAL CANADA on