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Toronto FC defeat Montreal Impact to advance to MLS Cup final

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press | posted Thursday, Dec 1st, 2016

Toronto FC forward Jozy Altidore celebrates scoring his team's second goal against the Montreal Impact during first half Eastern Conference final MLS action in Toronto on Wednesday November 30, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Substitutes Benoit Cheyrou and Tosaint Ricketts scored two minutes apart in extra time to send Toronto FC to the MLS Cup final with a 5-2 win on the night and a wild 7-5 aggregate victory over the Montreal Impact.

It took extra time and 12 goals to decide a scintillating two-legged Eastern Conference final. Toronto will host the Seattle Sounders on Dec. 10 in the MLS championship game, becoming the first Canadian team to go for the title.

Toronto trailed 3-2 after Game 1 in Montreal and had to come back the hard way after the Impact scored first. And when Toronto responded, Montreal came back in a heavyweight battle on Wednesday night played out in the rain before a BMO Field record crowd of 36,000.

Only once before in MLS playoff history had a club trailed by as many as three goals in a two-leg aggregate series and come back to win the tie. The San Jose Earthquakes were down 4-0 in 2003 before rallying to defeat the Los Angeles Galaxy 5-4.

Tied 5-5 on aggregate, Cheyrou scored on a header in the 98th minute, just one minute after entering the game, when he knocked in a Steven Beitashour cross. Then Jozy Altidore outmuscled a couple of defenders to send in a cross that Ricketts, beating two more defenders to the ball, swept in.

The Toronto FC faithful, who had been rained on most of the night, started chanting “This is our house.”

The Toronto bench came flying onto the field after the final whistle to celebrate the historic win as confetti flew from the rafters. The players then went to celebrate in front of the south stand fans before the Eastern Conference cup presentation.

Dominic Oduro opened the scoring in the 24th minute for Montreal, a goal that meant Toronto had to score twice.

Armando Cooper and Altidore did just that before the first half was over, tying the aggregate score at 4-4 with an away goals edge to Toronto.

But Impact danger-man Ignacio Piatti made it 2-2 – and 5-4 on aggregate – in the 53rd minute after substitute Johan Venegas found him behind the defence. The ball bounced off either Piatti or defender Nick Hagglund, leaving Toronto fans to watch in pain as it trickled slowly into the net.

Hagglund restored order with a superb header in the 68th minute to make it 3-2 on the night and 5-5 on aggregate. It came off a short corner with Justin Morrow delivering the cross.

Ricketts had two late chances but tried to pass instead of shooting. Then his shot was blocked after a wonderful buildup by Sebastian Giovinco. Evan Bush then stopped Altidore at close range.

Giovinco limped off the field seven minutes into extra time after injuring his right leg taking a shot. He was replaced by Cheyrou.

The opening leg of the conference final was really two games in one. Montreal led 2-0 after 12 minutes and 3-0 after 53 minutes. But two valuable away goals in the 68th and 73rd minutes gave Toronto reason to hope.

For Montreal, the win felt like a loss. Still it marked only the third time that Toronto had tasted defeat since mid-July (11-3-5).

The lone lineup change Wednesday was Will Johnson in for Jonathan Osorio in the Toronto midfield with Greg Vanney sacrificing Osorio’s offensive skills for Johnson’s tenacity and bite.

It was Montreal midfielder Marco Donadel to the rescue in the seventh minute after a Clint Irwin goalkick found Altidore and the burly forward flicked the ball towards Giovinco. Donadel came flying in to break up the play with a deft tackle.

Midfielder Hernan Bernadello got the worst of a nasty collision with Altidore as they went for an aerial ball in the 13th minute. Altidore’s shoulder caught the Impact player high and Bernadello’s head was driven in the turf as he toppled. A dazed Bernadello eventually got up and continued to play after treatment, but was removed at halftime.

The opening Montreal goal came after immediately after a fine scoring chance by Toronto. A sublime Michael Bradley pass found Morrow in the box but the fullback elected to try to find Altidore rather than shoot himself.

The Impact then struck on the counter-attack with Patrice Bernier nicking the ball off Bradley. He sent the ball to Matteo Mancoso, whose pass sliced open the Toronto defence to find Oduro. The former TFC player made no mistake, beating Irwin with a low shot in the 24th minute.

Oduro also opened the scoring in the first leg.

Cooper tied it up in the 37th minute off a Giovinco corner. A header from a flying Hagglund was blocked by Bernadello on the goal-line but the ball bounced straight back to Cooper who banged it past Bush.

Toronto wanted a penalty call on Bush as Cooper attacked the box but there was no joy, possibly because the Panamanian stayed on his feet.

Another Giovinco corner led to a 45th-minute goal with Altidore beating a defender at the front post to flick the ball past Bush. The U.S. international then raced around the corner flag and headed to the Toronto bench to celebrate.

After Piatti’s goal, Toronto brought on offence in the form of Ricketts for Johnson in the 62nd minute.

But there was offence at the other end as a diving Irwin just stopped a low Venegas shot.

Both legs of the conference final featured record attendances.

The Nov. 22 opener at Olympic Stadium drew 61,004, tying the Impact record. Wednesday’s paid attendance of 36,000 was also a record for BMO Field, which was filled with 33,421 for Sunday’s Grey Cup. The soccer configuration for the stadium allows more seating.

Toronto’s record crowd is 47,658 for the CONCACAF Champions League quarter-final against David Beckham and the Los Angeles Galaxy in March 2012 at Rogers Centre.

The MLS record for playoff attendance is 61,316 at the 2002 MLS Cup final at Gillette Stadium.

The two Canadian rivals were well acquainted coming into Wednesday’s showdown. They had played each other seven times including pre-season, regular season, Amway Canadian Championship and post-season. Each team had two wins and there were three ties.

Toronto (14-9-11 during the regular season) advanced by dispatching the Philadelphia Union and New York City FC. Montreal (11-11-12) beat D.C. United and the New York Red Bulls.

Seattle (14-14-6) knocked off Sporting Kansas City, FC Dallas and the Colorado Rapids.

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