Toronto FC moved into the Canadian Championship final with a 2-1 victory over Canadian Premier League leader Pacific FC on Wednesday night.
Jozy Altidore and Jacob Shaffelburg scored for Toronto, which led 2-0 after 25 minutes and controlled most of the game with its speed and accuracy on the ball, before an announced crowd of 5,131 at BMO Field.
Pacific’s Alejandro Diaz scored in the 83rd minute, making for an interesting finale after knocking home a Kadin Chung cross. Victor Blasco started the play with a slide-rule pass into the penalty box that just eluded Toronto captain Michael Bradley.
Pacific couldn’t take advantage of a pair of late corners. The game wasn’t as close as the scoreline indicated, however, as Toronto could have added to its total if it had been more clinical.
Plus, Pacific goalkeeper Callum Irving did his bit to keep it close.
Shaffelburg appealed in vain for a penalty after going down in the Pacific box in the 89th minute.
Toronto faces CF Montreal in the final, with the Voyageurs Cup and a berth in the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League, the flagship club competition in the region, on the line.
Montreal won the last Canadian Championship contested, defeating Toronto in a penalty shootout after the two-legged 2019 final was knotted 1-1 on aggregate.
Pacific knocked off the Vancouver Whitecaps 4-3 in the 2021 tournament’s preliminary round — Vancouver fired coach Marc Dos Santos the next day — and Cavalry FC 1-0 in the quarterfinal.
Toronto got a bye to the quarterfinal where it thumped York United FC 4-0.
Pacific (13-8-6) tops the CPL, albeit by one point over Forge FC and Cavalry FC, with one game left before the playoffs.
Toronto (6-17-10) is 26th in the 27-team MLS with one game remaining.
TFC has prioritized the Canadian Championship, looking to salvage something from a failed season.
The game featured two teams in totally different snack brackets.
CPL teams are each allowed to spend between $650,000 and $850,000 on their entire playing roster.
Toronto’s starting 11 totalled US$13.7 million in payroll with Spanish playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo leading the way at US$4.69 million.
Pacific gave it a good go, but dug an early hole. It had more of the ball in the second half, but rarely threatened until Diaz struck.
After an even start, Altidore put Toronto ahead in the 15th minute with a pretty goal.
Shaffelburg sliced open the defence with a short pass that went through the legs of defender Lukas McNaughton. Altidore curled a shot past a diving Irving off the post and into the net.
Altidore’s third goal in his last four games and his 79th for TFC in all competitions puts him just four behind franchise leader Sebastian Giovinco.
Toronto began to string passes together, forcing Pacific on the back foot.
Shaffelburg doubled the lead in the 25th minute, beating Irving from close range after some nice interplay with Richie Laryea down the left flank.
The Pacific penalty box was filled with defenders but Shaffelburg, who has been in a rich vein of form of late, found a crease and made the CPL side pay.
Irving made a fine one-handed stop of a Shaffelburg shot that capped a 16-pass Toronto buildup in the 41st minute.
Toronto lost another defender in first-half stoppage time with Brazilian fullback Auro limping off.
Toronto managed to minimize the threat of Pacific attacking midfielder Marco Bustos in the half, save a weak shot in stoppage time — Pacific’s first on target. Bustos had 22 touches in the first half, seventh best among Pacific.
Former Toronto FC homegrown player Manny Aparicio had Pacific’s best chance of the half, testing Quentin Westberg with a long-range swerving shot also in stoppage time.
TFC had 61 per cent possession in the first half outshooting Pacific 8-4 (6-2 in shots on target).
Bustos, who seems to be favouring a leg as the half ended, was replaced by Kunle Dada-Luke, a product of the TFC academy, after the break.
Irving made a fine reflex save in the 56th, stopping Altidore from close-range after a Shaffelburg cross. Toronto continued to control the game, moving the ball quickly around the field.
Pacific had patches of possession but lacked teeth on offence.
Toronto coach Javier Perez fielded arguably his strongest lineup available, making seven changes from the team that tied Atlanta on the weekend.
Venezuelan winger Yeferson Soteldo and centre back Chris Mavinga normally starters, were out through injury, as was goalkeeper Alex Bono who has been No. 1 for most of the season.
Centre back Omar Gonzalez failed a late fitness test with leg discomfort, with Kemar Lawrence pairing with Bradley at the heart of the defence. Noble Okello, who had been destined for the bench, started in midfield.
Pacific was without forward Terran Campbell, suspended for yellow card accumulation.
Tournament rules require teams to use at least three Canadian starters. Pacific had 10 compared to Toronto’s three.
While Pacific leads the CPL, it has lost four of its last six in league play. All four defeats were by one goal, however.
Toronto was winless in its previous five games (0-2-3) but had taken points off three playoff contenders — Montreal, Philadelphia and Atlanta — in recent ties.
Toronto wraps up its MLS regular season Sunday against D.C. United, while Pacific visits Cavalry FC.
Montreal made it to the Canadian Championship final by dispatching CPL champion Forge FC in an 11-round penalty shootout, ultimately decided by the goalkeepers stepping up to the penalty spot with Sebastian Breza stopping Forge counterpart Triston Henry and then scoring himself to give Montreal an 8-7 win.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 Canadian Championship was reduced to a one-off final between Toronto and Forge that has yet to be played or even scheduled.
Toronto qualified by virtue of its play against Montreal and Vancouver during the pandemic-affected 2020 MLS season. Forge got the nod after winning the Island Games, the CPL’s 2020 truncated season.
Toronto has won the Voyageurs Cup seven times since 2009.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 3, 2021
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press