Toronto FC delighted by return to Canadian summit
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Toronto FC (pictured) gathers for a team photo prior to its Amway Canadian Championship final, second-leg match against host Vancouver Whitecaps on June 29, 2016. (Photo courtesy of Canada Soccer)

VANCOUVER, Canada – Toronto FC played without United States internationals Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore. It was even missing starting goalkeeper Clint Irwin.

Yet, somehow, down 2-0 in the second leg of the 2016 Amway Canadian Championship final, the Reds managed to strike for the goal that gave it the title.

In the fifth minute of stoppage time, Will Johnson hit the back of the net after miscommunication in the Vancouver Whitecaps defense gave him a golden opportunity. The series ended 2-2 on aggregate, but Toronto lifted the trophy based on the away-goals rule.

High drama, indeed.

“Two teams that just battled all the way to the wire,” Toronto FC head coach Greg Vanney said after the game. “We were fortunate enough to make a big play at the end that gave us the result. A tribute to our guys who stuck in there till the end and competed for every last ball and made the one play at the end that made the difference.”

It wasn’t easy for Toronto, which won last week’s opening leg, 1-0. Vancouver took seeming command of the series following second-half goals by Nicolas Mezquida and Tim Parker.

With time of the essence, Vanney changed the tactics to fit the situation.

“It wasn’t till the end, when we started becoming a little bit more direct and started pushing more numbers higher that we started really creating some things,” he remarked. “These finals are always awkward when they are 180 minutes long because you are always sort of managing in some ways the moment, recognizing what the scenario is at that moment.”

The former U.S. international, 42, hopes that this gives his team a boost heading into the second half of the MLS season. Toronto, which became the first team to qualify for the 2017/18 Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League, currently sits seventh in the Eastern Conference with a 5W-4D-6L record.

“I hope just on base-line level that it’s some added confidence for our group to win something and put something that we set out to accomplish as a goal…we put it behind us, we’ve achieved it,” commented Vanney. “So from that standpoint, hopefully it’s just something we can build on as a franchise and as a team.” 

At the end of the day, though, a championship holds its own singular place as an achievement. One that left Vanney proud of his team.

“There so much sort of emotion, here’s so much back and forth,” he finished. “For it to go down to 90 plus four, in the final seconds for us to find it, it’s just a huge swing emotionally. I was happy for the players in the end. They stuck it out. They really competed through this event, all the way to the final whistle.”