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HAMILTON — Forge FC threw everything at Toronto FC but the anvil.
The Canadian Premier League side put forward a tremendous effort against TFC on Saturday night at Tim Hortons Field, but it was the Reds who came away victorious in the 2020 Canadian Championship final — a match that was delayed two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In front of 13,715 spectators on a perfect late spring evening in The Hammer, the two sides battled to a 1-1 draw at the end of regulation time with Toronto winning the 2020 Voyageurs Cup on penalty kicks.
Alejandro Pozuelo scored for TFC and Tristan Borges for Forge in regulation time.
Both teams converted four times in the first five penalty kicks. Kosi Thompson took the sixth kick for Toronto and converted, his right-footed shot going into the bottom right corner behind Forge ’keeper Triston Henry. Kwasi Poku took Forge’s sixth penalty and left-footed it off the cross-bar, giving Toronto the title, much to the dismay of the crestfallen Forge faithful.
Quentin Westberg stood tall for the Reds in the match, making a number of huge saves in regular time and a big stop on former TFC player Kyle Bekker in the penalty kick round.
“That’s the cruelty of this beautiful game,” Forge coach Bobby Smyrniotis said. “That’s why we love it and that’s why for a lot of people who were sitting in the stands today walk away from here being quite entertained and it’s a great night for Canadian soccer, though obviously not what Forge wanted.
“Coming here against Forge it’s always going to be hard. They’re a good team, they’re experienced,” TFC coach Bob Bradley added. “As been the case for us throughout the year, there’s moments where are our football’s OK, there’s other moments where we lose control. We’re still trying to become a more consistent team that can sustain some of the good football longer. But while we’re working on that, we’ve got to have a mentality to stick together and find ways (to win).”
Which they did Saturday night.
The win gave TFC its first trophy since 2018 and a record eighth Canadian Championship. The Reds have a chance to win a second Voyageurs Cup this year when they face CF Montreal in the 2022 Canadian Championship semifinal on June 22 at BMO Field with the final to be played in July.
Forge FC, the first CPL team to qualify for a Canadian Championship final, played with passion and courage, and, at times, was the better team on the field, especially in the first half. TFC held a 54-46% edge in possession though Forge recorded 18 shots to 11 for Toronto with eight on target while the Reds managed five on goal.
Pozuelo, who was a wizard for Toronto throughout the match, opened the scoring in the second half with a beautiful goal in the 57th minute when he picked up a pass from Ayo Akinola just outside the middle of the box and left-footed it into the top left corner, just out of reach of a diving Henry.
Forge tied it three minutes later on a goal by Borges, who was left unmarked in left side of the Toronto box and left-footed a shot into the top right corner, with the assist going to Aboubacar Sissoko.
TFC was missing a number of players, including veteran midfielder Jonathan Osorio — who has a lower leg injury a MRI revealed, though it’s reported to be something minor. There is no timeline as to when the Canadian international might return and Bradley is hoping Osorio can recuperate over the international break.
Veteran defenders Shane O’Neill (concussion protocol) and Chris Mavinga (lower body injury) are still injured and are not back in team training as of yet. Midfielder Noble Okello is also injured and not close to returning.
The two sides battled to a 0-0 draw in the first half. Both teams had good chances to score, though The Steelers probably had the better chances with Westberg coming up big.
Forge had the best chance early, in the seventh minute, when Borges took a free kick about five metres from outside the centre of the box forcing Westberg to make a great, lunging save to his left. From the start of the match, Forge went on the attack. In the 10th minute, after a Carlos Salcedo giveaway, Westberg had to make a great save on the Forge’s David Choiniere.
Akinola was pulled down in the 13th minute just outside the box for a Toronto free kick. Pozuelo took a shot, which was blocked. Right after that, Choiniere charged down the right side of the field and Westberg made yet another good save on Choiniere’s right-foot.
Forge blew a glorious chance to take the lead in the 19th minute when Toronto’s Luca Petrasso pulled down Choinière in the box (and picked up a yellow card). Choinière left-footed the penalty kick off the cross bar, much to the chagrin of the Forge faithful.
Forge ’keeper Henry stood up tall for the home side in the 26th minute when he made a nice stop on another MacNaughton header.
Westberg made the best save of the first half when he lunged to his right to stop Forge forward Terran Campbell from in close with about seven minutes left in the half.
Michael Bradley almost connected with Akinola with a long pass inside the Forge box to start the second half but Henry just beat Akinola to the ball.
After the two sides scored in the second half, Forge almost took the lead in the 70th minute when Campbell was given a breakaway and Westberg made a huge point blank save.
Pozuelo fed Jesus Jimenez with a pass to the centre of the box and Jimenez headed it right at Henry in the 80th minute for a TFC chance.