By KURTIS LARSON
If you would have told the Vancouver Whitecaps before the start of the Canadian Championship they would run through the tournament without a loss, they would have been booking flights for the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League before they competition's first kick. Four games, four draws and only four points later, they watched Toronto FC lift the Nutrilite Canadian Cup at BMO Wednesday night.
It's rare that a game without meaning can be of so much importance to the players on the field. With Toronto FC calling in six players from their CSL academy team, the level of interest surrounding the game became apparent when an announced 15,176 showed up in the pouring rain to see how the youngsters would fare. After all, Vancouver stated prior to the game they would deploy a starting 11 that would put on a good show for the nationally televised game.
Making just four changes to the starting 11 that drew the Montreal Impact a week earlier, Vancouver came in with a competitive side against a Toronto FC team that was starting two teenagers in Doneil Henry and Allando Matheson. The Canadian youth internationals competed well against much more mature and experienced competition throughout the opening 45 minutes showing they have the strength and confidence to compete at the next level.
"There's never a game that doesn't mean anything," 17-year-old defender Henry stated following the 0-0 draw. "You have to get the passion and desire to win all games.
"It was great to see the academy kids our there," Chad Barrett told reporters after watching the game from the press box. "It shows the academy system is working and has a promising future."
The opening 45 minutes was extremely chippy with countless late tackles and limited scoring opportunities. The soggy conditions may have lead to the games only ejection when Marcus Haber slid through Henry with his studs shin-high midway through the first half.
Despite playing a man down, Vancouver controlled the run of play creating a few scoring opportunities that threatened TFC third-choice keeper Milos Kocic. In the dying stages of the first half, Vancouver's Phillipe Davies found the ball at the corner of the box before cutting inside and unleashing a curling shot that forced Kocic into heroics just before the half.
Toronto FC would find their best scoring opportunity just after the half when second-half academy sub Nicholas Lindsay found himself alone at the corner of the six-yard-box in the 52nd minute. However, the youth internationals shot found side netting.
In the 67the minute Vancouver nearly ruined Toronto's perfect home record once more when a Jonny Steele header caromed off the top of the crossbar.
The game would remain scoreless with TFC stretching its home unbeaten streak to six games. The Reds lifted the Canadian Cup for the second consecutive year and will meet Honduran side Motagua in the CONCACAF preliminary round in late July.
Toronto FC – (2-0-2) 8 pts
Vancouver – (0-0-4) 4 pts
Montreal – (0-2-2) 2 pts
National Team News
Coming off a 5-0 thrashing in Argentina the Canadian national team used a stoppage time goal to steal a 1-1 draw in Merida, Venezuela Saturday. A late header from Gavin McCallum (Hereford United FC, England) levelled things after a late foul just outside the area.
"I felt we controlled the game and had good speed," head coach Stephen Hart said. "There were two mistakes, the second on which they scored."
In just the beginning stages of restructuring the side ahead of the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup, a result of any kind in South America is promising. Without the services of 6-8 normal starters, Canada will look to keep things rolling with games this fall against Peru and Honduras at home followed by a trip to the Ukraine.
"We pushed forward very well," Hart said. "I was happy to see the team respond with a late goal."
Toronto FC – Host a Kansas City side Saturday that is searching for points after cooling off following a hot start to the MLS season. Following the match, MLS will be on a two week World Cup break. After the break Toronto may get its first home test when the LA Galaxy visit BMO on June 26.
Vancouver Whitecaps – Host Tampa Bay Sunday followed by Carolina Wednesday. Vancouver is hanging on to first place in the NASL Conference by just a point with Carolina, Montreal and CP Baltimore all within striking distance.
Montreal Impact – Fell to AC Milan 4-1 Wednesday night in front of 47,861 at Montreal's Olympic Stadium. Next up is a USSF-2 league match against Miami at Saputo Stadium. The Impact then travel to Minnesota and Tampa next week.
FC Edmonton – In preparation for their inaugural season, FC Edmonton announced three international friendly dates to be played in Edmonton. They will host Colo Colo (Chile) on June 20, Vitoria (Brazil) on June 27, and Portsmouth (England) on July 21.