MONTREAL -- Toronto FC head coach John Carver said earlier this week that he considered last night's Nutrilite Canadian Championship match against the Montreal Impact a 10 out of 10, in terms of importance to his side.
But it was the lower-ranked Impact who played as if the match -- the first between the two sides -- was of crucial importance.
The Impact, of the inferior United Soccer Leagues, gave Toronto FC, of Major League Soccer, everything it could handle and more at the brand new Stade Saputo in suburban Montreal in front of 12,083 shivering fans -- including a few hundred brandishing the red of Toronto FC.
In the end, playing with a man advantage from early in the second half, Toronto FC prevailed, 1-0, on a beautiful header by Puerto Rican national team defender Marco Velez from a free kick by Laurent Robert in the 72nd minute.
But the TFC was fortunate for the result.
"It was a scrappy game," Toronto captain Jim Brennan said. "But fair play to them, they rose to the occasion, they came out and pressed forward and tried to create chances. I think to start we were a big sluggish, we were a bit off. But we got our goal and the three points, and we made our fans happy."
The loss also stirred up some resentment on Montreal's end. Forward Rocco Placentino, easily the most dangerous player on either side for most of the game, suggested afterwards that the referee, Paul Ward, favoured the higher profile Toronto squad for most of the game -- and particularly was upset that Ward issued a red card to teammate Stefano Pesoli in the 53rd minute after the Montreal midfielder grabbed Toronto forward Jeff Cunningham.
"That was a bit iffy but it's part of the game and we have to accept that that happens," said Placentino, adding that to comment further on Ward's officiating would result in a "political" discussion.
The Impact is 2-4-1 in USL first division play and has not scored a goal in its past four games. If the Impact had any finish, it would have led early and often last night. It forced the action for most of the game, but time and again came up empty, though the visiting side started controlling the pace of the match in the late stages as the Impact ran out of steam.
The Canadian Championship is a three-team round-robin tournament, featuring Toronto FC against the Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps of the USL, with the winner representing Canada at the CONCACAF Champions League event later this season.
Carver was forced to make three substitutions to his starting lineup from last Saturday's game in Washington. Midfielders Amada Guevara (Honduras) and Maurice Edu (United States) are fulfilling national team obligations while defender Tyrone Marshall still is out with a sore hamstring.
"I have to give enormous credit to (Montreal). It gave us a tough time, it was a frustrating night from my point of view," Carver said.
Carver substituted Danny Dichio, who had been plagued with slight groin strain in recent days, with Jarrod Smith near the end of the first half when Dichio aggravated his injury.