|Toronto FC's Ryan Johnson (top) heads the ball over the top of Vancouver Whitecaps' Camilo Sanvezzo during the first half of the Amway Canadian Championship soccer final in Vancouver, British Columbia May 16, 2012. (REUTERS/Ben Nelms)
TORONTO - Toronto FC played one of its better matches of the season on Wednesday night in Vancouver.
Unfortunately, one mistake cost the club a victory.
Toronto scored an extremely important away goal — a Ryan Johnson header in the 66th minute — to open the Canadian Championship final, but allowed dangerous striker Eric Hassli to get free for the equalizer in the first minute of extra time.
Both goals were extremely pretty — Johnson’s was set up by a great chip from Julian de Guzman, while Hassli hammered in a spectacular volley — and now, TFC is in good shape going into the second leg in Toronto next Wednesday.
Still, the Reds will rue some missed opportunities.
Most notably, Vancouver caught a huge break in the 74th minute when Joao Plata couldn’t handle a pass that should have given him a breakaway chance. It was a botched four on one and it ended up being a crucial moment, since Hassli eventually leveled. Nick Soolsma also could not capitalize on a fine chance.
Still, Toronto outplayed Vancouver, which should shock many observers, and probably deserved better.
The teams will meet again next Wednesday in Toronto to decide who will advance to the group stage of the CONCACAF Champions League.
Reds head coach Aron Winter promised his side would not sit back as it had in Montreal to start the competition and he was true to his word.
TFC attacked and created many chances.
In anticipation of this match, Vancouver had rested several key players for Saturday’s 4-1 loss to New England, but despite missing the suspended Richard Eckersley and injured captain Torsten Frings, it was the Reds who looked stronger.
Johnson’s goal came not long after Danny Koevermans returned to action for the first time in weeks.
Johnson has now scored in two games in a row after voicing his considerable displeasure with the way things were unfolding for winless TFC early in the Major League Soccer schedule.
There was no scoring in the first half, but it wasn’t a dull 45 minutes, with both sides looking dangerous at times. Kocic had to make a stellar stop just seconds before the halftime whistle not long after Johnson nearly converted a header at the other end.
TFC has won the Canadian Championship the past three years and advanced deep into the CCL last season after getting by Vancouver in a controversial final where one game was restarted due to bad weather, erasing a Vancouver lead.
Toronto will try to win its first league game of the year this Saturday on the road against D.C. United.