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Montreal hangs on to win see-saw battle over Toronto FC

Toronto FC midfielder Armando Cooper (31) battles with the Montreal Impact’s Hernan Bernardello during first half action in the first leg of the MLS Eastern Conference final at Olympic Stadium in Montreal on Tuesday.


Bigger mishaps have befallen Montreal's Olympic Stadium, of course.

Some, like the multicar crash at the 2012 Monster Spectacular, the roof collapse of 1999 and the falling concrete slabs (1987, 2012) were dangerous to life and limb.

Tuesday evening saw a lesser calamity elbow its way onto the top-10 list of Big O mishaps: the beginning of perhaps the biggest professional soccer match in Canadian history was delayed because – there is no nice way of saying this – some incompetent painted the lines for the 18-yard boxes in the wrong place.

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Not fatal, merely embarrassing.

Kickoff was delayed by 30 or so minutes while green spray paint was summoned to fix the mistake and new lines were painted.

The imbroglio was soon forgotten – within 10 minutes, in fact.

The first leg of the Major League Soccer Eastern final was always going to be a contest of will between a pressing Toronto FC – hungry for an all-important away goal – and a counterattacking Montreal Impact side that hung on for a 3-2 win.

Early chances favoured the visitors, who earned a free kick in the opening minute in a decent position, and once again won a set-piece from just outside the (freshly painted) area in the fourth minute.

Toronto striker Sebastian Giovinco came together with Montreal defender Hassoun Camara as they vied for a diagonal ball, the Impact right-back was lucky not to escape a caution or worse.

But the Italian international couldn't capitalize, cranking his free kick over the bar.

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With that threat averted, Montreal then conjured a moment of genius out of nothing; Camara's quick upfield pass to midfielder Patrice Bernier saw the Montreal captain quickly spin and fire a gorgeous ball down the inside-right channel.

Impact striker Dominic Oduro materialized in exactly the right spot to gather, skip into the area, and slot a cool finish past Clint Irwin and into the far side of the goal. In the build-up TFC coach Greg Vanney dared to play his favoured 3-5-2 formation because of the extra space it would afford him at the back ("I believe I'm the fastest player in the league," the Ghanaian said).

Evidently it was more than just idle boasting.

The record-tying Olympic Stadium crowd barely had time to settle down when Oduro chested down a headed clearance from the Toronto defence.

He then made a delicious right-footed chip to find teammate Ignacio Piatti – he of the 17 regular-season goals and zero MVP votes – who sent an angled sizzler across the face of goal, where Italian striker Matteo Mancosu slammed it into the top of the Toronto net.

Giovinco manufactured a couple of half-chances. His clearest shot at goal came after he smuggled the ball past defender Laurent Ciman and scuttled net-ward, but his shot curled well wide.

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Perhaps the best opportunity fell to Justin Morrow, who stormed down the left side late in the first half. Early in the second half, Victor Cabrera made a vital block as the Italian international found space in the Montreal area.

The Impact's back line has been rock solid through three postseason games, and on this occasion even contributed to the scoreline.

In the 53rd minute, left-back Ambroise Oyongo darted into the midfield when Bernier caused some havoc and roared up the middle of the field with the ball; after a short hesitation near the top of the box, he angled a gorgeous left-footed shot past a diving Irwin to make it 3-0.

Jozy Altidore clawed one back for TFC in the 68th minute after a furious scramble that saw the ball ping around the Impact area.

Montreal coach Mauro Biello responded by throwing on Drogba, to thunderous cheers.

But then, stunned silence as Toronto drove forward and after a couple of meaty challenges the ball rolled to midfielder Michael Bradley, who notched a second for the visitors in the 73rd.

Toronto has its away goals, both teams have work to do in next Wednesday's return leg at BMO Field.

Presumably the lines there will be in their proper place.

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About the Author
National Correspondent

Sean Gordon joined the Globe's Quebec bureau in 2008 and covers the Canadiens, Alouettes and Impact, as well as Quebec's contingent of Olympic athletes. More


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