Toronto: Theo Zagar, Matt Rosenfeld (SUB: Irasto Knights, 65th min), Atiba Hutchinson, Adrian Serioux, Shawn Faria, Robbie Aristodemo, David DiPlacido (SUB: Julio Penalillo, 46th min), Nikola Vignjevic, Brian Ashton, Niki Budalic (SUB: Ali Ngon, 76th min), Ryan Lucas.
Montreal: Greg Sutton, Adam Braz (SUB: Nevio Pizzolitto, 44th min), Gabriel Gervais, Lloyd Barker, Drew Kopp, Jason Ditullo, Ze Roberto, Rocco Placentino (SUB: Mark Rowland, 60th min), Guiliano Oliviero (SUB: Patrick Leduc, 70th min), Eduardo Sebrango, Patrice Bernier.
(Centennial Park, Toronto) A capacity crowd of 3,253 witnessed a lopsided, chippy affair between rivals Toronto and Montreal on a soothing, sunny afternoon, featuring an exciting flurry of goals in the opening minutes and testy physical warfare for the remainder.
Montreal hit the pitch with a focussed, almost calming resolve, while Toronto looked a shade jumpy after their lengthy 10-day layoff. During this time, the home squad had made some heavy wholesale changes to add some insurance on a promising playoff berth (the return of enigmatic Irasto Knights from Peru, the acquisitions of under-used Riverhounds castaway Ali Ngon, promising Canadian youth Atiba Hutchinson, and towering power striker Ryan Lucas from Cincinnati). The scope is evident, but with all good things chemistry will take time.
Those concerns aside, the Lynx were also missing ¾ of the backline who make goal attempts such an unattractive prospect (Joe Mattacchione, Milan Kojic, and Mauricio Vincello were all sitting on various infraction suspensions), and this was their first game back at their interim home of Centennial Park in nearly two months. Indeed, a lot to factor into the equation.
The Impact put themselves on the board twice within the first seven minutes: a powerful grounder by Sebrango as set-up on a feed by Oliviero (2nd minute), and a cheeky header from Roberto off a snaking corner from Bernier five minutes later. Shaking the collective cobwebs loose, the Lynx woke up and took the game back to their opponents. At the stroke of 15-minutes, dynamo Budalic split the ranks on two Montreal markers and clipped the ball through to Lucas, towering at the 8-yard mark with his back to the net. Clinically, he nutmegged Drew Kopp (a particular focus of derision by the Toronto Ultras all game) with a fake turn, pivoted left and walloped a grounder past GK Sutton, who read the play as well as expected but reacted a split second late. With 3 goals in 4 games for the Lynx, Lucas has already endeared himself to the Toronto faithful, picking up the mantle with no-nonense finish where a succession of others (Kristian Grzetic, Steve Butcher, Diego Santillana, hobbled Juan Arango and disinterested Francisco Dos Santos) could not.
Three goals in the first fifteen minutes of play; the stage was set for these historical rivals to tear each other apart limb from limb in a goal tally that promised to climb until the last whistle was blown. With the exception of a few quality attempts on either side (most notable were Aristodemo's solo 25-yard run in the 40th minute ending in a short side blast turned aside, and Ngon's clever chip to an open net in the dying minutes which caught Sutton off his line, but was swiped clear by sturdy Gervais) the remainder of the physical match was shoulder-to-shoulder midfield crunches and short passing all around.
Contact became so heavy by the end of the first half that Graz was forced to hang up his boots early; the result of too may knocks by markers Faria and Ashton, two bulldogs who both had exceptional games. Placentino hit the grass so many times in mock injury mode even the pocketfuls of L'Impact faithful seemed to be shaking their heads, but they still acknowledged the important victory in drum-pounding, flag waving style. Despite not even playing today, Mauro Biello's name adorned the backs of retro Montreal jerseys everywhere you looked. The Ultras had a tremendous turnout and pulled out all stops on making their presence known, regardless of the strangely inevitable final score.
Toronto is now in their final stretch before a likely return to the playoffs, picking up where they left off in 2000. Nestled snuggly with 43 points in the Eastern conference, they look ripe to take the final seat from the floundering Charlotte Eagles, stalled at 36 points and no games in hand. Their next game is against divisional leaders and perennial rivals, the Rochester Raging Rhinos, on Friday August the 23rd in Toronto.