Toronto beats Montreal, wins East crown; storybook season continues
TORONTO -- Toronto FC beat the Montreal Impact 5-2 (7-5 on aggregate) Wednesday to advance to MLS Cup in an epic, extra-time affair at BMO Field. TFC substitute Benoit Cheyrou scored moments after coming on for the injured Sebastian Giovinco during the extra session, and fellow sub Tosaint Ricketts put the game away two minutes later.
Toronto moves on to host the Seattle Sounders on Dec. 10 in the league's championship match. Here are three quick thoughts on Wednesday's roller coaster of an Eastern Conference final.
1. Toronto's storybook season continues
With all respect to the Sounders, TFC has to be the title favorite after Wednesday's win. For a club that had never won a playoff match -- one that didn't even qualify for the everyone-gets-in postseason through its first eight seasons in the league, an MLS record for futility -- that is no small accomplishment. But the Reds have built their roster meticulously in the three seasons GM Tim Bezbatchenko has been in charge, adding proven MLS players to complement high-priced stars like Giovinco, Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley. This year it all came together.
Still, there were some doubts heading into the playoffs after a late-season lull. But Toronto has answered every question. The most impressive thing about its run to the final has been its fight.
As was the case last week, TFC didn't put its head down when things didn't go its way. Rather than be dismayed by Dominic Oduro's opener on Wednesday, the Reds increased their already-off-the-charts urgency. And they had another opportunity to sulk when the Impact's controversial second goal by Ignacio Piatti -- Oduro appeared to be offside on the play -- slowly rolled across the line, cancelling out the hosts' hard-earned away-goal tiebreaker in the process. But TFC roared back yet again to extend the match. And in extra time, there was no doubt at all about which team deserved to go through.
2. Montreal should keep its head held high
Nobody gave the Impact much of a chance after they backed into the postseason. But Mauro Biello's team was fantastic from the start, winning four games -- two of them on the road -- and taking Toronto to the brink before finally succumbing. That the Impact went on their run sans star striker Didier Drogba -- who had been relegated to a role off the bench late in the season -- was even more remarkable, especially after the Ivorian initially (and very publicly) refused the assignment.
But Biello rallied his veteran team and got the most out of Oduro, Piatti and ageless midfielder Patrice Bernier, not to mention the rest of the hardworking roster. Montreal energized its fan base in the process and showed the rest of MLS that its run to the CONCACAF Champions League final last year was anything but a fluke.
3. The best game in MLS playoff history?
This may have been the best game in MLS playoff history. Or at least recent history. There have been other epic matches over the years, to be sure. But few, if any, boasted the wide array of elements that made Wednesday's match such an enthralling and unforgettable spectacle.
This one had it all. It was a rivalry match between teams and cities that have grown to despise, if grudgingly respect, each other. There was star power aplenty, with the likes of Giovinco and Drogba, veterans of European titans Juventus and Chelsea, involved. There was a buzz around the city and in the stands at BMO Field hours before kickoff. There was rain and lots of it. And once Jair Marrufo's whistle blew to kick things off, there were physical battles and minor skirmishes all over the field.
The most compelling thing about this match, though, was the emotional roller coaster. The 36,000 in attendance made the building shake as they celebrated TFC's five goals. But those same fans -- save the 500 Impact supporters tucked away in a corner of the upper deck -- didn't make a peep when Montreal netted its two. By extra time, the tension was off the charts. That's what keeps fans coming back, after all -- especially when the home team emerges victorious in the end.
Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @DougMacESPN.