In a season that has gone south since losing the CONCACAF Champions League final in a penalty shootout, Toronto FC finally had something to celebrate Wednesday.
With a rampant Jozy Altidore firing in three goals, the MLS champions turned back the clock in a commanding 5-2 second-leg win over the Vancouver Whitecaps in the Canadian Championship final. Toronto won 7-4 on aggregate to raise the Voyageurs Trophy for a seventh time and earn its ticket back into CONCACAF's elite club competition.
But with a morning flight to San Jose looming for a game Saturday, there was little time to party after the cloud of confetti was cleaned up and the last beat of the drum in front of the south stand fans. At 6-12-5, seven points out of the playoffs with 11 games remaining, Toronto knows there is more work to do.
Click on the video player below to watch match highlights:
Toronto beats Vancouver 5-2 in 2nd leg, claims title 7-4 on aggregate. 1:28
"Tonight was important for a lot of reasons," said Toronto coach Greg Vanney. "Because if you come into tonight and there's a trophy on the line and you don't win it, that's another kick in the gut to this group that's had a lot of challenges to deal with this year."
Sebastian Giovinco contributed a goal and two assists with substitute Tosaint Ricketts adding a goal. Kei Kamara and Brek Shea scored late goals for Vancouver to make things interesting. Jonathan Osorio, a local boy playing in his 200th game in all competitions for TFC, won the George Gross Memorial Trophy as tournament MVP after scoring three goals in four games.
Altidore's goal spree helped the big man win his way back into TFC fans' hearts after being sent off early for lashing out with his boot in a 3-2 league loss to New York City FC on the weekend. He is just the fourth player in club history to record a hat trick.
Altidore did not speak to the media after with club officials citing an undisclosed ailment. But his "Cometh the hour, cometh the man" performance drew plaudits.
Vancouver Whitecaps' Yordi Reyna reacts as Toronto FC celebrate a goal during. (Chris Young/Canadian Press )
"For me, the bigger the game, the bigger the Jozy a lot of times," said Vanney.
In winning the Canadian Championship for a third straight year, TFC consigned Vancouver to a seventh runner-up finish. The Whitecaps have won once — in 2015 — since the tournament's inception in 2008.
While he lamented not being able to score the first goal and the long trip from the West Coast, Whitecaps manager Carl Robinson said the better team won on the night.
"On the day we knew if their big players turned up, it was going to be difficult," he said.
"We've been in the final a couple of times and we've come up a little bit short. We came up a little bit short again today, but sometimes you've to give the opposition credit," he added.
Champions League return
The Canadian Championship final has a history of being decided late, but there was little drama Wednesday. Toronto led 2-0 at the half and 4-0 after 53 minutes.
Robinson praised his team's character for mounting a comeback at 4-0. But normal TFC service resumed with Ricketts' goal, allowing the 14,994 on hand at BMO Field to return to celebrations.
The win was worth a $ 50,000 US team bonus and entry into the CONCACAF Champions League, the elite club competition covering North and Central America and the Caribbean.
"It keeps us playing important games," said captain Michael Bradley.
Altidore capped a beautiful Toronto passing move in the 39th minute, beating goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic with a low shot from close range after taking a nifty back-flick from Marky Delgado that put him behind the defence. The goal came after a intricate tic-tac-toe passing sequence.
Alphonso Davies, right, of the Whitecaps avoids a challenge by Toronto FC defender Justin Morrow. (Chris Young/Canadian Press )
Giovinco made it 2-0 in the 44th, twisting his body for a diving header off an Osorio cross after some blue-collar work by Delgado in the buildup. It was Giovinco's record sixth Canadian Championship goal — and a rare score using his head.
Altidore added another in the 49th minute, knocking in a laser-like cross from Giovinco. Vancouver had seven men in the penalty box at the time, none of whom were able to stop the goal.
Giovinco and Altidore combined off a corner with Altidore's glancing header making it 4-0 in the 53rd.
Kamara pulled one back for Vancouver in the 63rd minute, beating goalkeeper Clint Irwin after being put behind the Toronto defence by Nicolas Mezquida. Shea tapped in Vancouver's second goal in the 77th before Ricketts headed in a Bradley free kick in the 80th minute, two minutes after entering the game, to ease the minds of the 14,994 on hand at BMO Field.
It was an entertaining first half, full of robust challenges if not clear-cut chances early on. But Toronto found its range late in the half and kept firing away.
Toronto outshot Vancouver 17-11 (13-4 in shots on target) with 14 of those shots coming within the penalty box.
The Whitecaps had been coy about the availability of Davies, who missed Vancouver's weekend game in Portland due to a right hip flexor strain and left practice early Tuesday. But the 17-year-old midfielder, bound for Bayern Munich after the season, was in the starting lineup with Robinson saying he was pronounced fit some 4 1/2 hours before kickoff.
Davies had a good chance in the first half, firing just wide from distance.
Robinson, who took Davies off in the 51st minute, said the decision to start the teenager was "really tough" given his health issues.
Toronto playmaker Victor Vazquez was a late scratch with a sore knee after taking the warmup. He was replaced by Delgado, who responded with a fine performance.
For Toronto, it was a 13th victory in 14 two-legged series since 2016 in the Canadian Championship, CONCACAF Champions League and MLS playoffs.
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