MONTREAL – As soon as Impact manager Frank Klopas was handed his championship medal, he kissed it.
In the midst of a tough season in Major League Soccer, Klopas and his Montreal squad were awarded the silverware after defeating Toronto FC 1-0 in the second leg of the Amway Canadian Championship final on Wednesday.
Montreal defended its Voyageurs Cup, taking home the trophy for the second consecutive year after winning the two-legged final 2-1 on aggregate.
The win is a major victory for a squad sitting at the bottom of the league standings.
“You have to seize the moment,” said Klopas, who won his first trophy as an MLS coach. “This was one of our goals as a team. When it’s there in front of you, you can’t let opportunities get away. You can’t take them for granted.”
Because the Impact scored a crucial away goal in a 1-1 draw in the first leg of the final at BMO Field on May 28, a scoreless draw in Montreal would have been sufficient for the overall victory.
And the game was scoreless heading into stoppage time before Felipe’s first Canadian championship goal sealed Montreal’s win.
Felipe powered home a decisive strike to the right of TFC goalkeeper Joe Bendik minutes before the final whistle to give the Impact their third Voyageurs Cup in the competition’s seven-year history.
“When I get on the field, I just want to do my best and do my job and keep doing the job I did today,” said the soft-spoken Felipe after the game.
As a result, the Impact (2-1-1) advance to the group stage of the CONCACAF Champions League and will represent Canada in the annual club competition featuring 24 teams from North America, Central America and the Caribbean.
The Impact join the New York Red Bulls and El Salvador’s C.D. FAS in Group 3 of the Champions League, which gets underway in August.
“It’s important for us to represent Canada well,” added the Brazilian-born Felipe.
Montreal has now taken back-to-back Canadian championships after Toronto FC lifted the trophy four consecutive years from 2009 to 2012.
Montreal won the inaugural event in 2008.
Toronto (1-2-1) made it interesting late Wednesday. Needing just one goal to move on, Jonathan Osario came awfully close to the winner in the 83rd minute of play when he skipped past an Impact defender and hit the post to ‘keeper Evan Bush’s left.
“We just couldn’t get that goal,” said TFC manager Ryan Nelsen. “Hitting the post really summed it up. We had nice periods of play, controlled the ball for most of the time, but just couldn’t get that break that would have won us the tournament.”
Toronto has otherwise had Montreal’s number since the tournament launched. TFC are now 7-2-2 all-time against the Impact in the Canadian championship.
Nelsen’s men came out flying from the get-go, putting instant pressure on Bush.
Benefiting from winger Alvaro Rey’s good speed down the touchline, Toronto got several good crosses into the box in the game’s first 30 minutes.
Star striker Jermain Defoe had a volley blocked in the fourth minute of play, and skied a free kick from an advanced position in the sixth.
In the 26th, a rocket by midfielder Kyle Bekker missed the net just wide.
“I played a very young team over two legs that deserved to win,” said Nelsen, whose team is sixth in the league with 16 points from 10 games. “Imagine what’s going to happen next year when they start to mature. This is great experience for those guys. They played against Montreal’s top team. Next year we’ll be even better.”
The tide turned in Montreal’s favour at the half-hour mark, with the Impact seemingly gaining confidence from a Jack McInerney header off a corner that missed just over the bar.
From there, the Impact came close to opening the score on many occasions.
Two left-footed volleys from Marco Di Vaio went wide, and a Hernan Bernardello free kick forced a good save from Bendik, who sprawled to his left to stop the shot in the 43rd minute. It was Montreal’s only attempt on target in the first half.
In the end, the clean sheet was the Impact’s second in as many games. Montreal has not conceded a goal in the Canadian championship at Saputo Stadium since joining Major League Soccer three years ago.
“I knew it was going to be a close game,” said Klopas of the second leg. “With the quality players (Toronto) have in the final third, we just had to make sure we defended really well. Sometimes things are just meant to be.”
Montreal will look to build on the victory when the team returns to MLS action on June 11. With just two wins from 12 league games, the Impact are last in the Eastern Conference.
“Regardless of how we started the season, things take time,” said Klopas. “My group never lost faith. We stuck together as a team. Winning some games has made us even stronger.”
Last season, the Impact finished last in their CONCACAF group. In 2008-09, the team reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League, losing 5-4 on aggregate to Mexico’s Santos Laguna.
Toronto FC were also beaten by Santos in the semifinals of the tournament’s 2011-12 edition.
“I want to wish Montreal the best in the next leg representing Canada,” said Nelsen. “I hope they do really well.”
Notes: Acquired on Monday by Montreal, Mamadou Danso was ineligible to play in the final. … Toronto heads back to BMO Field for an MLS game with the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday.
© The Canadian Press, 2014