Giovinco scores twice to lift TFC over Montreal to claim Canadian championship title

Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco.
Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

TORONTO – Sebastian Giovinco stood alone on the BMO Field grass for several minutes Tuesday night, watching the celebratory fireworks that lit up the Toronto sky.

There was a lot for the star striker to soak in.

Giovinco had just scored his second goal of the night in added time to lift Toronto FC to a thrilling 2-1 victory over the Montreal Impact, and the Canadian championship title.

The nailbiter was only the latest chapter in an anything-but-friendly rivalry between the two teams that just got several degrees nastier.

“We win, I score, it’s good,” a grinning Giovinco said afterwards. “I feel happy because in the final when you score, for the strikers it’s always beautiful.”

Toronto won the two-leg series 3-2 on aggregate, earning a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League.

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“Every time we play them, the games are more and more exciting in different ways,” said Toronto coach Greg Vanney, dressed in faded jeans after his suit had been soaked in champagne.

Giovinco, recently back after missing three weeks with a quadriceps injury, connected on a cross from Raheem Edwards to score the game-winner, then ran and leapt into the throng of roaring fans in the south stands. The final whistle blew just seconds later, to the delight of the crowd of 26,539 — a Canadian championship record.

Toronto goalie Clint Irwin sprinted the length of the field to celebrate the goal. Players doused Giovinco with water.

“People like to feel something, and this game and this competition between us and them, whether it’s MLS or tonight, it has emotion,” Vanney said. “Now Montreal and Toronto is an event, every time it’s on I think people are going to tune in and see what can happen this time.

“The fact there’s a trophy on the line makes the emotion all the more special.”

Ballou Tabla scored Montreal’s lone goal to give the visitors the lead in the 36th minute.

Blerim Dzemaili was headed for goal after a give-and-go with Ignacio Piatti when he was slide-tackled by Chris Mavinga. But the ball bounced back to the Swiss international and Dzemaili tapped it to Tabla, who fired a high shot past Irwin from just inside the 18-yard box.

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Giovinco got Toronto on the board in the 54th minute. The tiny Italian took a long cross from Michael Bradley, controlled it with a couple of touches before turning and firing in a blistering left-footed shot.

“Today (Giovinco) showed that in some moments, he’s just a little bit quicker than everybody else, and a little bit sharper than everybody else, and he has that ability to make plays,” Vanney said.

Jozy Altidore, who sat out the first half after playing back-to-back 90-minute games, had a glorious chance to clinch the victory in the 83rd minute, jumping for a header that he sent whizzing just over the Montreal net. The near miss elicited groans from the crowd.

Three minutes later, Giovinco appeared to be taken down in the box, which had fans and Toronto players screaming for a penalty. The referee signalled the teams to play on.

Montreal’s Patrice Bernier was shown a red card for a dangerous tackle moments later, which prompted into a nasty scuffle between players on both teams.

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“For the game to be decided like that again by the refs that are not at the level, it’s unacceptable,” Montreal coach Mauro Biello said of Bernier’s ejection. “To give a card like that, a red card in a final, it’s disappointing. If you don’t have the ability or the experience to make certain decisions like that, maybe you shouldn’t be on the field.”

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Vanney didn’t see it the same way.

“It’s two teams that are competing hard in a big match,” Vanney said. “If it came down to officiating, they can take that as their out for tonight.”

The teams had battled to a 1-1 draw a week earlier in Montreal, but TFC’s away goal at Saputo Stadium gave them the advantage heading into Tuesday.

There is little love lost between the two teams, who’ve met in the playoffs the past two seasons. There were plenty of hard tackles, including one just before halftime that had the crowd booing. A split second after Steven Beitashour passed the ball, he was hit in the midsection by Kyle Fisher, the hit sending the Toronto defender somersaulting through the air.

The bad blood has also spilled into the crowd. Impact fans hoisted a three-tiered sign in Montreal last week that paired an F-bomb with Toronto. Toronto fans responded on Tuesday, with a similar multi-tiered sign that read “We Dare Say What Everyone Thinks — Quebexit.”

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A more goodnatured sign read “Today’s Forecast, 17 Pts. Clear,” poking fun at the wide gap between the two teams in this season’s Major League Soccer standings. Toronto (10-5-2) leads the league with 35 points. Montreal (4-6-5) is last in the Eastern Conference, with 18.

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“This place is unbelievable,” Bradley said of the crowd. “Find me another place in the league that on a (Tuesday) night in June looks or sounds like this. The atmosphere tonight was the playoffs in June.

Montreal clobbered Toronto 3-0 to end TFC’s first-ever playoff appearance in 2015, but Toronto got its revenge in a thrilling overtime victory in last year’s Eastern Conference final. This two-leg Canadian tournament was the first meeting between the rivals since then.

TFC beat the Vancouver Whitecaps to win last year’s Voyageurs Cup. They’ve hoisted the Cup six times, defeating Vancouver in every other final before Tuesday. Montreal has won three times, beating Toronto twice in the final.

The Canadian Championship winner also earns a team bonus of US$50,000.

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