TORONTO — Canada men’s national team coach John Herdman watched from the stands as a combined 13 domestic starters took the pitch for a Canadian Championship semifinal match between Major League Soccer’s Toronto FC and the United Soccer League’s Ottawa Fury.
In the same game last year, that number was just seven.
This time, Ryan Telfer set up Jonathan Osorio for an all-Canadian goal that led to a 1-0 TFC victory Wednesday at TD Place. Unfortunately, events on the field in this semifinal first leg were overshadowed by what happened off it.
Fire services were called to the stadium in the second half after a group of fans let off two flares that created a fire. Photos and videos from the scene depict a loud bang and the fans’ own banners being set alight.
— Oliver Platt (@plattoli) July 19, 2018
“I would say, on behalf of the club, that we are embarrassed about the incident in the stands,” Toronto coach Greg Vanney said. “Obviously, it will be looked at by the match commissioner and they will handle it accordingly, but from a club perspective, from the team side, it just turned into an embarrassing scene. We apologize from our side.”
A spokesman for the Fury said multiple fans were ejected but no arrests were made. The Canadian Soccer Association said it would comment once it received reports from the match commissioner and the referee.
Vanney made significant changes to his usual lineup once again, despite losing 2-1 to the Fury in the opening leg of last year’s semifinal using a similar plan. Sebastian Giovinco, Michael Bradley and the soon-to-return Jozy Altidore were among those who stayed at home. Osorio took the captain’s armband and youngsters Ayo Akinola and Malik Johnson made their first starts.
Osorio struck early, squeezing a shot inside goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau’s near post after persistent work from Telfer down the left. Toronto was not troubled until the latter stages. Akinola could have extended the visitors’ lead when he robbed a defender near the corner flag and advanced on Crépeau, but without an angle to pass across goal, he attempted to shoot from a tight angle and hit the side netting.
“Johnny’s had a great year so far,” Vanney said of Osorio. “Hopefully he’ll keep it going. We brought him tonight — it’s the Canadian Championship. For us, he is our premier Canadian player. It was his night to be the captain, to lead the team tonight. We had seven Canadians starting, plus we brought Jordan Hamilton in… we’re proud. It’s something we’re committed to, continuing to develop our young Canadian players through our system, through our academy and the USL.”
Ottawa is a physically imposing team and, unsurprisingly, threatened mostly from set pieces. Shortly before halftime, centerback Thomas Meilleur-Giguère rued his failure to glance a free kick whipped across the six-yard box. Around the hour mark, the Fury engineered a rare chance from the run of play, but Adonijah Reid’s low cross was intercepted by Ashtone Morgan.
Late on, TFC goalkeeper Irwin held firm when tested by striker Steevan Dos Santos with a header from the center of the box.
Toronto and Ottawa meet again next week at 7:30 p.m. ET Wednesday for the deciding leg of the semifinal.