TORONTO — Goals by Jonathan Osorio, Ifunanyachi Achara, Yeferson Soteldo and Noble Okello gave Toronto FC a convincing 4-0 win over York United FC in Canadian Championship quarterfinal play Wednesday.
Fielding arguably its strongest available team, Toronto put the Canadian Premier League side under pressure early before a sparse crowd of 3,651 on a very wet, windy evening at BMO Field. York spent much of the game on the back foot and trailed 2-0 after a first half that saw it outshot 10-2 (6-1 in shots on target).
The MLS side went ahead in the 34th minute thanks to the three Canadians in its starting 11. Richie Laryea and Jacob Shaffelburg combined down the left flank before Shaffelburg's cross found a wide-open Osorio between the York centre backs. His header beat an exposed York 'keeper Nathan Ingham.
Osorio, playing in his franchise-leading 282nd game, has now scored against 24 different teams in all competitions for Toronto.
Seven minutes later, Laryea and Shaffelburg played providers again after a York turnover. This time Shaffelburg's low curling cross found Achara as he broke through the centre backs and the Nigerian-born forward poked the ball past Ingham.
Soteldo scored from the penalty spot in the 84th minute after York captain Roger Thompson took down 17-year-old substitute Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty in front of the south stand. Okello, put in alone by Michael Bradley, made it 4-0 in the 89th minute.
It was the first clean sheet for Toronto since a 2-0 MLS win over Columbus on May 12. TFC has given up an MLS-worst 51 goals this season.
Toronto advances to host either Pacific FC or Cavalry FC, who met in a later start Wednesday at Spruce Meadows Stadium. Pacific, which tops the CPL standings at 10-3-6, upset the Vancouver Whitecaps 4-3 in preliminary-round play. Cavalry downed FC Edmonton 2-0 in its tournament opener.
Hamilton's Forge FC was the first team to reach the semifinals, defeating Winnipeg's Valour FC 2-1 on Sept. 15. The CPL champion will host CF Montreal, which downed HFX Wanderers FC 3-1 on 89th- and 92nd minute goals by substitute Ballou Tabla in a game earlier Wednesday at Wanderers Ground.
Montreal is the defending champion, having beaten Toronto via penalty shootout in the tournament final in 2019. The 2020 tournament was essentially shelved by the pandemic although Toronto and Forge are slated to meet later this year for bragging rights and the trophy in a one-off final.
Wednesday's game was a homecoming for York head coach and technical director Jim Brennan, who was Toronto FC's first-ever signing and captain. The Canada Soccer Hall of Famer went on to serve as an assistant coach and assistant GM with the MLS club.
Brennan, now 44, played 84 league games for Toronto from 2007 to 2010 before retiring. He won the Canadian Championship as a player in 2009 and his name appears on Toronto's Wall of Honour outside the stadium,
York, fourth in the CPL standings at 6-5-8, came into the game unbeaten in five (2-0-3) and had lost just once in its last 10 outings (4-1-5).
Toronto, last in MLS at 4-15-6, was coming off a 2-1 win over Nashville SC that snapped a six-game losing streak and nine-game winless run (0-7-2). Seventeen points out of the playoffs with nine games remaining, Toronto targeted the Canadian Championship looking for something to celebrate in a nightmare season.
Toronto coach Javier Perez made two changes from the team that beat Nashville, restoring starters Chris Mavinga and Soteldo at the expense of defender Eriq Zavaleta and forward Dom Dwyer.
While Toronto started the minimum three Canadians under tournament rules, York fielded 10 Canadians and Colombian midfielder Sebastian Gutierrez.
TFC is a seven-time winner of the Voyageurs Cup, which goes to the Canadian Championship winner along with US$75,000.
Toronto got a bye to the quarterfinal while York defeated League 1 Ontario's Master's FA 5-0 in preliminary-round play.
York looked at ease in the early going but the first chance went to Toronto in the eighth minute when Shaffelburg's deflected shot hit the side netting with Ingham rooted to the spot.
It didn't take long for Toronto to start stroking the ball around, probing the York defence. Soteldo lined up as a false No. 9, ranging all over the field.
Ingham stopped Achara's low shot in the 13th as TFC attackers packed the York penalty box, lining up to have a go at goal. Ingham then denied Osorio from close range in the 16th minute.
York looked to counter-attack when possible but was let down by its final ball more often than not. At the other end, Soteldo pulled the strings for Toronto.
The rain came down harder in the second half.
Thompson came close to an own goal in the 66th minute when he deflected Osorio's cross just over the crossbar. Ingham then made a fine save on Soteldo's header in the 72nd minute off a Toronto counter-attack.
It marked TFC's first-ever meeting with a CPL side. The MLS team has played FC Edmonton, then with the NASL, and the now-defunct Ottawa Fury, of the USL, in past Canadian Championship matches.
While the two teams play just 30 minutes apart, TFC at BMO Field and York at York Lions Stadium, there is a financial chasm between the two.
CPL teams are each allowed to spend between $650,000 and $850,000 on their playing roster.
Toronto has at least six players — Mavinga, Osorio, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Omar Gonzalez and Alejandro Pozuelo (not to mention Soteldo, whose salary has not been released by the MLS Players Association because of his arrival time this season) — who individually make more than that CPL player budget.
The salaries of Toronto's starting 11 totalled more than US$6.18 million, not counting Soteldo's unreported pay. It would have far been more had fellow designated players Altidore (US$3.6 million) and Pozuelo (US$4.69 million) had been healthy.
Toronto visits the Colorado Rapids on Saturday. Forge resumes CPL play Sunday against visiting Valour.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 22, 2021
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press