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Toronto FC stomps on CF Montreal to advance to 2022 Canadian Championship final


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Toronto FC ran roughshod over arch-rival CF Montreal on Wednesday night with a 4-0 victory at BMO Field in Canadian Championship semifinal action.

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Brampton native Ayo Akinola scored two goals for the Reds, while Jesus Jimenez and Alejandro Pozuelo added singles.

“We came out on the front foot, attacked them, pressed them, we didn’t want to give them a chance to breath,” said Akinola, who recently returned to the TFC lineup after undergoing knee surgery last summer. “And then we had to capitalize on chances, and we buried them.”

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Despite mounting numerous scoring chances, Montreal could not buy a goal on a hot night by Lake Ontario. Goalkeeper Quentin Westberg recorded the clean sheet, the first shutout by TFC since last Sept. 25, a 0-0 draw at Colorado Rapids. Westberg made a point-blank save in the 85th minute on Ahmed Hamdi to preserve the goose egg.

Toronto conceded the majority of possession to the visitors from La Belle Province (59%-41%), but was lethal on the counter-attack, firing 11 shots to eight by Montreal with six shots on goal with the Lower Canada guests recording three. Montreal (7W 6L 2D) sits eight points above Toronto (4-8-3) in the standings, but TFC was the better side on Wednesday.

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Akinola, who just missed a couple of earlier chances in the match, scored on a counter-attack in the 40th minute to put the home side ahead 1-0, scoring via a tap-in after a nice pass into the box from Luca Petrasso who received a perfect pass to the left side from Jimenez.

Akinola’s second goal, nine minutes into the second half, was spectacular. Picking up a pass on a rush just outside the middle of the box from Pozuelo, Akinola stepped to his right to avoid a pair of Montreal defenders and right-footed a blast just under the cross bar.

Jimenez left-footed the ball into the goal in the 75th minute after some poor clearing attempts by Montreal defenders after a Toronto corner kick. He now has eight goals this season over all competitions this season — the most of any TFC player.

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Pozuelo put the cherry on top of the cake for TFC in the 78th minute when he right-footed a shot from very close in, assisted by Jayden Nelson.

TFC now plays the winner of Vancouver/York United in the CC final in July. The Reds have won a record eight Canadian Championships while Montreal has won five.

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“It is a true rivalry,” said Akinola of playing Montreal. “Whenever we play them, we always want to kick their ass. Same thing for them. There’s always going to be tension. There’s always going to be a battle. Not everything is going to be pretty when it comes to these teams.”

The Reds have the rare chance to win two Voyageurs Cups in one year, having beaten CPL giants Forge FC in penalty kicks on June 4 to win the 2020 Canadian Championship which was postponed for two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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TFC coach Bob Bradley had four players who were recently injured back in the lineup — Jonathan Osorio, Shane O’Neill, Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty and Chris Mavinga, though only O’Neill was in the starting XI. Marshall-Rutty, Osorio and Mavinga all came in the second half. Osorio replaced 19-year-old Ralph Priso, who had his best performance of the season. With five games in 15 days in this recent stretch, Bradley is trying to rotate his lineup to keep his players fresh as possible. Montreal coach Wilfried Nancy made wholesale changes to his starting lineup from Saturday’s 1-0 loss to Austin, not starting all of his regulars, though he did bring in veteran forward Kei Kamara in the second half. Montreal’s leading scorer Djordje Mihailovic, who has seven goals and four assists this year, was unable to play.

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Nelson, who was a hammer for TFC on the right side with his pace, stole the ball in Montreal’s end in the first minute and right-footed a shot off the goal post. Nelson also began the counter that resulted in Akinola’s first goal.

TFC defender O’Neill had a good block, and might have saved a goal, on a Samuel Piette blast from just outside the box in the 20th minute for Montreal’s best chance early.

Shortly after Akinola’s first-half goal, Nelson was on the receiving end of a beautiful tick-tack-toe play starting with Akinola to Jimenez to Nelson in the right side of the box. Montreal defender Rudy Camacho got his foot on the ball just as Nelson tried to direct it towards the goal. Just before the half-time whistle, Akinola was set up again right in front of the goal on another counter-attack but Montreal ’keeper James Pantemis made a good save.

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Toronto’s next match is Saturday night at BMO Field against Atlanta.

INSIGNE TO TOUCH DOWN IN LITTLE ITALY

Incoming TFC forward Lorenzo Insigne, the former captain of Serie A side Napoli, will make his first public appearance in Toronto on Friday with a “street-style” reception in Little Italy (Clinton Street off College St.) at 5 p.m.

TFC signed Insigne to a contract in January — the most lucrative MLS contract of all time — four years at reportedly $15 million per season. The MLS Secondary Transfer Window opens on July 7 so Insigne’s first game for TFC would be July 9 when the San Jose Earthquakes visit BMO Field—- if he’s healthy and ready to play. The Naples native missed the recent Finalissima with a ‘small calf issue’. Genoa left back Domenico Criscito is also expected to join TFC this summer and/or Torino striker Andrea Belotti according to @TransfersMLS.

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