FC Edmonton beat the Montreal Impact 2-1 in the Voyageurs Cup. What’s more, they deserved every inch of the victory.
Normally I like to play the master of historical context. “You say this is the greatest Whitecaps midfielder of all time, but Martin Nash blah blah blah, you MLS-worshipping schmuck.” To hell with that. This has been called the greatest victory in the five-year, four-season history of FC Edmonton. These people are correct. What a day. What a day!
After my shot at hype-calming on Tuesday, Hanson Boakai put on a show. His aggressiveness and confidence put the wind up a Montreal midfield more used to soi-disant Eastern Conference attacking midfielders of the Daigo Kobayashi type. A guy actually trying to shove the ball down their gullets is a rare thing. Meanwhile, the Impact defense was having kittens over Frank Jonke, going full Hack-a-Shaq on the big forward who, as if by compensation, had his most effective game of the year just pulling off little touches and making space for his comrades, as shown to perfection on the equalizing goal when Montreal had their mitts so full of Jonke they didn’t consider the possibility that Handsome Bowtie might make a La Liga-quality throughball to Tomi Ameobi, who’d have nothing to do but finish…
Holy crow, what a ball that was. Holy crow. Sated with your diet of EPL magnificence and looking forward to the World Cup you might not be as pumped as I but Canadians, as a rule, don’t make passes like that. I don’t know what they’ve been teaching Boakai over there in Edmonton but it must be working. (Also, he created two half-scoring chances with sheer legs and guts and even when his youthful exuberance led to Montreal getting the best of him on a possession he’d be taking another crack at it next time around. His teammates didn’t seem frustrated. Hlavaty and Fordyce, two guys who don’t mind running themselves, were happy to pass the ball off to Boakai and let him create the opportunity. Small wonder, with his passing and crossing being so dangerous.)
And then the winner. John Smits pounds it long, Karl Ouimette goes to head the ball back to (the excellent) Evan Bush, only he forgets the part where he heads the ball, Michael Nonni was lurking in case of precisely that sort of mistake, 2-1 Eddies. Another Canadian. One who, as Steve Sandor has pointed out at almost unseemly length, was a batted eyelash away from being cut before this season. Silviu Petrescu missed a clear penalty shout for Daryl Fordyce in the last Planck time of the match, the kind of thing that could could back to haunt Edmonton in the second leg, but no matter, not for now.
Victory long-delayed, after all, is the very sweetest. Edmonton went into the 2011 Voyageurs Cup full of young optimism. We didn’t get to see how justified it was, as star player Shaun Saiko was unjustly sent off after only 23 minutes and Toronto cruised to a 3-0 win. The next week, away, a Toronto “B” team easily slapped Edmonton around. In 2012 the Eddies played Vancouver in their first game and got thumped; the only no-bullshit home beating the Eddies have taken in this competition. The next week, away, a Vancouver “B” team easily slapped Edmonton around (though Yashir Pinto made things briefly interesting). And in 2013 Edmonton once again faced Vancouver and would have won but for Silviu Petrescu giving Vancouver no fewer than two goals that never should have happened, one offside, the other a flagrant dive for a penalty. It was a great injustice in a competition that’s seen its share. The next week, away, a Vancouver “B” team easily slapped Edmonton around.
So now Edmonton has their first leg victory, and long fucking overdue it has been. But you see that the second leg is the catch. Apart from 21 minutes at BC Place on May 9, 2012, Edmonton has looked outmatched away against MLS teams playing schmucks like Greg Klazura, Floyd Franks, Michael Nanchoff, you get the drift.
Will Montreal take the Eddies lightly? Remember that last year Toronto FC won 2-0 at BMO Field off a weakened Montreal in the first leg, back when we all thought the Impact would be pretty good. The Montreal Ultras responded to this with a now-famous banner reading “nous on l’a pris au sérieux” — “we took it seriously.” The Impact invited Toronto FC back to Stade Saputo and beat the FCs 6-0, tied for the biggest ass-kicking in the twelve-year history of the Voyageurs Cup. A fair bit has changed with Montreal in the past year, but the Impact have form rousing themselves to vengeance.
This has been the obligatory pessimistic part of the post; those things had to be said, but this is still a magnificent day. You sometimes see upset games where the goalkeeper had the game of his life, the underdog had ten men behind the ball and snatched one on the counter, the goalposts rang with the sound of missed opportunities. Nah. Edmonton decided to trade punches with Montreal and won on every scorecard. There was nothing negative in their tactics. Somewhat unreliable official statistics had the two teams even on shots directed, 7-7, and Edmonton ahead on shots on target, 4-2. Edmonton outcornered Montreal handily and led in possession until Montreal’s superior rest began to tell in the second half, and the pace changed to more straight vertical attack. Luck wasn’t conspicuous in either direction. Jack McInerney nearly made himself famous with an appalling header off the crossbar, but since he scored a few minutes later I think we can call that even, while as I mentioned Daryl Fordyce really should have had a penalty on 90’+4.
Oh, and man of the match was Hanson Boakai. Of course it was. Putting the “Canadian champion” into “Canadian championship” at 17 years old. Some eyebrows were raised when he was substituted out for Mike Banner, but the world is better off with Boakai running himself stupid for 70 minutes rather than trying to pace himself for 90. Banner is not the most popular player in Edmonton right now, his first two games have not been inspiring, but I swear he has talent. I will have to make a point of writing hopeful but somewhat skeptical article on Boakai before big games in the future. You know, people are already asking which big European club he’ll go to? It’s a little early, surely, it takes more than two man of the match awards to start buying plane tickets to Barcelona or Bayern Munich, but it’s been a long time since I saw a player that young look so bright professionally in this country. Maybe I never have.
The evening’s first game was less exciting but probably showed more of Canada’s soccer future, so let’s conclude with two paragraphs on the young Vancouver Whitecaps in their 2-1 loss to Toronto FC. Toronto took the “eleven barrels of hell” approach we discussed on Tuesday, as I feared. So with Toronto’s A- against Vancouver’s B- or C+ the result for the Whitecaps was about as good as we could have hoped for: out-played, certainly, but not Vancouver’s worst road game even of this season, with the critical first goal against caused by a lapse from veteran Nigel Reo-Coker rather than any of the youth. A key away goal, a survivable margin, and plenty to be proud of. It’s significant that the weakest links in the team were Reo-Coker, Erik Hurtado, and Johnny Leveron, not the raw rookies. (Hurtado had one nice touch that made a half-chance, then was immediately substituted off. “That’s not what we pay you for, Erik!”) The official man of the match was Issey Nakajima-Farran, who was playing on Rookie while his teammates played on Pro thanks to his matchup with Reo-Coker, but still asserted himself. The Whitecaps man of the match was Russell Teibert. Two more Canadian champions.
Let’s not sugarcoat it. The MLS debutantes, Froese and Bustos especially, weren’t used to the match speed. But of course they weren’t! How could they have been, this was their first exposure to it. Both showed skill, had nice moments, and weren’t overawed by the calibre of their debut: that’s what counts. Bustos looked like he was already ready to play once in a while in MLS, with only a slight trepidation in steering the attack standing out, and of course he cleared a ball off the line, which is always the right play. (Who would have guessed that Marco would be the first to a professional save?) Froese has been criticized for failing to read the patchy BMO Field turf, and fair enough, a professional needs to do better, but he also made the give-and-go with Russell Teibert that was Vancouver’s most skillful attack of the game. Marco Carducci was at fault for neither goal against, has been reviewed too harshly for his aggressive but ultimately effective early charge at Gilberto that Carlyle Mitchell cleaned up, made some tidy saves, and wanted only a bit of confidence. And, at last, a national audience saw some of the Bryce Alderson I’ve always been such a fan of. Hopefully this leads to additional appearances; no Whitecap deserves them more.
 — Sandor, Steven. “The rabbit strikes: FC Edmonton stuns Montreal.” The11.ca, May 8, 2014. Accessed May 8, 2014. http://the11.ca/2014/05/08/the-rabbit-strikes-fc-edmonton-stuns-montreal/.
 — Canadian Soccer Association. “Defending champions Toronto FC off and running.” CanadaSoccer.com, April 24, 2013. Accessed May 8, 2014. http://canadasoccer.com/defending-champions-toronto-fc-off-and-running-p153816.
 — Benzaza, Sofiane. “Ultras Montreal Express Discontent on the Montreal Impact’s Canadian Championship Ambitions.” Mount Royal Soccer, April 30, 2013. Accessed May 8, 2014. http://www.mountroyalsoccer.com/2013/4/30/4280104/ultras-montreal-made-amway-canadian-championship-discontent-heard-24.
 — Canadian Soccer Association. “Montreal Impact heading to the Amway Canadian Championship final.” CanadaSoccer.com, May 1, 2013. Accessed May 8, 2014. http://www.canadasoccer.com/montreal-impact-heading-to-the-amway-canadian-championship-final-p153883&t=championship_article.
 — Calgary Storm 0 – 6 Toronto Lynx, July 30, 2002. See: Nolan, Chuck Jr. “A-League – 2002 Season – Results.” A-League Archives. Accessed May 8, 2014. http://a-leaguearchive.tripod.com/2002/results02c.htm#16.
 — “Edmonton vs. Montreal Impact 2 – 1.” SoccerWay. Accessed May 8, 2014. http://ca.soccerway.com/matches/2014/05/08/canada/canadian-championship/fc-edmonton/montreal-impacts/1605865/.