2016’s Voyageurs Cup final game was one for the books. By this, I mean it tore out the hearts of Vancouver Whitecaps fans and laughed at them as they died. This is what the Voyageurs Cup is for. Since its formation in 2002 the Whitecaps have, more often than not, enjoyed a long series of wide-awake nightmares. The same applies for fans of FC Edmonton, and to a lesser extent every team that isn’t the Montreal Impact. The Voyageurs Cup is wonderful and it is horrible, like eating a pound of bacon for breakfast.
In honour of this latest addition to the pantheon of misery, I thought I’d compile my list of the top ten most horrifying defeats since the beginning of the Canadian Championship in 2008. (Why not the beginning of the Voyageurs Cup in 2002? Partially because I don’t remember that far, partially because few teams cared, and mostly because I will be getting quite nerdy enough without dragging in Mesut Mert and the 2004 Calgary Mustangs.)
I am, of course, biased. As an ex-Whitecaps and now-FC Edmonton fan, you will notice these teams prominent on this list. All I can say is that I honestly believe they have had the bulk of the blackness. From another point of view these moments of agony will be moments of triumph. Soccer is a zero-sum game and one man’s collapse is another’s miracle. But let’s face it, happiness is not in the Voyageurs Cup spirit. Losing feels much worse than winning feels good, and it’s the bad beats that have always defined this tournament. Or maybe that’s the westerner in me.
Since this article is so image-heavy, it begins after the jump.
2011 semi-final, the USSF D2 Montreal Impact coming back to force the MLS Vancouver Whitecaps to extra time at the most thundering Empire Field game ever, conceding a goal to mistreated-by-team-and-life centreback Mouloud Akloul, and Ali Gerba coming a fraction of a fraction of an inch of winning it on away goals. 2014 semi-final, Toronto beating Vancouver in the only Voyageurs Cup tie to go to penalties. 2013 semi-final, FC Edmonton outplaying Vancouver at Commonwealth Stadium and being robbed by not one but two outrageous gifts from Silviu Petrescu. 2012 final; after Eric Hassli saves Vancouver at home in the first leg with a wondergoal, the Whitecaps blow it at BMO Field in the 83rd minute thanks to Reggie Lambe of all people. 2010 in general, for being the only boring Canadian Championship ever played.
10. Big Bad Roberto Brown
We begin with a classic. The 2008 Voyageurs Cup was also the first edition of the Canadian Championship. It was the dawn of a new era: Major League Soccer’s Toronto FC came down to meet USL First Division Vancouver and Montreal, with the winner advancing to the CONCACAF Champions League. No Canadian club had qualified for CONCACAF’s top competition since the Vancouver 86ers withdrew from the 1992 Champions Cup, and none had actually played since Toronto Italia beat New York Inter-Giuliana 5-3 on aggregate in June 1976. Toronto FC fans were eagerly looking forward to a chance to carry on that civic tradition.
Not that 2008 Toronto FC was so good that they were guaranteed winners, oh Lord no. This was only a year after their expansion season and, though improved, they still prominently featured guys like Marco Vélez, Laurent Robert, and Julius James. They finished four points out of the playoffs, which in hindsight is actually pretty good. But at the time they were Canada’s only MLS team, and MLS teams were always better than USL First Division teams. It stood to reason. It says “Major League Soccer” right there in the name.
So Toronto made their first trip to Montreal to face the Impact, Stefano Pesoli got himself sent off like a moron, Marco Vélez of all people scored the winner, and Toronto FC took it 1-0. It really was that easy. But at the time the Voyageurs Cup was a round robin so the FCs had three games left. Though basically eliminated by two losses to Montreal, the Vancouver Whitecaps stunned Toronto 1-0 thanks to a Martin Nash penalty and heroic goalkeeper Jay Nolly. An angry Toronto made the return visit to Swangard Stadium but managed only a 2-2 draw when Eduardo Sebrango buried an 87th-minute equalizer. That left Montreal on six points and Toronto on four with everything to play for against the Impact at BMO Field.
That was not a great Impact team. They would finish third in the league with a bullet, mediocre for them, and go out in the playoff semi-final to Vancouver. Their only elite offensive horse was Leo di Lorenzo, in his last good season, and they relied too heavily on goalkeeper Matt Jordan. They certainly hadn’t shown much in their first game so, when Rohan Ricketts put Toronto 1-0 up on fifteen minutes, the Voyageurs Cup-record crowd of 20,107 could be forgiven for celebrating.
Toronto FC might have been celebrating too, and that was a problem. Montreal was not six-time-defending Voyageurs Cup champions for nothing. They began to get forward. The passionate fans deluged Montreal’s Joey Gjertsen in streamers as he went to take a corner. Gjertsen, cool as the proverbial, hooked it onto the rising forehead of striker Roberto Brown, an effective but infuriating veteran Panamanian forward, the Blas Pérez of his day. Brown got above the hapless Toronto defense, headed the corner into the goal, and as Greg Sutton self-destructed with rage the Impact celebrated before the stunned rows of U-Sector and Red Patch Boys.
And still, Toronto couldn’t assert the dominance that was their God-given right. The chances the rest of the way were nearly even, Brown coming close to scoring again with a shot off the post. In the dying moments Toronto threw everything forward for the go-ahead forward. An Amado Guevara free kick was deflected off the post, Jeff Cunningham scuffed a shot on the rebound, and the Impact cleared it off the line. Just to prove that they deserved this, the Impact then turned it right around and, in stoppage time, forced a decent save out of Sutton to keep Montreal from winning it outright.
The game ended 1-1, giving Montreal its seventh Voyageurs Cup and first ever trip to the CONCACAF Champions League, capped by an immortal semi-final run. Toronto blew up their team, again.
9. Edmonton Learns What This Voyageurs Cup Thing Is About
FC Edmonton joined the North American Soccer League for its inaugural 2011 season. That team, mostly scrappy Albertans taken from the byways of the soccer world, was surprisingly successful, picking up some big wins and making what is still the only playoff appearance in Eddies history. They were local, likable, and competent, captained by much-respected Saskatoon legend Chris Kooy, and we can only speculate on what would have happened had original head coach Dwight Lodeweges, who built the team in 2010, kept the helm.
Unfortunately Lodeweges got a better opportunity in Japan, took Matt Lam with him, and was replaced by fellow Dutchman Harry Sinkgraven. Sinkgraven lacked Lodeweges’s eye for local talent or his ability to make very modest players hang with USL-1 veterans, but he still had Lodeweges’s roster and reinforced it as best he could. The result was that, when Edmonton opened its first Voyageurs Cup against Toronto FC before a literally 90%-empty Commonwealth Stadium, they started nine Canadians and brought three more off the bench. Twelve out of fourteen Canadian players is a Canadian Championship record that may never be broken.
At first, it worked pretty well! 2011 Toronto FC was no more to write home about than 2008 Toronto FC was, and an upset might have been in the offing. While the speed of Joao Plata and Maicon Santos gave the Eddies’ AMSL defense plenty to do, they were holding down the fort and even moving the ball forward in midfield, until the twenty-third minute. Midfielder Shaun Saiko, Edmonton’s star player, went in for a slide tackle on Toronto youngster Oscar Cordon. The turf was wet and the tackle ungraceful, but Saiko got the ball and not much of the man. Cordon, apparently, disagreed, rolling about hysterically in the approved central American manner until referee Paul Ward gave Saiko a totally undeserved straight red card.
Edmonton kept fighting for a bit. They had the first great chance of the game when left back Alex Suprenant hit a free kick just wide (what is it with Eddies left backs and set pieces?). But in truth it was only a matter of time. Plata set up Santos for the first goal of the game on 35′ and Edmonton lost its spirit. The crowning glory was blunder-prone Edmonton goalkeeper Rein Baart serving Santos the perfect assist with a hopeless goal kick to make the final score 3-0.
The funny thing was that Edmonton—now with cult favourite Lance Parker in goal—played reasonably well in the return leg despite having no chance, losing 1-0 to a veteran-heavy Toronto lineup. Edmonton would be screwed by the referees again but fall over so hard in the second leg that it’s hard to say it mattered. This time, had Ward not lost his head, things might have gone differently.
8. The Ottawa Hope Spot
In their short NASL history the Ottawa Fury have been Voyageurs Cup sadsacks. It’s their trademark. Two legs, Edmonton wins and it’s not particularly close, go home and get plenty of rest for the fall season.
2016 was different. Ottawa stunned Edmonton away, 3-0, at Clarke Field in the first leg of their preliminary round, and while the Eddies came within a goal-line clearance of tying it up at TD Place, a 2-0 win was one goal short. Ottawa, in its first ever competitive matches against MLS opposition, would face the Vancouver Whitecaps, defending Cup champions and one of the better teams in Major League Soccer. Despite the addition of Canadian international Marcel de Jong, meanwhile, Ottawa’s roster had been blown up so completely after their Soccer Bowl-finalist 2015 season that they were (are) mere makeweights in the NASL.
So, naturally, Ottawa beat Vancouver 2-0 at home. Former Whitecap Jonny Steele, one of the most disappointing signings in Vancouver’s second-division history, scored a scorching goal and could have had two. Another ex-Whitecap, Paulo Jr., got the insurance marker. Central defender Fernando Timbó had been one of the goats against Edmonton, and just sort of generally, but in this huge game in front of 9,057 delirious Fury fans he was outstanding. It was a glorious victory, the first multi-goal win for the lower-division team in the Voyageurs Cup since 2009.
But we knew from the preliminary round that Ottawa could blow a lead. I think the Fury fans knew it too. Nobody was ever comfortable during the return fixture at BC Place. Pedro Morales scored for Vancouver off a controversial penalty, and all the old conspiracy theories were warmed up in the microwave, but the thing was, Vancouver kept coming. It was one of the most one-sided games in Canadian Championship history and a 3-0 scoreline if anything flattered the Fury. There was no doubt, no doubt, that Vancouver deserved to advance to the final, and that brief light of hope for Ottawa was snuffed out like a candle in a hurricane.
7. Matt VanOekel, Five-Hole
When FC Edmonton loses it’s usually in the semi-final. This spares them the shock of having the Cup snatched out of their grasp. But to Eddies fans in the moment it’s still pretty bad. After all, they’re losing out to MLS teams, with vastly larger wage bills and fanbases, and a deep Eddies run could define them in a city where they’re still trying to lay down roots. And they manage to lose in some pretty spectacular ways, as this 2015 example shows.
The 2014 Eddies had already nearly made dreams come true (more on that anon), so expectations for the 2015 edition were pretty high. They also enjoyed an unusual advantage. Normally in these semi-finals, the lower seed (by definition the NASL team) hosts the first leg. This time, the game at Clarke was snowed out and rescheduled as the second leg. This meant that Edmonton, uncharacteristically, would get to play the deciding 90 minutes in front of their home fans—and even more uncharacteristically for a team that struggled on the road and with MLS opposition anywhere, Edmonton went to Vancouver and slugged out a 1-1 draw in a barnburner of a match that could have gone either way.
The Eddies couldn’t be overconfident, though. After being a strength since 2012 their defense and, especially, their goalkeeping had been dodgy all year. During the whole NASL spring season they had made a routine of giving up horrible goals in the early minutes. Goalkeeper Matt VanOekel, newly signed from Minnesota United, had brought about Rein Baart flashbacks with his mistakes, while 2014 NASL Golden Gloves winner John Smits was benched.
Less than eight minutes in and the inevitable disaster struck. Cristian Techera chased a Darren Mattocks into the Eddies box. VanOekel came out to challenge for it and blew through Techera’s ankles like a freight train. The bitesized Uruguayan was always one to embellish contact but this time it was a stone-cold penalty. Pedro Morales put the spot kick away and Edmonton led 2-1 on aggregate.
But the Eddies had grown familiar with adversity and hung around. Tomi Ameobi mis-hit a good look. Daryl Fordyce came into the game and blew a Lance Laing cross high and wide. The Whitecaps weren’t without chances themselves but it was an even fight, again, and Edmonton would be rewarded. With big Frank Jonke into the game to cause trouble, Eddie Edward launched a long ball from his own half for Jonke to hold up in the box. Kendall Waston, never the most subtle of defenders, chopped Jonke down like a Christmas tree and Ameobi scored the penalty. Extra time beckoned.
No it didn’t. Silviu Petrescu had given a minimum of seven minutes of stoppage time before Ameobi’s equalizer. In the sixth, Pedro Morales lined up a free kick way out to Matt VanOekel’s right. He served it up, the ball went into the proverbial mixer, it bounded way out to an acute angle, seldom-scoring defensive midfielder Matias Laba got a little touch to it, and VanOekel, almost rolling around he was so off-balance, saw the ball slip between his legs and into the back of the net for a 3-2 Vancouver aggregate victory.
The next week John Smits made one of his last starts in an Edmonton uniform and was named man of the match in a 4-2 win.
6. Sad Massey
That time I brought out the Voyageurs Cup and looked so forlorn I got in the news.
It’s easy to forget but that game was a proper nightmare. Vancouver, playing a B+ lineup, had gotten a 0-0 draw at Montreal in the first leg of the 2013 final. It wasn’t the result they’d hoped for but should have been enough given how they’d been playing that year. In the home leg, needing any victory to clinch Vancouver’s first ever Voyageurs Cup, Whitecaps boss Martin Rennie ran out his big iron and shot his way into the lead. Camilo put the Whitecaps on top early. Although another talented, diminutive, flopping Brazilian in the form of Felipe leveled it in the second half thanks to a sloppy Whitecaps clearance, Daigo Kobayashi bundled in Nigel Reo-Coker’s cross to make it 2-1 Vancouver after 70. The game rocked back and forth, entertainingly, but the Whitecaps were the better team and could expect their edge to tell.
The Vancouver Whitecaps supporters have a traditional chant in the 86th minute, honouring the foundation of the Vancouver 86ers in that year. I don’t recall hearing it that game, because in the 84th minute Montreal’s Hassoun Camara, who had a goal called back for offside earlier, headed in Justin Mapp’s corner kick and sucked the oxygen out of the building. The Whitecaps didn’t seem to know how to react. Their creative element, Camilo, had already been substituted off in favour of Darren Mattocks, the least creative man who ever lived. There was six minutes left, plus stoppage, but no fight, just aimlessly lumping the ball forward until Drew Fischer put Whitecaps fans… well, most Whitecaps fans… out of their misery. It was the first time a Voyageurs Cup final had ever been decided on away goals.
Our highest-ranked Eastern victim comes in only at number five. This says something, but is no insult to the spirit of the Montreal Impact and Toronto FC. Those two teams may not rack up many agonizing losses but they’re still generally worth watching, particularly in their near-annual Voyageurs Cup fistfights.
2013 was probably the sparkling example, not that you’d have guessed at first. Facing off in the semi-final wasn’t the highest dignity for two teams hoping to achieve great things in the league that season, and neither team took it too seriously. Nor did the Toronto fans. Before only 11,043 at BMO Field, Toronto handed Montreal a nonchalant 2-0 beating in the first leg. Impact manager Marco Schällibaum didn’t seem too bothered. Many of his biggest guns, including Designated Player and offside magnet Marco Di Vaio, had been left at home and young Karl Ouimette, Andrew Wenger, and Maxim Tissot had gotten useful runs out. Andrès Romero, their best non-Italian attacker, played only thirty minutes. It left Montreal’s eleven well-rested for a weekend game against Chicago, the Impact’s much-anticipated first ever appearance on NBC.
The Montreal Ultras, by contrast, went spare. For the entire next week social media was abuzz at the Impact writing off a trophy which, after all, they had been the first club to take seriously, and which they had won far more than any other. Not only did they sit in silence for much of the Chicago game but they brought out the protest banners. “Voyageurs Cup Before NBC.” «24-04-13: nous on l’a pris au sérieux» (“we took it seriously.”) Montreal beat Chicago 2-0 thanks to Romero and Di Vaio, but the supporters weren’t mollified one little bit.
On Wednesday, Toronto arrived at Saputo for the second leg. Schällibaum may have gotten the message: Romero, Daniele Paponi, and Davy Arnaud drew in, though Di Vaio remained on the bench. His players definitely did. By 33 minutes the tie was tied on goals from Justin Mapp and Paponi. When Paponi left injured shortly after Di Vaio replaced him and scored his first just before half, putting Montreal on top 3-2.
Then they kept pounding away. Toronto made two changes at the half, it didn’t matter, they were drowning, waterlogged under the waves of Montreal’s attack. Sanna Nyassi came on for Arnaud, the least defensive way of defending a one-goal lead ever conceived. It worked. Romero made it 4-0 on the day just after the hour mark. Still Montreal came. Di Vaio bagged his second in the 90th minute then, in the last moments of stoppage time, Andrew Wenger finished it off. Final score Montreal Impact 6, Toronto FC 0, the largest victory in the history of their rivalry. Montreal won 6-2 on aggregate and, yes, they took it seriously.
You know what happened. It just happened. But in case you missed the game, or for posterity, let’s recap.
Despite inconsistent finishing, the 2016 Vancouver Whitecaps are fine. They have a solid defense, the league’s best goalkeeper, the league’s best defensive midfielder who isn’t Andrea Pirlo, and well-above-average coaching. The season’s been a bit of a letdown so far but I have them set to improve in the second half. Toronto FC, despite possessing the most valuable man in Major League Soccer, seems set for more de rigeur Toronto disappointment, while their fans get travel bans and mutiny over sharing their beloved BMO Field with a CFL team. While Vancouver showed real character in coming back against Ottawa in the semi-final, Toronto easily dispatched a Montreal team that didn’t seem to care. Skipper Michael Bradley was away at the Copa America. The stage was set.
Yet Toronto beat Vancouver 1-0 in the first leg. Despite an off night by his standards Giovinco scored a typical goal from distance and his team was on fire, dominating the Vancouver midfield. Whitecaps fans chewed their fingers down to the bone but a 1-0 loss was hardly a decisive margin and, after all, they were still the better team and finally had gotten their Voyageurs Cup curse off their backs in 2015. In an unexpected bonus, Toronto lost starting goalkeeper Clint Irwin and replaced him with untested Alex Bono. The second leg would be difficult, but the Whitecaps were up for it.
Though the first half dragged, Vancouver was in control. Bono didn’t look like giving the game away and Robinson went for attack at half, bringing on Nicolas Mezquida for the injured Russell Teibert. His immediate reward was a lovely headed goal to tie things up. Then versatile defender Tim Parker knocked in his first goal as a professional to put Vancouver on top. It was finally going according to script. The Whitecaps were grounding Toronto into the dirt, and lively play by rookie Raheem Edwards wasn’t enough to generate many Toronto chances. Blas Pérez had a marvelous opportunity late to finish the game off and, on a good solo effort, hit the post. Shouldn’t have mattered. It was all Whitecaps.
But what was that about the best goalkeeper in Major League Soccer? David Ousted is all that and has been for years, so how he got so badly tangled up with veteran defender Kendall Waston is anybody’s guess. In the fifth minute of four additional minutes Ousted and Waston came for the same, rather desperate ball into the box, collided, and skipped it out to Will Johnson. Of all the Toronto players to give that chance to. Whitecaps fans have a well-earned contempt for the angry Johnson at the club level thanks to some bitter battles when he was a Portland Timber, and they had one more reason to hate him as he reacted quickly, literally fracturing his leg to score the Voyageurs Cup-winning goal on the last kick of the game. The 2-1 Vancouver win gave Toronto the victory on away goals, and maybe the curse isn’t quite as dead as all that.
3. The Rain Game
If you want to talk about horrible Whitecaps losses to Toronto this was the granddaddy of them all.
That Vancouver Whitecaps team was learning about MLS the hard way. Having cut the successful local players of 2008 and 2009, they found that Tom Soehn’s brigade of imports wasn’t up to snuff. It took a minor miracle for them to get past second-division Montreal in the semi-final, but there was good news. Neither Canadian entry in Major League Soccer was really worth a damn that year. Toronto FC, under the much-maligned Aron Winter, looked eminently beatable. It would take some of the best play of Vancouver’s season, but the Whitecaps had beaten Toronto 4-2 in their MLS opener.
They didn’t get it in the first leg at Empire Field. Though the Whitecaps played well, battered Stefan Frei with shots, and twice hit the woodwork, they managed only a 1-1 draw thanks to more heroism from the totemic Eric Hassli. In the May 25th rematch by the lakeshore beneath Olympian clouds, the two teams grappled in an hour of furious, nasty, slip-sliding soccer. Hassli struck again, unloading a left-footed rocket that deflected off Julian de Guzman and behind Frei. Although Toronto’s new grass pitch boasted a world-class drainage system the water refused pooled, and each slide tackle brought up a geyser in its wake. At half there was a 45-minute lightning delay but the teams came back out, conditions definitely favouring the defense and therefore the Whitecaps. Fifteen more minutes passed, and controversy for the ages struck like a bolt to the CN Tower.
Was the lightning imperiling lives at BMO? Some swear it was, others swear there was no lightning threat when the second half began. Was the rain making play impossible. Was the drainage mysteriously getting worse as it became clear Toronto wasn’t getting back into the game, or was the rain just too much? It was Toronto FC who first decided, unilaterally, to pull their team off the field, and in the end, after long consultation and almost violent protest from the Whitecaps, referee Dave Gantar agreed with Toronto. Under the rules at the time, the 61 minutes that had been played were wiped out. The game would be replayed, in its entirety, from 0-0, and the Whitecaps shock near-comeback was erased from history.
An attempt to replay the game the next day failed in the storm, and the two teams had to wait until July 2 to finish it off. By then, much had changed. It was sunny. Popular Whitecaps head coach Teitur Thordarson, handed an unsuitable team by Tom Soehn, had been sacked and replaced by Soehn himself, who had brought in a number of journeymen and not improved results a whit. The Whitecaps were off to the Wooden Spoon, the Voyageurs Cup was all they had, and again they went out in front early through a powerful Camilo free kick. This time, though, conditions were better, and Toronto exploited their superiority. They should have retaken the aggregate lead when Jay DeMerit cleared a ball “off the line” that replay showed was behind it. Instead they waited until the second half, when Vancouver’s Jonathan Leathers fouled Joao Plata in the box. Plata took the penalty and Joe Cannon saved it. But Cannon had moved early, again Toronto got a second chance, and again it went to their advantage as Plata scored. Toronto was up on aggregate and, ten minutes later, fullback Mikael Yourassowsky scored his only goal as a Red to seal the deal.
The Whitecaps had lost horribly in the Voyageurs Cup before. But when the gods rain a win out, you know you’re cursed.
2. Montreal Screwjob II: Electric Fischerloo
If you’ve been paying attention you’ll know that, while I give the USL-era Whitecaps and Impact a lot of respect for what they did against MLS opposition, I don’t so much extend it to FC Edmonton. The old-timers in Montreal and Vancouver were always near the top of their leagues while Toronto FC (and the 2011 Whitecaps) sucked mold spores in the MLS basement. Good USL against bad MLS was definitely an argument and even the non-playoff 2011 Impact came closer to beating the MLS Whitecaps than I care to remember. FC Edmonton, on the other hand, has never been “good NASL” (see #6 for the one time they got close) and, facing the top-ranked Canadian MLS team every year by Canadian Soccer Association fiat, didn’t get the benefit of “bad MLS.” The results have gratified the most partial MLS lovers. It took until Edmonton’s fourth year, 2014, for them to spring an upset. The way it ended, though, made us nostalgic for the days of one-sidedness.
At first it was fantastic. By now Edmonton had grown so jaded that only 1,946 made it to Clarke Field on May 7, 2014, but those 1,946 left as happy as any FC Edmonton fan has ever been. Montreal played well, but not so well as you might think given the surprising amount of pop they put into their lineup. When Jack McInerney put the Impact up 1-0 on 56′ it had by no means felt inevitable and the Eddies, unused though they were to hanging around in these things, fought back in fine style. English journeyman Tomi Ameobi scored the first of many Voyageurs Cup goals on the hour mark thanks to an assist from then-golden boy Hanson Boakai, one of the most picture-postcard glorious passes in the history of the competition, a moment which, even now that the Boakai era has ended so disappointingly, all Eddies fans keep in a frame in their memory. Then, as the game wound into stoppage time, John Smits’s big boot bounced over the head of young Karl Ouimette and onto the foot of Michael Nonni. Winner. 2-1 FC Edmonton, their first victory (their first point) over an MLS team in their seventh try.
The second leg still hurts. Both teams played so well. Edmonton, of course, gave it all they had, and as always in these must-win games the Impact held very little back. Felipe and Mapp were too creative for the blue-collar Edmonton defense to even comprehend. Jack McInerney scored two quick goals to open the game and then Jeb Brovsky, never a goalscorer, headed a Hernan Bernardello corner home early in the second half. 3-0 Montreal and 4-2 on aggregate should by all rights have been it, just another crappy tie from an Edmonton team that forgot you have to play 180 minutes, but it wasn’t.
Frank Jonke might be the most ostracized non-goalkeeper in FC Edmonton history. Those fans hated Frank Jonke, a big, slow forward who couldn’t score and who took minutes from Tomi Ameobi and Sadi Jalali. I was once in with the supporters when Jonke took a penalty against Fort Lauderdale and I have never felt such a negative psychic vibe towards a player. They were so certain he was going to miss that they made it happen, and howled ostracism at the hated big man as he jogged away with his head downcast. He hasn’t played since Edmonton released him at the end of 2015. That’s a shame on two levels. One, because he’s a good guy and a Canadian who had a pretty useful career for a number of years. Two, because in the Voyageurs Cup he was the best money player Edmonton ever had.
67th minute. Hanson Boakai does it again, turning provider with the outside of his boot, and Jonke times his run like he had a psychic connection with the young enigma. That’s good, his finish is better, slowly picking up steam in his usual way, getting through the slide tackle of Brovsky, and with his first touch chipping the ball daintily over Evan Bush. All of a sudden this is a soccer game, because if Edmonton loses 3-2 they win the tie 4-4 on away goals… then three minutes later, Karl Ouimette bumps down Neil Hlavaty from behind in the eighteen-yard box and Jonke walks to the spot. (Some Montrealers still argue that Ouimette should have been allowed to shove Hlavaty from behind as he was off-balance trying to control Boakai’s cross and it was never a penalty. They are wrong.) Jonke runs in from the top of the eighteen yard box and destroys a shot with his right foot, bouncing off the underside of the bar and in and making the earth move so hard bits fell off Olympic Stadium.
They don’t pay me enough to tell you what happened next but I’m going to try. Montreal, needing a goal, kept attacking. Edmonton’s defense was tenacious more than talented, and though they kept Montreal out there wasn’t much chance of an “insurance” marker. A fairly quick-moving and exciting second half got a minimum of six minutes added time from referee Drew Fischer and fourth official Mathieu Bourdeau (a Montrealer); the Eddies had been wasting time but not to that epochal level. In the seventh minute of the six, Bernardello lobs a free kick into the Edmonton area. Heath Pearce gets a toe to it and deflects it, from two feet away, up into the shoulder of Edmonton centreback Mallan Roberts, who with his arms behind his back was physically incapable of reacting to the deflection any better. Never has a handling been more obviously accidental, but of course Fischer pointed to the spot anyway and, with no time left, Patrice Bernier scored a stutter-step penalty to win it for Montreal.
The bright side was Colin Miller telling Joey Saputo exactly what he thought. That post-game tirade was worth a one-year contract extension on its own. Otherwise this game gives me the sort of instinctive, bottom-of-the-spine horror I’d previously only felt for the 2012 Olympic women’s soccer semifinal.
And it came in second.
1. The Montreal Screwjob
The original, and still the best.
The 2009 Voyageurs Cup, as in 2008 and 2010, was decided by the winner of a three-team group consisting of MLS Toronto FC and the USL-1 Vancouver Whitecaps and Montreal Impact. Each team played the others home and away. An odd number of teams couldn’t all play simultaneously, of course, so the Cup games were drizzled through the spring like delicious chocolate on the ice cream of soccer. This did mean that the Cup could be decided by a team already out of contention, but why would that matter?
Not having learned their lessons from 2008 (see #10), Toronto FC fans strutted in with their inherent superiority to the two USL teams. These were both good sides, the future league finalists. Didn’t matter. MLS. USL. Torontonians get tired of outsiders joking about “plan the parade” but take my word for it: in those three MLS-versus-USL Cups, every single year Toronto FC was planning the parade. There was never a doubt, MLS always surpassed USL, and if USL got lucky in 2008 that meant nothing.
Once again, the optimists looked right early. Toronto FC beat Vancouver 1-0 in the opener thanks to a goal from former and future Whitecap Kevin Harmse. 2008 was avenged with an identical 1-0 victory over Montreal. Six points from their two BMO Field fixtures without conceding and you can’t ask for more than that.
Interestingly, despite being offensively underwhelming in 2008 and offensively decrepit from 2010 to 2013, the 2009 Whitecaps were an attacking golden generation. Local lad Marcus Haber was making his name in a big way after converting from centre back. Charles Gbeke was at his absolute best, and St. Vincentian legend Marlon James was healthy enough to help. Throw in creative role players like Ansu Toure, Gordon Chin, and Dever Orgill, and the omnipresent certainty of skipper Martin Nash, and those Whitecaps could gun with anybody in Canada. Anybody in Canada, even the MLS bullies with Amado Guevara and Dwayne De Rosario. It couldn’t last, but for one year, it was true.
First, Vancouver went to Montreal and beat them 2-0, leading for 89 minutes of the 90 and never spending a second in danger. Back at Swangard Ethan Gage lifted Vancouver to a 1-0 victory, again without much challenge given the Impact’s high standard. Both Vancouver and Toronto were on six points, but Toronto had two games in hand. A draw at Swangard would have all-but-guaranteed Toronto FC their first Voyageurs Cup.
Any second-division Whitecaps fan will remember what happened next. Swangard Stadium was often sold out and this crowd might have been the best of all. Tempers on the field ran high, but the Whitecaps showed a little more sharpness, a little more desire. Just past the half-hour Greg Sutton got a fist to an awkward Wes Knight cross, but rather than put it out he deflected it straight back into play and onto the yellow boot of Ansu Toure, who finished it off. Toronto FC fought back. A De Rosario chip shot beat Jay Nolly but was cleared off the line, Pablo Vitti hit the post, Chad Barrett missed a good chance (of course), and whenever they challenged otherwise, Nolly was there. Going the other way Gbeke in particular was a handful. The Whitecaps struck again when the big man, holding the ball up, spotted a streaking Toure and set the young Liberian up for a thunderous left boot past Sutton.
The 2-0 win was more than just a fabulous moment that Whitecaps fans celebrated long into the night. It was the virtual certainty of the Whitecaps’ first Voyageurs Cup. Though Toronto could equal the Whitecaps on nine points by winning their final game at Stade Saputo, Vancouver’s goal differential was so great that it would take a four-goal win for Toronto to lift the Cup and surely, surely, the Montreal Impact had more pride than to roll over to a rival who went way beyond soccer. It would have been like Montcalm tossing Wolfe the keys to Quebec and going fishing.
When Toronto and Montreal met it was a horrible rainy day, but a good crowd of 11,561 still pulled on their ponchos and braved the open stands at Saputo. Many of them were Toronto supporters, bused in hoping for a miracle and kept warm by jumping, chanting, singing. They had plenty to sing about. Up against a hated rival from a higher league, Montreal head coach Marc Dos Santos sent out almost a reserve squad. Goalkeeper Srdjan Djekanovic, defender Kevin Sakuda, and forward Pierre-Rudolph Mayard were depth players, and two were incompetent for the level. Defender Elkana Mayard, who would have to shut down Dwayne De Rosario, was a Canadian Soccer League semi-professional. Stephen DeRoux was a useful player but out of position at fullback. Missing were goalkeeper Matt Jordan, left back and captain Adam Braz, Togolese fullback Zanzan, midfielder Sandro Grande, and forwards Roberto Brown and Eduardo Sebrango. Only Leo Di Lorenzo, David Testo, and Joey Gjertsen would have been in anybody’s best Montreal eleven, and Di Lorenzo was secretly past his prime. Testo was withdrawn early, just to be safe.
Toronto FC sent out their very best.
It was actually Montreal who struck first. Nick Garcia gave away a penalty and Tony Donatelli scored, meaning Toronto would need a 5-1 win. But that was all the game the Impact had. De Rosario scored his first of the game on an overhead kick when Djekanovic mishandled a corner. His second was arguably an own-goal off Elkana Mayard. His third, five minutes into the second half, came when the patchwork Montreal defense badly botched an offside trap. Even apart from DeRo Montreal was giving up chances to everybody, and by the 50th minute Danny Dichio could have won Toronto the Cup by himself. Not that it mattered. Montreal actually had men forward and Pierre-Rudolph Mayard badly missed chances Brown or Sebrango would have converted in their sleep, only making it easier for TFC to pound in goals. Guevara thundered a free kick past Djekanovic: 4-1. Then he set up Chad Barrett’s 82nd-minute header: 5-1, and Toronto had a hand on the Cup. When Guevara added an insurance goal in stoppage time the celebration was on, and Toronto FC fans honour the Montreal Miracle to this day. Supporters of the Vancouver Whitecaps, who were actually in attendance, call it by quite another name.
Impact coach Marc Dos Santos, having fielded a second-rate team and shown that he didn’t care about the result from the kickoff, said after the game “you have to honour your city, you have to honour your club.” Perhaps it should have started with him. You couldn’t blame Toronto FC for taking the gift they’d been given, but it was still awfully satisfying to watch them crash out to USL-1 comrades Puerto Rico Islanders in the CONCACAF Champions League. And the Whitecaps would wait six more years to lift a Cup they’d earned when they were in the second division and the romance was real.
EDIT, 10:20 AM: this article originally said Chad Barrett was with 2008 Toronto FC, which he was but not until after the Voyageurs Cup. Thanks to Tobias Vaughn via Twitter for the correction.