Home MLS Toronto FC Hassli’s thumping volley allows Whitecaps to draw level with TFC

Hassli’s thumping volley allows Whitecaps to draw level with TFC

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It was another Eric Hassli special.

With the Vancouver Whitecaps down 1-0, the big Frenchman reached into his bag of magic tricks and pulled out one his finest efforts yet, hitting a powerful volley into the top right corner of Milos Kocic’s goal.

The wonder strike ensures it’s all squared up at one apiece going into next Wednesday’s second leg at BMO Field, after Ryan Johnson fired Toronto into the lead with a 66th minute header from a cross from Julian de Guzman.

“Alain [Rochat] gave me a great ball,” Hassli told reporters following the match. “I practiced yesterday. I killed some birds [with wayward shots] and today was pretty good – lucky too. It’s a good goal.”

Hassli said the goal wasn’t as good as his half-volley MLS Goal of the Year nomination against the Seattle Sounders at CenturyLink Field, but, important nonetheless.

“We stay alive,” Hassli said. “We have to win now in Toronto. Everybody is disappointed in the locker room. We really need to win in Toronto.”

Given Vancouver’s superior Major League Soccer record in comparison to Toronto, the home side were a bit disappointed in their lacklustre start to the match, according to Whitecaps head coach Martin Rennie.

“It was an exciting cup tie tonight,” Rennie said. “Credit to Toronto. I think they played well. They scored a goal and created a couple of other chances. For us it wasn’t one of our best performances so it’s nice to be in the position we’re in given we didn’t play perhaps as well as we would have liked to.

“So now it’s a one-off game, a final next week in Toronto, which we’re really looking forward to. We know the prize that’s on the line and we’re ready for that game when it comes.”

The visitors felt they were in the driver’s seat with moments to spare until Hassli’s stoppage-time equalizer, but despite the disappointing conclusion, goalscorer Johnson was trying to look on the bright side.

“Playing away from home you don’t expect to win games like these,” Johnson said. “You’re happy with a tie, especially getting the away goal, you have to be happy with that. The way it happens is the way it happens – if we scored in the 90th minute it would be a different attitude. It was one of those things. It was tough giving up the goal the way we did but we have to look at the positive.

“We have a chance to win it at home in front of our fans and that’s very good for us.”

But it could have been quite a different conclusion, had Joe Cannon not come up with a spectacular save six minutes from time on Nick Soolsma, who was left unmarked in the box and nearly converted a Johnson cross to double Toronto’s lead.

“It was crazy,” Cannon said. “The ball was on my right side. To be honest, he crossed it, and you looked up and you see a guy wide open and I just tried to make myself big in that situation. He was clean through and by himself, and fortunately for me he put it into my foot. I told myself, even after we went down 1-0, I have to keep us in it. I have to stay focused, because you never know. It’s still a long way from being done. We’re only at half time now.

“I’m glad the game ended the way it did, and I hope we have some momentum going into next week.”

The match sets next Wednesday’s return leg at BMO Field as a real cup final, with national bragging rights and a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League on the line. Toronto has the away goals advantage, but that shouldn’t be a problem, said Cannon.

“Next Wednesday it puts the onus on us – we need to score a goal,” Cannon said. “Ending 0-0 isn’t going to be enough for us. In saying that, we do have 90 minutes to get one. Hopefully we come out and play a smart game plan, kind of like they did tonight, and not open up too early.

“I think we’ve got enough great offensive players to create a lot of things during 90 minutes, so I’m not worried too much at all. But we have to get through Saturday [against the Seattle Sounders in MLS play] and then get our legs rested for Wednesday.

“It’s the biggest game of our year so far, so we’ll be prepared.”

Before Wednesday’s second leg, both teams will play an MLS match on Saturday, with Vancouver hosting Seattle and Toronto FC playing away to D.C. United.

Martin MacMahon is a Vancouver-based soccer writer. Follow him on Twitter: @martinmacmahon

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