TORONTO - Toronto got the win but squandered more than a few chances Wednesday night, needing a great late save by Stefan Frei to preserve a 1-0 victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps in the opening game of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship.
The game should not have been that close. Toronto outshot Vancouver 12-2 (9-2 in shots on target).
The contest pitted the defending USL Division 1 champion Whitecaps against Canada's lone side in the MLS. The Whitecaps will join Toronto in 2011 and have some work to do, judging from the night. The USL's Montreal Impact, who won the tournament last year, make up the three-team field.
Vancouver beat Toronto 1-0 at BMO Field in last year's competition but never looked capable of recreating the feat Wednesday in a scrappy game that lacked fluidity and, at times, entertainment value.
"We're obviously chuffed (pleased) with the result. We had a point to prove from last year," said Toronto coach Chris Cummins. "But I thought we should have gone on and won the game a little more comfortably than what we did."
The all-Canadian contest, which was free to Toronto's 14,000 season ticket-holders, drew a rare less-than-sellout of 16,011 on a wet night.
The home side struck quickly, punishing some loose defending in the third minute. Amado Guevara triggered the attack via a glorious ball from the midfield stripe, finding Dwayne De Rosario down the left flank. De Rosario sent over an accurate cross that found an onrushing Kevin Harmse, who beat his defender and headed the ball home at the far post.
"A dream start," was Cummins' assessment.
"We were a little bit unlucky getting this goal so early in the game and having to chase that all the way through. But all in all, I thought we played quite well," said Vancouver coach Teitur Thordarson, in an assessment that seemed overly cheery. "I'm quite happy with the way we tackled the game and the way we played, but of course not happy with the result."
Pressed on the issue, he did acknowledge his midfield did not provide much service to the strikers until late in the game when they pushed players forward.
Both teams gave the ball away too often, but the Whitecaps were more wasteful in a first half whose appeal dwindled as it wore on.
With De Rosario stationed on the left sideline and Pablo Vitti on the right, Toronto looked to stretch Vancouver. And buoyed by the early, clinical goal, Toronto tried to slice open the visitors' defence with long balls several times. And perhaps tried to get too cute on occasion.
De Rosario brought his full bag of tricks to the game, marauding down the left flank or cutting inside to torment the Vancouver defence.
At the other end, Vancouver's ponderous strike force of Charles Gbeke and Marlon James offered little by way of threat. Vancouver had its one gilt-edged chance in the 86th minute when James got behind the defence, only to be stopped by a stellar hand save from Frei.
"Whether we deserved a draw, I don't know," said Thordarson. "Especially in the first half, they had quite a lot of chances."
Striker Chad Barrett had a chance to extend the lead in the 49th minute when a long pass found him behind the Vancouver defence but his weak shot was stopped by Jay Nolly.
Barrett beat a defender down the right in the 55th and raked a cross over to a lunging De Rosario, who only managed to get a hand on the ball. He was yellow-carded for the offence. De Rosario shot high in the 64th minute off a corner.
De Rosario, after another incisive run, picked out Barrett in the 69th but he could not convert a shot from a tight angle.
While the game was outside of league play, both coaches promised to field their best sides.
Cummins made just three changes to the 11 that tied Columbus 1-1 on Saturday. Canadians Nana Attakora, Harmse and De Rosario came in for Adrian Serioux, Sam Cronin and Danny Dichio, all three of whom were nursing knocks. De Rosario, recovering from a hamstring injury, was a second-half substitute against the Crew.
Cummins said the performances by Attakora and Harmse had given him food for thought in his future team selection.
Thordarson made four changes from the side that beat Minnesota 3-2 on Saturday, introducing Canadian Marco Reda, Vincente Arze, Justin Moose and Mason Trafford. Arze, Moose and Trafford all came on as subs against Minnesota.
Reda was forced off in the 14th minute after a clash of heads with Attakora, forcing a reorganization of the Vancouver backline. He was diagnosed with a concussion.
Toronto (1-1-2) only lost once - 1-0 at home to Vancouver - in last year's tournament but finished two points behind Montreal (2-1-1). Vancouver (1-2-1) placed third.
The Impact, who visit Toronto next Wednesday, qualified for the CONCACAF Champions League by virtue of the tournament win. They mounted a charge to the Champions quarter-finals, drawing 55,571 spectators to Olympic Stadium for a game against Santos Laguna of Mexico in February.