Forge defeats struggling Toronto FC in the opening match of the Canadian Championship semi-finals

Forge defeats struggling Toronto FC in the opening match of the Canadian Championship semi-finals
Forge defeats struggling Toronto FC in the opening match of the Canadian Championship semi-finals

As Toronto FC suffered yet another setback on Wednesday, substitute Prince Owusu threw the struggling Major League Soccer team a timely lifeline.

Toronto trailed 2-0 to Canadian Premier League champions Forge FC in the opening leg of their Canadian Championship semifinal, but got a vital away goal from the German forward in the 88th minute to close the gap to 2-1, making the gap that TFC had to climb out of in the return leg on August 21 at BMO Field a little more manageable.

The latest loss can still become a victory. But dark clouds remain over TFC, who had a lot of possession that night, but sometimes did not handle it well and showed wasteful finishing.

Owusu eventually put Toronto on the scoreboard after a scrimmage in the goal area following a corner kick, with Forge players unsuccessfully appealing for a foul as bodies fell to the ground.

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“The away goal was super important for us,” said Toronto coach John Herdman, who felt his team had a goal wrongly disallowed for offside.

“The return home will be different. It will feel different,” he added.

Beni Badibanga and Kwasi Poku scored for Forge, who led 2-0 after 14 minutes and could have scored more if not for Toronto keeper Luka Gavran.

“We’re a little disappointed it wasn’t 3-0 at one point,” Forge coach Bobby Smyrniotis said. “Because we created some great chances.”

Thanks to Herdman bringing on starters like Owusu, Matty Longstaff and Kevin Long, Toronto mounted a furious final push. There were more than five minutes of frantic stoppage time, with Forge keeper Chris Kalongo making a diving save to deny Lorenzo Insigne and Toronto substitute Deandre Kerr heading wide.

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Toronto had 68 percent possession, outscored Forge 18-10 (5-5 in shots on goal) and had eight corners to Forge’s four. TFC managed just one shot on target in the first half.

Pacific FC hosted reigning champions Vancouver Whitecaps in the other cup semi-final on Wednesday.

Toronto (7-13-3 in MLS play) entered the competition with six straight losses and is still without a win in nine league games (0-7-2). It has not won since May 18, when it defeated semi-professional CS Saint-Laurent 8-1 in the Cup quarterfinals.

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Badibanga’s goal came from inside Forge’s half after he looked up to see Gavran clear of his goal. That prompted the Congolese-born former Belgium youth international to unleash a David Beckham-style shot from 60 yards that flew over Gavran’s head before bouncing into the Toronto goal.

Badibanga, who celebrated his highlight with a double somersault, started the match by taking down Federico Bernardeschi.

“What a goal,” said Herdman.

It was the second bizarre goal Gavran conceded in as many games. Atlanta forward Jamal Thiaré caught Toronto’s backup goalie napping in the 97th minute on June 29, when he came from behind to steal the ball — as Gavran tried to kick it forward — and fired it into an open net for a 2-1 victory.

Poku made it 2-0 with three minutes to go, heeling the ball into the net at the near post after Toronto’s defence had been breached by fine passes from Kyle Bekker, Tristan Borges and David Choiniere.

TFC should have scored first when Bernardeschi found Insigne in space in front of goal, but Insigne’s shot went wide. It was a sequence Insigne repeated several times that night.

Bernardeschi, Toronto’s most dangerous man, was battered by Forge players all night long.

It was 70 degrees at kickoff at Tim Hortons Field with thunderstorms in the forecast. And the skies opened up at halftime.

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Toronto and Forge have a history: they met in the final of the pandemic-delayed 2020 Canadian Championship Final, with TFC winning on penalties.

Forge had seven Canadians in the starting lineup, compared to three for Toronto.

Toronto were without the injured Tyrese Spicer, Alonso Coello and Brandon Servania, while captain Jonathan Osorio and Richie Laryea are away with Canada at the Copa America.

Forge were without injured striker Terran Campbell, while Mexican fullback Daniel Parra was suspended after receiving multiple yellow cards.

Forge (5-4-3 in the league) had won just one of its previous five games (1-2-2) and are fifth in the eight-team CPL, an unusual position for the four-time league champions.

TFC reached the semi-finals by defeating Simcoe County Rovers of League 1 Ontario 5–0 in the one-leg preliminary round and CS Saint-Laurent of Ligue 1 Quebec 11–1 in the two-leg quarter-final.

Forge defeated CPL rivals York United 3–1 in the preliminary round and then defeated CF Montreal 3–2 over two legs in the quarter-finals.

Prior to this year, Forge had lost all four cup matches against MLS opponents, being defeated by Toronto on penalties in the 2020 final and being eliminated by CF Montreal in the 2021 and 2023 semifinals and the 2022 quarterfinals.

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