MONTREAL — CF Montreal ends the season with a trophy. For Toronto FC, there was only more pain.
Montreal dominated play but had to wait until Romell Quioto's 72nd-minute goal to dispatch Toronto 1-0 Sunday and defend its Canadian Championship title.
After bossing the game at Saputo Stadium, Montreal finally broke the deadlock when the Honduran forward, put behind the defence by a looping high ball from Rudy Camacho from inside his own half, chipped goalkeeper Quentin Westberg on Montreal's 21st shot of the afternoon.
Quioto had tormented the TFC defence all day.
Montreal hoisted the Voyageurs Cup, as it did after a penalty shootout win over TFC in 2019, while earning a berth in the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League, US$75,000 and bragging rights.
Due to the pandemic, the 2020 tournament was eventually reduced to a one-off between Toronto and Forge FC that has yet to be scheduled.
Until the final seconds, Sunday's game was one-way traffic.
Montreal outshot Toronto 23-4 (9-0 in shots on target), had a 10-1 edge in corners and 57 per cent possession. Quioto, with six shots including four on target, provided more offence than the entire TFC team and could have scored a hat trick had it not been for Westberg.
Montreal coach Wilfried Nancy told his players at halftime a goal would come if they kept playing that way. After missing many much simpler chances, they went ahead on a goal that came with a high degree of difficulty.
"This is the story of our season," the coach said. "We should have scored earlier."
But Nancy took pleasure in seeing his team dominate at both ends of the field.
"I'm happy because we played the way we used to play, offensively and defensively," he said. "So I'm happy for the players."
Toronto coach Javier Perez viewed the contest through rose-coloured glasses.
"We just lost focus on one play and we paid a price of the championship," he said.
Toronto had a chance to pull even in the 90th minute but Jordan Perruzza hit the goalpost after goalkeeper Sebastian Breza got a foot to a Toronto ball sent into the penalty box before fellow substitute Nick DeLeon got to it. Toronto's Ifunanyachi Achara fired the ball back in but Perruzza's shot struck the woodwork.
Breza, the hero of Montreal's penalty shootout win over Forge FC in the semifinal, was awarded the 2021 George Gross Memorial Trophy as tournament MVP. Breza finished with a 3-0-0 record, including two shutouts, and did not concede a goal in his last 243 minutes of play.
Toronto winger Jacob Shaffelburg, with one goal and three assists in three appearances, was named top young player.
The final was a consolation prize at the end of disappointing campaigns for both teams.
Montreal (12-12-10) finished poorly, missing out on the playoffs on the final day of the regular season.
The disappointment was deeper-rooted for Toronto (6-18-10), which was officially eliminated from post-season contention Oct. 16 in a 2-0 loss to visiting Atlanta, although the writing had been on the wall for some time during a dismal campaign.
Toronto rarely got to field its three designated players this season and Sunday was no exception.
Star striker Jozy Altidore didn't make the trip to Montreal due to flu-like symptoms not COVID-related. A visibly upset Alejandro Pozuelo limped off in the 15th minute with a hamstring injury.
"It changed everything," Perez said of losing the two players.
Venezuelan winger Yeferson Soteldo, who had not played since Oct. 20, came on in the 78th minute but was not fully fit.
He was feisty, however, managing to get a yellow card before entering the game.
Montreal defender Joel Waterman took objection to a shoulder charge by Shaffelburg as both players chased a ball near the Montreal by-line in the 57th minute. Waterman shoved Shaffelburg when both get up, prompting the five-foot-three Soteldo — warming up nearby with the Toronto substitutes — to get in the six-foot-two Waterman's face.
Toronto's three DPs, whose salaries totalled US$10.26 million this season, combined for eight goals and 14 assists in league play with Soteldo leading the way at three goals and 10 assists.
"In the end, when you lose quality players, there's only so much you can do," said Perez.
Pozuelo, the league's reigning MVP, missed TFC's first 10 games in all competitions due to injury and managed just one goal and four assists in 19 league outings (14 starts).
The Spanish playmaker, who in the past was the straw that stirred TFC's drink, started all 23 league matches last season and finished with nine goals and 10 assists.
Altidore missed eight weeks due to a falling out with former coach Chris Armas and his return to action was interrupted by injury. He finished with four goals in 16 games (eight starts).
Toronto was once again forced to field a makeshift backline Sunday with defenders Omar Gonzalez, Kemar Lawrence, Eriq Zavaleta and Brazil's Auro unavailable.
There was a sign of things to come in the first 30 seconds of the game. A Montreal through ball after a TFC turnover found Quioto behind the TFC defence. But Westberg got a leg in front of Quioto's shot to end the threat.
Toronto spent most of the first half on the back foot with Montreal having 63 per cent of possession and outshooting TFC 9-1 (5-0 in shots on target).
Both teams started five Canadians. Montreal defender Zachary Brault-Guillard was taken off on a stretcher in the 60th minute.
Montreal finished 10th in the Eastern Conference, two points below the playoff line and 18 above Toronto. One win in the last six games (1-2-3) of the season did not help Montreal's cause.
It came down to the final game of the regular season Nov. 7 with Montreal needing to beat Orlando to qualify for the post-season. Orlando didn't co-operate in a 2-0 win.
Despite the outcome that day, Nancy said the pressure of the Orlando game had helped his team in Sunday's final.
Quioto's performance, meanwhile, showed how much he was missed in the business end of the regular season. He missed four of Montreal's last six games.
Toronto lurched to a 1-8-2 start this season while based in Orlando due to the pandemic. Armas was fired July 4 after a humiliating 7-1 loss at D.C. United, with assistant coach Perez put in charge for the remainder of the season.
TFC finished 13th in the East and winless in its last six league outings (0-3-3).
Sunday's game may be the last outing for Perez as coach given speculation that Bob Bradley, father of Toronto captain Michael Bradley, is headed north after parting ways with Los Angeles FC.
Montreal reached the final by dispatching HFX Wanderers FC 3-1 and Forge in a marathon 8-7 penalty shootout that saw the goalkeepers decide the match, which finished tied 0-0 after regulation time. Toronto beat York United FC 4-0 and Pacific FC 2-1.
Montreal has won the title five times since 2008, compared to seven for Toronto.
Sunday's game was played in Saputo Stadium after Montreal won a coin flip.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 21, 2021
The Canadian Press