Joel Embiid scored 33 points and the Philadelphia 76ers easily took a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals, beating the Boston Celtics 115-103 on Tuesday night.
TORONTO — CF Montreal is moving in the right direction, in the Canadian Championship and Major League Soccer. Toronto FC, however, is struggling to find the right gear.
Toronto’s one-step-forward, two-steps-back season hit another roadblock Tuesday in a 2-1 loss to Montreal in Canadian Championship quarterfinal play with Nigerian forward Chinonso Offor scoring the winning goal in the 39th minute.
Toronto. missing some key players, dug itself a hole late in the first half and could not climb out despite a better second half as Montreal held on for its fifth straight win in all competitions.
“We spoke about the importance of this competition, the history that the club has had in the Canadian Championship,” said Toronto coach Bob Bradley, whose team has lifted the Voyageurs Cup eight times. “This game meant a lot to us tonight. Going out is a big disappointment for all of us.
“We wanted to win and we wanted to win in front of our fans. We know how much it meant to them.”
There was an ugly scene in the south stands after the game with reports that a megaphone had been thrown at Toronto players. A video showed Toronto midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye being held back from going at the guilty party.
Montreal will host Hamilton’s Forge FC in the May 23 semifinal.
“We took this game very seriously,” said Montreal coach Hernan Losada, who celebrated his 41st birthday Tuesday.
“We knew we needed to be super-focused and concentrated,” the Argentine added. “When you play on the road for the Cup against your biggest rival, it’s never easy. But I think we did a very good collective performance and I’m very, very happy for the whole group, for the staff, for the players. For everyone we have at CF Montreal.”
Forge, the reigning Canadian Premier League champions, defeated Atletico Ottawa 3-2 in a penalty shootout in Tuesday’s other Canadian Championship quarterfinal. Forge seemed destined to win in regulation time thanks to captain Kyle Bekker’s goal in the 76th minute. But Ollie Bassett’s 88th-minute penalty forced the shootout.
Montreal has been on a roll after emerging from a dismal 1-6-0 start to the season that saw the team fail to score in all six losses. The turnaround started April 18 with a 2-0 win over Vaughan SC in Canadian Championship preliminary-round play.
In contrast, TFC has won just one of its last eight games (1-3-4) in all competitions.
TFC had a chance to pull even in the 85th minute Tuesday but Lorenzo Insigne, who had earlier scored for Toronto, hammered his free kick from just outside the penalty box into the Montreal wall. Three minutes later fellow Italian Federico Bernardeschi blasted a shot high.
“That part is still an area where we have to get better,” Bradley said of his team’s finishing.
“A good response but obviously not enough,” added fullback Richie Laryea who has been one of Toronto’s leading lights in recent weeks.
After an uneventful start, there were three goals just before halftime before an announced crowd of 17,726 at BMO Field. Montreal scored the first two, taking advantage of poor Toronto coverage.
The run of goals started in the 35th minute after Bernardeschi’s free kick from just outside the Montreal penalty box hit the defenders’ wall. Montreal started a rapid counter-attack with a long ball up the middle to Romell Quioto. Toronto goalkeeper Sean Johnson got to the ball first but couldn’t control it and Zachary Brault-Guillard, one of several chasing Montreal players, knocked the rebound in.
It was Montreal’s first shot on target.
Four minutes later, Offor scored with a flying close-range header through Johnson’s legs after Mathieu Choiniere found him with a beautiful curled cross. The goal came too easy with Toronto leaving Montreal too much time and space.
The home side answered in the 44th minute after substitute Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty sliced through the Montreal defence and fed Laryea in the penalty box. The Toronto fullback sent a perfect cross in for Insigne, between defenders, to knock in.
It was the first goal conceded by Montreal since April 15 in a 1-0 loss to D.C. United — a shutout streak that stretched 448 minutes in all competitions.
Toronto (2-3-6) and Montreal (4-6-0) meet again Saturday in MLS action at Saputo Stadium. Both teams have 12 points in league play.
On Wednesday, it’s the Vancouver Whitecaps at York United FC in Toronto and TSS Rovers FC at Pacific FC in an all-B.C. matchup in Langford. TSS Rovers, a semi-pro side that plays in B.C. League1, upset the CPL’s Valour FC 3-1 in the preliminary round.
The defending champion Whitecaps and runner-up Toronto had first-round byes.
Toronto was missing injured defenders Matt Hedges, Shane O’Neill and Cristian Gutierrez, midfielders Michael Bradley, Jonathan Osorio and Victor Vazquez, and forward Jordan Perruzza. Centre back Aime Mabika made his first start for Toronto.
Spanish midfielder Alonso Coello limped off in the 21st minute with an ankle injury, adding to Toronto’s walking wounded.
“I’m worried,” Bob Bradley said when asked about the injury’s severity.
TFC centre back Sigurd Rosted exited in the 80th minute after picking up a knock to the ribs.
“The list is long right now,” said Bradley
TFC started three Canadians, the minimum allowed under tournament rules. Montreal had five Canadian starters.
Rudy Camacho captained Montreal with Kenya veteran Victor Wanyama not dressing. Samuel Piette and Mason Toye were among the injured Montreal contingent. Camacho, normally at the heart of the Montreal back three, played in front of the backline with George Campbell at centre back.
Insigne led Toronto out in the absence of Bradley and Osorio, his normal stand-in.
It’s the 13th year Toronto and Montreal have met in the Voyageurs Cup competition. Coming into Tuesday’s match, TFC held a 12-5-5 advantage (the competition has sometime featured two-legged series) and was undefeated in 12 meetings at BMO Field.