Forge defeats a collapsing Toronto FC in the opening game of the Canadian Championship semi-final

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With Toronto FC suffering another setback on Wednesday, substitute Prince Owusu threw the collapsing Major League Soccer side a timely lifeline.

Trailing 2-0 to Canadian Premier League champions Forge FC in the opening game of the Canadian Championship semi-final, Toronto got an all-important away goal from the German forward in the 88th minute, reducing the deficit to 2- 1. That made the hole that TFC will have to climb out of in the August 21 second leg at BMO Field a little more manageable.

The last loss can still turn into a victory. But black clouds remain over TFC, who had plenty of possession that evening but failed to take care of it at times and showed wasteful finishing.

Owusu eventually put Toronto on the board after a scramble in the goalmouth following a corner kick, with Forge players unsuccessfully appealing for a foul on play as bodies hit the ground.

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“The away goal was super important for us,” said Toronto coach John Herdman, who thought his team had conceded a goal that was wrongly called back for offside.

“The second leg at home will be different. It will feel different,” he added.

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

“We’re a little disappointed that it’s not 3-0 at some point,” Forge coach Bobby Smyrniotis said. “Because we created some excellent opportunities.”

Thanks to Herdman throwing in starters like Owusu, Matty Longstaff and Kevin Long, Toronto mounted a furious closing attack. There were more than five minutes of frantic stoppage time, with Forge keeper Chris Kalongo making a diving save to prevent Lorenzo Insigne and Toronto substitute Deandre Kerr from heading wide.

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

Pacific FC hosted defending champion Vancouver Whitecaps in the other cup semi-final on Wednesday.

Toronto (7-13-3 in MLS play) came into the match having lost six straight and were winless in nine league games (0-7-2). It has not won since May 18, when it defeated semi-pro CS Saint-Laurent 8-1 in the cup quarter-final.

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Badibanga’s goal came from inside the Forge half after he looked up and saw Gavran coming off his line. That prompted the Congo-born former Belgium youth international to launch a 60-yard shot, à la David Beckham, which floated over Gavran’s head before bouncing into the Toronto goal.

Badibanga, who celebrated the highlight-reel blow with a double somersault, started the game by dispossessing Federico Bernardeschi.

“A great goal,” said Herdman.

It was the second bizarre goal Gavran had conceded in as many games. Atlanta’s Jamal Thiaré caught Toronto’s backup goalkeeper in the 97th minute on June 29 as he came from behind to steal the ball – as Gavran was about to shoot it forward – and put him into the open goal for a 2-1 win.

Poku made it 2-0 three minutes late and fired the ball in at the near post after Toronto’s defense had been broken open by a nice pass from Kyle Bekker, Tristan Borges and David Choiniere.

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

Bernardeschi, Toronto’s danger man, was battered by Forge players all night.

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

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Toronto and Forge have history, having met in the final of the pandemic-delayed 2020 Canadian Championship final, with TFC winning in a penalty shootout.

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

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

Forge was missing injured forward Terran Campbell, while Mexican fullback Daniel Parra was suspended for collecting a yellow card.

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

TFC reached the semi-finals by beating Simcoe County Rovers of League1 Ontario 5-0 in the one-match preliminary round and CS Saint-Laurent of Ligue1 Quebec 11-1 in the two-legged quarter-final.

Forge defeated CPL rival York United 3–1 in the preliminary round before upsetting CF Montreal 3–2 on aggregate in the quarter-finals.

Prior to this year, Forge had lost all four cup matches with MLS opposition, defeated by Toronto on penalties in the 2020 final and ousted by CF Montreal in the 2021 and ’23 semifinals and the ’22 quarterfinals.

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