The chanting and cheering could be heard blocks away Tuesday night, but the sounds of a sold-out hometown crowd couldn’t drown out the pain of a late 2-1 loss for the HFX Wanderers in their Canadian Championship quarter-final match against Toronto FC.
It was the first meeting between the Canadian Premier League Wanderers and their Major League Soccer opponents.
The 6,500 fans who filled the Wanderers Grounds in the heart of downtown Halifax could perhaps take some solace, though, in the fact that Nova Scotia native Jacob Shaffelburg of Port Williams slid the winning pass to Jonathan Osorio, who fired his shot off the crossbar and then off of Peter Schaale into the Halifax net, lifting the Reds into the Canadian Championship semi-finals.
Shaffelburg had been sidelined due to a lower-body injury for five matches but was brought in off the bench midway through the second half to bolster Toronto’s offence.
The Wanderers held their own against the established MLS club, with Toronto unable to get on the scoreboard until the 55th minute when Jordan Perruzza’s header found net.
Halifax’s lone goal came 69 minutes in from forward Samuel Salter, who caught Toronto goalkeeper Quentin Wester off guard with a low shot into the corner to tie the game, bringing fans to their feet as blue smoke exploded on the exterior of the pitch.
The crowd remained standing as time ticked away, with both sides creating solid chances, but it was Osorio with the final goal of the night, putting it high past Halifax goalkeeper Christian Oxner in the 87th minute to advance Toronto FC in the Canadian Championship, a tournament featuring a combination of 13 professional and semi-pro teams.
“Halifax was obviously well-prepared and really motivated,” said Toronto coach Bob Bradley. “In the first half, our tempo was too slow; there were too many guys getting stuck with the ball. We’re fortunate that in that situation, we’ve got guys that football-wise, can help us, so that made a big difference.”
Halifax coach Stephan Hart was “disappointed in the result,” but said the performance of his players, “almost everyone of them, was fantastic.
“[They were] very balanced, very composed, and except for a few minutes in the second half we brought ourselves right back into the game after being scored on.”
Hart added: “I’m proud of them, of course, but at the end of the day we’ve been playing good games ... and not getting the results.”
The much-anticipated match for Nova Scotia’s soccer fans was also only the second time in Wanderers history that they’ve hosted an MLS club. The first was a 3-1 loss to CF Montreal in last year’s Canadian Championship play.
Halifax finishes a four-match homestand this June 4 against York United FC in CPL action, while Toronto hosts the Chicago Fire this Saturday and then continues its journey to a potential eighth Voyageurs Cup – and Canada’s coveted berth into the CONCACAF Champions League.
In later action, York United FC defeated Pacific FC 4-3 on penalty kicks after a goal by Amer Didic of Pacific – his second of the game, about nine minutes into extra time – tied the game 2-2. Roger Thompson and Osaze De Rosario scored first half goals for York United.