May 22nd, 2024

Toronto FC puts semi-pro Simcoe County to the sword in Canadian Championship play

By Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press on April 24, 2024.

Simcoe County Rovers' Alejandro Portal, left, battles for the ball with Toronto FC's Cassius Mailula and Jonathan Osorio during first half Canadian Championship soccer action, in Toronto, Wednesday, April 24, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Toronto FC put semi-pro Simcoe County Rovers FC to the sword Wednesday, thumping the League1 Ontario champions 5-0 in Canadian Championship preliminary-round play.

Prince Owusu, Cassius Mailula, Kevin Long, Jonathan Osorio and Tyrese Spicer scored for Toronto, which led 4-0 at the break with three of the goals coming in nine minutes. Owusu could have had a hat trick or more in the first half.

Toronto coach John Herdman emptied his bench in the second half.

Simcoe County showed flashes of its skill but Toronto, despite having dug deep into its roster on the night, had too much. The MLS club’s flank attacks overwhelmed Simcoe, which kicks off its regular season on Sunday.

Toronto will face either the CPL’s Halifax Wanderers FC or Quebec champion CS Saint-Laurent in the quarterfinal. TFC has won the Canadian Championship eight times, most recently in 2020. It has finished runner-up five times.

It was all Toronto in the opening minutes with Simcoe unable to retain possession. But the visitors threatened in the 13th minute when goalkeeper Luka Gavran pushed Alexander Zis’s low free kick from distance off the goalpost to safety.

Zis, taken in the second round of the 2019 CPL-U Sports draft by Forge FC out of the University of Guelph, had a stint in the Saudi third division.

Orlandis Benitez’s looping half-volley forced another save from Gavran in the 22nd minute.

Then normal service resumed.

Owusu opened the scoring in the 18th minute, heading home a Kobe Franklin cross after Simcoe was unable to clear the ball, allowing TFC to relaunch its attack. It was the six-foot-three German’s fourth goal in three games and fifth in his last six.

Simcoe began to settle after going down a goal, however, and pieced together several good-looking forays into the Toronto end.

But Osorio, in his 350th appearance in all competitions for TFC, found Owusu in the penalty box and the German fed an unmarked Mailula for a tap-in in the 30th minute for a 2-0 lead. It was the first goal for the South African in his first start for the club.

Three minutes later, the six-foot-two Long headed home an Osorio corner.

Mailula and Owusu set up Osorio in the 39th minute with Owusu heading Mailula’s well-flighted cross back to Osorio who, twisting his body to get off the shot, beat goalkeeper Rimi Olatunji.

Spicer, the first overall pick in the 2024 MLS SuperDraft, made it 5-0 in the 76th minute, heading home Franklin’s cross after taking over Owusu’s forward position.

Simcoe almost scored in the 78th minute but Gavran got a hand to Benitez’s hard shot from close range.

Herdman had sent on Spicer, Sigurd Rosted and 17-year-old midfielder Andrei Dumitru to open the second half. It was a TFC debut for Dumitru, who like 24-year-old Honduran forward Jesus Batiz signed an MLS short-term agreement from Toronto FC II earlier in the day.

Honduran international Deybi Flores and Nicksoen Gomis followed off the TFC bench.

Simcoe qualified by winning the League1 Ontario title last year. The club finished runner-up in the 2023 regular season at 15-4-1 before defeating league-leading Scrosoppi FC 4-2 in the championship game last September.

Simcoe hasn’t played since other than pre-season games. But it was boosted by 1,500 travelling supporters Wednesday, who packed the north stand.

Simcoe’s ownership group includes former Canada captains Julian de Guzman and Atiba Hutchinson and current Canadian Internationals Janine Beckie, Doneil Henry and Cyle Larin.

Henry was on hand Wednesday. No stranger to TFC, the 31-year-old defender had two stints with the MLS club and was the first academy player to sign for the first team, back in August 2010.

The Simcoe starters featured six players with TFC connections with more in the full roster.

Defender Jalen Watson was taken 32nd overall by TFC out of Penn State in the 2023 MLS SuperDraft. Goalkeepers Dikola Douglas and Olatunji, defenders Jordan Barclay, Cameron DaSilva, Aidan Hugo and Justyn Thomas, midfielders Javier George, Andron Kagramanyan and Zis and forwards Matthew Fisher and Ijah Halley all spent time at the Toronto academy.

The last time Simcoe midfielder Alejandro Portal played at BMO Field was September 2019 as a member of the Cuban national team beaten 6-0 by Canada. He and Benitez were among several Cuban players that subsequently defected.

The Simcoe players trained at BMO on Tuesday and took their time surveying the pitch Wednesday when they arrived at the stadium.

Osorio was one of just four Toronto starters from Saturday’s 1-0 win over New England. Franklin, Owusu and midfielder Matty Longstaff also retained their starting spot.

Toronto didn’t field any of its three designated players with Lorenzo Insigne and Richie Laryea injured and Federico Bernardeschi given the night off.

The Canadian Championship is sponsored by Telus.

Follow @NeilMDavidson on X platform, formerly known as Twitter

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 24, 2024.

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