The Montreal Impact rode a dominant first half to dispatch the visiting Vancouver Whitecaps 4-2 in the second leg of the Canadian Championship semifinals at Stade Saputo on Tuesday night, winning 5-4 on aggregate.
Mauro Biello employed a starting XI that was close to his first choice-side, and in the opening 45 minutes the Impact looked very much like the more experienced team against a Whitecaps lineup full of youth and lesser-used first teamers. The home side was paced by a pair of goals from the penalty spot by talisman Ignacio Piatti, along with opportunistic strikes by Blerim Dzemaili and Anthony Jackson-Hamel, to book a spot in the finals of the domestic cup competition.
Montreal started the game on the front foot and looked full value for what would eventually become a three-goal first half outburst. Looking to get behind an experienced Whitecaps back line, the Impact consistently tested the speed and tenacity of the Vancouver defenders over the opening quarter hour.
It would pay off in the 19th minute, as Jackson-Hamel was hauled down inside the penalty area after rounding Vancouver goalkeeper Spencer Richey. Piatti stepped up and put away the ensuing spot-kick a minute later, easily sending Richey the wrong way for the 1-0 lead.
Jackson-Hamel nearly doubled the lead three minutes later after receiving a pass from Piatti in the goalmouth. The young forward did well to control the ball with his back to goal and hit a volley toward the far post, but his effort was a couple yards wide.
The Impact would get their second goal in the 28th minute, however, and once again it was Piatti scoring from the penalty spot. Mauro Rosales was judged to have brought down the Montreal attacker following a clever Laurent Ciman free kick from 22 yards that sent Piatti in alone on goal. As he was about to pull the trigger, Rosales tackled him, earning the call from the referee. Piatti made no mistake from the spot, this time putting his effort to the opposite corner and narrowly beating Richey to the goalkeeper's left.
It didn't stop there for the Impact, as Dzemaili scored the team's third in the 39th minute. The Swiss midfielder latched onto a loose ball near the penalty spot and hammered a low effort through a crowd and into the Vancouver goal.
The second half started brighter for the visitors with the inclusion of teenage sensation Alphonso Davies, who came off the bench to give the stagnant Vancouver attack a bit of life. The youngster only needed 15 minutes to put himself on the scoresheet for the second straight Canadian Championshp match, holding off Patrice Bernier and hitting a spinning low effort from 15 yards under Maxime Crepeau.
The glimmer of hope seemed short-lived for the Whitecaps, as Montreal responded just two minutes later through Jackson-Hamel. The Impact forward did well to chest down a cross fom Bernier before firing a half-volley into the Vancouver net from close range.
However, Vancouver would not go away quietly, and Kyle Greig put the Whitecaps within one goal of claiming the aggregate victory in the 77th minute. Greig rose over Impact defender Kyle Fisher to nod a cross past Crepeau, and suddenly the final 13 minutes were looking very tense for the home side.
A nervy closing few minutes ensued, with scrappy play from both sides as Vancouver pushed forward while Montreal looked to cling to the slim aggregate advantage. In the end, the visitors didn't have enough to claw their way back, and the Impact prevailed.
The result means Montreal moves on to face the winner of the other semifinal — which involves the Ottawa Fury and Toronto FC — in the two-legged final next month.