VANCOUVER â€” It was a finish that will never sit quite right with Carl Robinson.
The Vancouver Whitecaps were moments away from their second consecutive Canadian Championship last June when rivals Toronto FC heaved a hopeful, desperate ball into the penalty area.
As it fell towards the B.C. Place Stadium turf, Whitecaps goalkeeper David Ousted and defender Kendall Waston got their signals crossed and collided.
Before anyone could blink the ball was blasted into the roof of Vancouver’s net and Toronto had a priceless away goal that flipped the two-game aggregate series on its head to hand the visitors the national title.
“It hurt. It hurt like hell,” Robinson recalled this week. “Sometimes you have to have disappointments in football to appreciate the good times.”
Vancouver and Toronto will renew hostilities Saturday on the same pitch in the clubs’ first meeting since that wild encounter where the teams experienced a range of emotions.
“Losing in that fashion will always sting,” said Whitecaps defender Tim Parker. “You don’t really know how many trophies you’ll get to win in your lifetime. Being so close and have it slip it away is tough.”
In the seconds after the stunning turn of events nine months ago, Ousted slammed his water bottle, while Robinson could only stand on the sidelines in stoic and stunned silence.
“It makes you stronger or weaker,” said the coach. “It certainly won’t make me weaker. It will make me stronger. As I explained to the boys, use it as a bit of motivation.”
Apart from the rivalry between the players, fans and cities, both Vancouver and Toronto have plenty of motivation heading into the weekend. The Whitecaps sit with a tie and a loss to start the Major League Soccer season, while the visitors arrive on the West Coast with consecutive road draws.
“We feel good about the fact that we’ve gone on the road and not lost,” Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley told reporters before departing for Vancouver. “Having said that we should have a few more points, there’s no two ways about that.”
The teams will each be missing a key piece for their only league meeting in 2017. Ousted is suspended for the match, while star striker Sebastian Giovinco has been ruled out for Toronto because of a charley horse.
“They have a good roster, that’s why they made the final last year,” said Whitecaps defender Jordan Harvey. “They still have guys to be aware of, but obviously it’s nice not having to think about Giovinco for a weekend.”
Fatigue could be a factor for the Whitecaps, who are coming off Tuesday’s 2-0 road loss to Mexican giants Tigres UANL in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League semifinal after playing in San Jose last weekend.
“No excuse,” Robinson said of his team’s tough travel schedule. “We’ll compete, we’ll be organized and disciplined.”
Toronto FC striker Jozy Altidore â€” who along with Bradley and Giovinco combined to make more than US$18.4 million in salary last season, nearly triple Vancouver’s entire roster â€” has complained about the physical treatment he’s received through the first two games of 2017.
Robinson smiled at the assertion the bruising six-foot forward needs any favours from officials.
“I think people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, should they?” said Robinson. “Unfortunately there’s contact in football and you have to be able to deal with it … I think it’s maybe a little bit of gamesmanship.”
Prior to the drama of the Canadian Championship, Vancouver picked up a 4-3 victory at Toronto in MLS play last season after falling 3-1 at home in the 2015 opener that saw Giovinco and Altidore make their debuts.
“With each year the rivalry’s grown,” said Harvey. “Last year in particular, given the way we lost in the last minute, we have some lasting impressions that will stick with us for a while.
“We’re looking forward to it. Guys are ready.”
With files from Neil Davidson in Toronto
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press