Vaughan Azzurri and Woodbridge Strikers advanced to the 2017 Men's L1 Cup Finals on August 6 after respective 2-1 wins over Durham United FA and North Mississauga Panthers in Wednesday night's semi-finals.
Both Vaughan and Woodbridge will be returnees to the L1 Cup Final, having played each other in 2016. Vaughan won the 2016 L1 Cup 1-0 after a first half header by MVP Kamal Miller beat Strikers' keeper Matt George. 2017 will be the third L1 Cup final for Woodbridge, who won the Cup in 2015.
(Photo: Martin Bazyl)
Vaughan Azzurri were forced to work to get back into the final in 2017 after Durham's Stefan Lamanna opened the scoring in the semi-final with a fantastic solo effort, skinning three players and finishing with composure just before half-time.
Vaughan's Brandon Mills (54') equalized just before the hour, sending the match to penalties.
The Azzurri would hold their nerve through the penalties scoring four of their five efforts - Thomasz Skublak scoring the winner - while keeper Colm Vance proved up for the task as well, saving the first and fourth shots of the Durham sequence by Joe Zupo and Le Rohne Young.
"I thought it was a great game," said Vaughan head coach, Carmine Isacco.
"A real tactical battle and after the first fifteen or twenty our tempo got a bit better and we created a few more chances. We got caught on transition and Lamanna scored a fantastic goal. I feel comfortable saying we should have done better and should have got the result in full time."
Stefan Lamanna (Photo: Martin Bazyl)
Vaughan's road to the 2017 final was more like a stampede, at least on the scoreboard, with a first round 8-2 away win over Toronto Skillz and a second round 6-1 home win over Masters FA Saints.
Striker Thomasz Skublak has been a key piece to the puzzle, scoring four goals in each first round match to now lead the 2017 L1 Cup goalscoring charts with eight goals.
"Masters was not an easy game, and although the score was lopsided it was a challenge," said Isacco.
"We have had trouble the last two games, we haven't won in two. We have had some issues on the field that spilled off the field as well. Winning changes everything but we also have to look at last two weeks as well and try to react to that, it's important."
Thomasz Skublak (Photo: Martin Bazyl)
Durham showed great focus and determination en route to the semi-final, narrowly defeating Oakville Blue Devils 1-0 in the first round before dispatching Ottawa South United 3-1 after a three goal second half comeback.
"I think that actually benefitted us because we had to beat some quality teams to get there and surmount adversity," said Durham United FA head coach, Sanford Carabin.
"In a way it was a rallying call to say we had beaten good teams, and I don't think it affected us adversely. I think the story today was we lost on a penalty and I think the boys are mature enough to understand that and deal with it."
"I think we gave them the goal by allowing them the space to make the cross that made it," he added.
"But I can't be too disappointed in the overall play of the team. I'm disappointed that we dropped off in the second half a little bit, but we took them to penalties and they are a very good team. We played well and we had a lot of good performances from a lot of players and it came down to a penalty."
Woodbridge Strikers got a very late winner from Christian Cavallini (86') to win their semi-final 2-1 over a very difficult opponent at their home park of Hershey Centre, Mississauga - North Mississauga Panthers.
"Our boys played well," said Woodbridge head coach, Peter Pinizzotto.
"I thought we had a lot of chances but kept missing again. At the end we had a great opportunity to finish the game, but again we missed it. It has been like this for us, it's not new to have issues with finishing, but what I like about my teams is we are fighting and fighting."
"Credit again though to North Miss, they are young and they run you down but at the end I thought we deserved the win."
Christian Cavallini (Photo: Martin Bazyl)
The Strikers' Emmanuel Issac (14') opened proceedings with a brilliant goal inside the first twenty minutes, but North Miss' never-say-die attitude was visible once again and Bradley Fenton (30') hit back with a penalty to bring the score level again by the break.
"This is where experience kicks in," said North Mississauga head coach, Sam Medeiros.
"Woodbridge came out and played their game to start the game and we were nervous. It is what it is. It is young guys who have never been at this point and they needed to get their feet right, get settled. We stuck to the system and formation that we have, and in the second half we tried to adjust a little bit to Woodbridge's strength and see if we could go at them a little bit."
"I believe in what we have been doing," he added.
"We have been playing well and if you lead a business or organization you know that you don't knock everything down with one failure. We are going to go and continue being consistent with what we have been doing. All of our results have been 1-1, 2-1, 1-0 - aside from the first game of the season, everything has been right there with everyone else."
"We are going to go to battle, I believe in these boys, and we will continue to bring through our youth and give them a shot at it."
North Miss had a great run through to the 2017 semi, showing their quality in a 2-0 defeat of Windsor TFC and a 1-0 defeat of TFC III; Bradley Fenton scored three of the Panthers four goals across all three matches.
Bradley Fenton (Photo: Martin Bazyl)
Woodbridge again face a difficult middle of season period, where they must balance performances across both league - where they hold first place in the east division - and in prep for the Cup final on August 6.
But the Strikers are no stranger to this situation, and Pinizzotto is looking forward to the challenge.
"It's our third year in a row and we won it a couple of years ago," he said.
"I heard we will meet Vaughan again. We have been very consistent in the league for several years and it is exciting to play for something special, it will be a very good final."
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