After a match that was the very definition of adage "a game of two halves," Vaughan Azzurri came back from 3-1 down to Toronto Skillz at half-time to beat their hosts 5-3 by the final whistle.
Toronto Skillz clearly started the brighter of the two teams, playing a fairly attack-minded 4-4-2 formation that allowed them to press the Vaughan defenders, force errors in possession, and find space on the break to make driving runs at the visitors.
Mahmoud Mersedeghi (16') was the first to benefit, getting TSkillz their first after Mario Ramalho dispossessed Vaughan's Lo Franco in central midfield. Ramalho threaded the ball wide for Mersedeghi, who imbalanced his defender with some sharp footwork and then buried the ball across Vaughan keeper, Andrew D'Souza.
Vaughan responded quickly as Jonathan Lao, playing in a holding midfield role on the day, picked out left winger Maurizio Ragone (20') on a run in behind the TSkillz defence. Ragone froze the onrushing GK Lyczywek with a couple shimmies and finished with a left footed roller.
Ryan Reid (Photo: Martin Bazyl)
But it was Toronto Skillz to finish the half on top, after right winger Ayoub Saoucha (38') found D'Souza off his line and chipped the keeper, and Ryan Reid (42') went on a mazy solo run that beat three Vaughan defenders before poking the ball into the Vaughan net.
But the Azzurri were not down and out, and despite being late back onto the pitch after the half-time talk, it would shortly prove to be their day.
After changing formation to a 3-5-2, Jonathan Lao was able to get closer to the front two of Jarek Whiteman and Jason Mills and he quickly set about making a difference.
"When we get the pairings right in the middle and he's able to find spaces and get in between lines, Jonathan Lao is fantastic," said Isacco.
Jonathan Lao (Photo: Martin Bazyl)
His corner within minutes of the restart connected with half-time sub Kyle Crichton, whose glancing header was on target and forced Lyczywek into a smart reaction save. Lao (55') then took matters into his own hands, hitting the post after taking a cross from Jason Mills, before making a smart overlapping run to get on the end of a Whiteman flick-on and finishing well under a hesitant Lyczywek.
Three minutes later, Brandon Mills (58') punished Skillz for a bad clearance off a corner, bashing a left footed volley into the top corner.
Whiteman (63') completed the comeback five minutes later, picking up the ball deep in the TSkillz defensive third, squaring up his marker, and bending a right footed shot inside the far post.
Vaughan had scored an incredible three goals in eighteen minutes.
"It was me saying something and them changing their mental disposition is probably what happened at half," said Vaughan head coach, Carmine Isacco.
"They decided that they wanted to play in the second half. We made some tactical and personnel changes but to be honest it was them choosing to take pride and play rather than go through the motions like they did in first half."
Brandon Mills (Photo: Martin Bazyl)
Jason Mills (73') added a fifth after a Lao free kick, and the Azzurri finished off the match with tidy possessive play as a stunned Toronto Skillz looked unsure of how to chase the match.
"We had a strong gameplan in place in terms of where we wanted to press and tried to capitalize on opportunities from there," said Toronto Skillz head coach, Leslie "Tiger" Fitzpatrick.
"We felt we did that, and talked at half-time about the things that were positive. We also talked about going into the second half with a similar mentality but we went out there, we were flat, maybe mentally we thought we already had the game wrapped up. Their first two goals were just way too easy and they built up from there and put us away. A strong experienced side can do that to you."