Abdallah El Chanti (Photo: Martin Bazyl)
North Toronto Nitros beat Durham United FA 3-1 on Thursday night to advance to the semi-finals of the 2016 L1 Cup.
The match was played at a frenetic pace, with North Toronto's signature high energy pressing giving Durham little time on the ball, forcing errors in possession, and creating the basis for relentless counter-attacks.
Durham utilized a similar robust gameplan off the ball, and the match quickly fell into a pattern of rushed passes, scrappy battles for possession, and lightning pace counters.
Durham United appeared to have the better of the early going, getting a penalty decision within the first twenty minutes. Nitros keeper Mark Rogal anticipated well and saved the penalty, but had to face another after the official deemed Rogal to have encroached. Durham's Jonathan Parades dispatched the second chance with composure.
Bermuda international Killian Elkinson put North Toronto back on level terms just before the half-hour, collecting a cross from left back Nikolay Savaliev that sailed through the box untouched. Elkinson found a quick combination with teammate El-Chanti at the top of the box, riding a tackle from Durham centre-back Parades before finishing low and across the keeper Ben Cowman.
The second half picked up in much the same fashion as the first, with Durham attempting to break the press through rapid interchange of positions to break man-marks, and long raking diagonal balls from Parades and left-back Cullen to right forward Kashiff De Jonge. De Jonge had an early chance just inside the box, but his effort sailed high and wide.
With an average squad age of twenty, North Toronto was the younger and smaller of the two sides, with the Durham side having an average age of 22/ 23 and players of greater size and maturity. But the speed, organization, and relentless pressure from the Nitros eventually took a toll on Durham players, who were forced to fight for every ball and could not stitch together the passing game they have demonstrated throughout the season.
"We didn't show up, simple as that," said Durham head coach, Sanford Carabin. "We were out-competed and didn't win our one v one battles throughout the game. It wasn't a tactical thing, they just worked harder than us. We knew how to play them, we just didn't execute."
Nitros began to find gaps in the Durham defence, and each attacking wave achieved a result - either a shot on net, a forced corner or foul leading to set-piece. Second-half substitute Kyle Laborde brought size, power and determination to the centre-forward role, and was the first to meet a corner powerfully with a header that left Cowman with no chance.
Laborde's fresh legs again proved Durham's undoing, as he picked up a ball forty yards away from the Durham net, turned, and took the ball cross-field and in behind the defence on a cutting run. His cut-back couldn't find a teammate, but Durham couldn't clear the ball either and El-Chanti pounced on a poor touch, quickly changed pace, and blasted a low piledriver under Cowman for the winner.
"I think we played well the whole game," said North Toronto assistant coach, Ilya Orlov. "They had no chances."
"They had a PK, but our keeper saved the first one. Other than that they didn't have anything, and I think we finished most of our chances. This is something we want to win. We're going to get ready for the next game, and of course it's a big priority for us."