CS Mont-Royal Outremont Griffons and Vaughan Azzurri battled to a 1-1 draw in the first leg of the Inter-Provincial Cup at Terrebonne Complexe Sportif on Saturday November 5 - leaving everything still to play for between the Quebec and Ontario champions heading into the November 12 second leg at the Pickering Soccer Centre (5 p.m. kickoff).
The Griffons' Sean Rosa (24') was a danger for the hosts all night, and opened the scoring after finding himself unmarked inside the Vaughan box; Rosa first sent the recovering defender the wrong way with a shoulder feint, before burying the finish low under the onrushing Vaughan GK, Colm Vance.
The Quebec side were unlucky not to be up by more as they dominated the opening proceedings, pressing the Ontario champions deep in their half and forcing the Azzurri to make uncharacteristic errors in possession.
"We need to play with a quicker tempo to beat their press and get out," said Azzurri defender Joseph Amato at half-time. "Their pressing system is very good and it has already cost us a goal."
Vaughan would bounce back in the second half, forcing the issue with a more direct style of play that allowed the visitors to win the ball higher up the pitch and try to build play in less dangerous areas.
Central forward Mario Kovacevic (57') was the beneficiary, drawing a free kick just outside the Griffons' box after some nice combination play attracted a foul from Griffons' central defender, Meterissian.
The ensuing Brandon Mills spot kick richocheted off a Quebec defender's hand, causing the official to award the penalty; Kovacevic stepped up confidently, sending the ball in off the keeper's right hand post.
Vaughan Azzurri: Mario Kovacevic
Vaughan required some desperate defending in the final stages to keep the draw - and a valuable advantage heading home to Ontario for the second leg in a competition that utilises the aggregate system of counting away goals for two in the event of a draw after the second leg - and also benefitted from a certain amount of luck.
Griffons forward Nboucha rounded Vaughan right back Phillips within ten minutes of the Vaughan equalizer, walking in alone and beating Vance with a low shot that just caught the base of the far post to stay out.
Several darting runs and quickly released shots from Rosa also drifted just wide of the Vaughan target in the late stages, while Vance had to be on his toes to gather up a number of half-chances and balls dropping dangerously into his area.
The second leg of the 2016 National Division III Championship Final will be played at the Pickering Soccer Centre (1975 Clements Road) on Saturday November 12 (5 p.m.)
Stay tuned here for details for match preview, live stream and ticket details.