May 21st, 2024

Underdog CS Saint-Laurent looks to continue cup run against Toronto FC

By Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press on May 7, 2024.

Toronto FC coach John Herdman shouts instructions from the sideline during second half MLS soccer action against the Vancouver Whitecaps, in Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, April 6, 2024. While injuries remain a concern, Herdman says he is taking a strong squad to Montreal to face CS Saint-Laurent in the first leg of their Telus Canadian Championship quarterfinal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

When CS Saint-Laurent players ran onto the field to celebrate their upset win over the CPL’s Halifax Wanderers FC, Rocco Placentino couldn’t join them.

The Saint-Laurent sporting director was overcome by emotion on the sidelines at Wanderers Ground.

Mamadou Kane converted the decisive spot kick in the 5-3 penalty shootout win May 2 that moved the Ligue1 Quebec champion into Wednesday’s quarterfinal first leg of the Telus Canadian Championship against Toronto FC.

For Placentino, who has been with semi-pro Saint-Laurent since 2012, the milestone win was the result of years of hard work. But it also touched his heart, evoking memories of a “dear friend” gone far too soon.

Kane was wearing No. 7, the number associated with Jason Di Tullio, an assistant coach and former player with CF Montreal, who died of cancer in July 2022 at the age of 38.

“It was meant to be where the last shooter had to wear No. 7. And it’s a kid that really plays with ‘la grinta’ (Italian for grit or fighting spirit),” said Placentino, who won the 2008 Canadian Championship with Montreal.

“Mamadou scored and my mind was saying ‘Run to the corner where everyone went to celebrate.’ But I was frozen. For a minute I couldn’t move. I was just so overwhelmed with positive vibes that my body went into a bit of a freeze mode. I just had to soak it in and process it a bit. I know Jason was definitely there to help us out.”

Di Tullio was all about la grinta, summing it up in one seven-word phrase: “How bad do you really want it?”

Toronto coach John Herdman was impressed by what he saw in Saint-Laurent’s win in Halifax.

“This is a team that will cause problems,” he said.

TFC had little problem dispatching League 1 Ontario’s Simcoe County Rovers 5-0 in the preliminary round. But Herdman said he is treating this cup game like a mid-week MLS match.

“I’ll travel with the strongest squad I have available,” he said.

“You may see Bernardeschi in this game,” he added, referencing Italian star Federico Bernardeschi who did not see action against Simcoe.

The designated player ended a lengthy scoring drought with two goals and an assist in Saturday’s 3-1 win over FC Dallas.

CF Montreal drew 1-1 at Forge FC on Tuesday in the first of the two-legged quarterfinals. The defending champion Vancouver Whitecaps played at Cavalry FC later Tuesday.

Atletico Ottawa hosts Pacific FC in the other quarterfinal Wednesday.

Placentino expects a crowd between 4,500 and 6,000 at the 7,500-capacity Complexe sportif Claude-Robillard. Saint-Laurent normally draws around 600 to 700.

He says Wednesday’s gate should cover the costs of the Halifax trip and the return leg in Toronto.

While some Saint-Laurent get “minimal pay,” Placentino says most players only receive game bonuses.

“They all work, they all go to school. At the end of the day they do this to keep that little window of opportunity open for themselves,” he added.

“This is like going to ‘American Idol’ and singing in front of the world” he added. “They’re just playing soccer in front of Canada.”

Saint-Laurent has talent.

Kane, a former Canadian youth international, had stints in the Canadian Premier League with York United, FC Edmonton and Vancouver FC.

Kosta Maniatis, who won the NCAA Div. 2 title in 2022 with Franklin Pierce University, was honoured as League1 Quebec’s top goalkeeper last season while Safwane Mlah was named the league’s best player and Nick Razzaghi the top coach.

Loïc Kwemi and Mlah are stars on the Canadian national futsal team.

“I’m anticipating there’ll be two or three in this match that people will be talking about,” said Herdman. “Because they’re a good team. Against better opposition, some of those players will rise up.”

Toronto defender Raoul Petretta, who left Saturday’s win over FC Dallas early after a nasty challenge, will be assessed prior to the game after sustaining a bone bruise to his ankle.

Richie Laryea, Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, Shane O’Neill and Brandon Servania are out injured. Italian star Lorenzo Insigne, who has been out since March 23 with a hamstring injury, is back training but believed to be still a few days away from seeing action.

Pacific FC at Atletico Ottawa

The final quarterfinal matchup features the two top teams in the CPL, each with 10 points at 3-0-1.

The two reached the quarterfinals in different ways.

Ottawa set a tournament scoring record in the preliminary round, thumping Valour FC 7-0, while Pacific had to survive a penalty shootout to dispatch the semi-pro TSS Rovers FC after the game finished knotted at 1-1.

“It could have been over that night and now we come into a two-leg cup tie with Atletico. And I believe we’ll be 100 per cent focused and up for both of the matches. Absolutely,” said Pacific coach James Merriman.

Ottawa striker Ruben del Campo has four goals in his last three matches in all competitions.

Follow @NeilMDavidson on X platform, formerly known as Twitter

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 6, 2024

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