Toronto FC goalkeeper Joe Bendik decided long before Wednesday's dramatic shootout victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps which way he would go if Kekuta Manneh stepped up to the penalty spot.
Bendik made the only save of the shootout with a diving stop to his right on the Whitecaps' striker and Issey Nakajima-Farran scored the decisive winner as Toronto defeated Vancouver 5-3 on penalty kicks to advance to the final of the Amway Canadian Championship.
Vancouver led 2-1 after 120 minutes of action to tie the aggregate score 3-3 following Toronto's 2-1 victory at BMO Field last week.
"I saw in both games (Manneh) had a little tendency, he liked that side," said Bendik. "Every time he would cut in, he would try to go for the near post. I told myself last night if we went to penalties he would go that way.
"I ran it through my head a little bit. I knew I just had to make one saves and the guys would finish them off."
Bendik, who earned the starters job with Toronto last season but has watched most of this campaign from the bench behind Julio Cesar, credited his teammates with pushing through under tough circumstances.
"All the guys who came on, all the guys who started ... 120-plus minutes. I mean that's tough to do after all the travel," he said. "Mentally, that's incredible from all those guys. I can't speak enough about them."
Bradley Orr, Luke Moore, Dwayne De Rosario and Michael Bradley also scored in the shootout for Toronto, while Matias Laba, Sebastian Fernandez and Russell Teibert connected for Vancouver.
"Our guys are top class," said Bendik. "We took penalties the other day in training and I think I saved maybe one. They were incredible tonight and their finishes were incredible."
Toronto will now take on Montreal in a two-game, total-goals national final after the Impact beat FC Edmonton 4-2 earlier Wednesday to take that semi 5-4.
Erik Hurtado and Pedro Morales, from the penalty spot, had the goals in normal time for the Whitecaps, who went with a young lineup for the second straight game against their Canadian rivals.
"Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant," Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson said of his team's performance. "I keep saying to them how proud I am and stuff like that, but what a performance that is ... and we won the game today.
"Obviously we lost the Cup tie but we won the game. There was only one team that was ever going to win that."
Doneil Henry had the goal in normal time for Toronto, which has to get ready for a Major League Soccer tilt at home on Saturday against the New York Red Bulls.
"I thought it was actually a fairly entertaining game for the crowd," said Toronto FC head coach Ryan Nelsen. "I think it was a really good spectacle for the Canadian Cup.
"It was a really competitive, good game."
After Henry and Hurtado scored in the first half, Vancouver came out needing another to force extra time in the two-game series and spent most of the final 45 minutes in the visitors' half.
The Whitecaps had a number of chances to get that goal, and it finally came in the 86th minute after Henry brought down Hurtado in Toronto's 18-yard box.
Morales stepped up to the penalty spot and beat Bendik to his right to give Vancouver a 2-1 edge in the game and tie the score 3-3 on aggregate, with both teams having one crucial away goal.
The Chilean then had another chance before the 90 minutes expired, but Bendik foiled his effort and another Vancouver chance from in close during a wild final few minutes in front of an electric crowd at B.C. Place Stadium.
"Probably the only disappointing thing I have is, when we got the 2-1 lead goal we had two more chances in normal time to win the game," said Robinson. "I think (Toronto had) gone. I think they were dead on their feet."
The pace was less frenetic in extra time until De Rosario hit the post behind Vancouver 'keeper Marco Carducci midway through the second 15-minute period on a shot that stayed out. Fellow Toronto substitute Daniel Lovitz then forced Carducci into a finger-tips save on a shot that grazed the crossbar.
Toronto carried a 2-1 lead into the game and opened the scoring in the fourth minute off an innocent-looking free kick. Bradley floated a ball into Vancouver's 18-yard box from near the halfway line that the 17-year-old Carducci couldn't deal with after coming together with Toronto's Nick Hagglund. Vancouver defender Christian Dean scrambled to clear off the line, but Henry was right there to poke a shot home for a 1-0 lead that silenced the raucous crowd.
Despite falling behind early, Robinson's young players repaid his confidence in them by going on the front foot and were rewarded when Morales - one of the few veterans in the lineup - played Hurtado in alone on a lovely pass over the top in the 43rd minute. The striker with a hard-to-miss blonde Mohawk moved in alone and cooly finished with a shot into the bottom left corner past a helpless Bendik.
The tying goal was well-deserved, with the Whitecaps coming in waves at times. Hurtado had a legitimate shout for a penalty in the 12th minute before Manneh, who scored in the first leg, forced a great tackle from Henry moments later.
"I think everybody can take a lot of confidence from this performance," said Teibert, who wore the captain's arm band for Vancouver. "It's unfortunate we didn't get the result we wanted, but we did win and there's a lot we take out of this performance to build on for the rest of the season."
Toronto's only other chances of note in the half came from a Bradley free kick that Carducci saved, and a Morales header off the Vancouver line on the ensuing corner.
The Whitecaps have never won the Canadian championship trophy. Toronto FC won the title four straight years from 2009 through 2012, while the Montreal Impact won the inaugural competition in 2008 and again last year.
"We were the better team on the day, I don't think anybody will dispute that," said Teibert. "It's unfortunate to lose on penalties but that's just the way it goes sometimes."
Notes: Hurtado scored his first goal with the Vancouver in Saturday's 1-0 MLS victory over the Columbus Crew. ... Toronto FC striker Jermain Defoe, who said on Tuesday he was "shocked" to not be named to England's 23-man World Cup roster, did not see any action. ... Following Wednesday's game, Bradley was scheduled to join the U.S. national team ahead of the World Cup and could be away from his club team until mid-July. ... Vancouver's next MLS game is May 24 at home against the Seattle Sounders.Report Typo/Error