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Toronto FC’s Jay Chapman, left, battles for the ball with Ottawa Fury FC’s Steevan Dos Santos during the second leg of the Canadian Championship semi-final in Toronto on July 25, 2018.Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press

Toronto FC took a step forward in dealing with its present while also showing some hope for the future.

The present was a 3-0 win over Ottawa Fury FC that sent the Reds into the Canadian Championship final and in position to win their third consecutive title. Wednesday night’s win at BMO Field gave TFC the semi-final two-leg series by a 4-0 aggregate score.

Advancing to the final also continued TFC’s belated signs of improvement, as the win was the team’s third in a row in both Major League Soccer and Canadian Championship play. The Reds now have a 3-1-1 record in their last five games and hope this is a sign they can shake off a horrendous stretch of play that began in March and make a second-half run to the playoffs from their current spot in 10th place in the Eastern Division, nine points out of a playoff spot.

Hope for the future took the form of 18-year-old rookie striker Ayo Akinola, who scored his first goal for TFC after being promoted to the big club from TFC II earlier this season. It was his first start for the Reds and he made the most of it, showing off both quick feet with the ball and a willingness to play a physical game against the Ottawa back line.

TFC head coach Greg Vanney noted all three Reds goals were scored by Canadian players, with Jordan Hamilton and Jonathan Osorio getting the others. Akinola’s Canadian status has something of an asterisk, as he was born in Detroit but moved to nearby Brampton, Ont., as a child. While he has only competed internationally for the United States so far, Akinola also holds a Canadian passport and can switch to playing for Canada if he wishes.

“Finally, you know, I think I was in the right moment at the right time,” Akinola said of his first TFC goal, which came in his first start and third appearance for the team and in front of “at least 10” family members. “It was really a proud moment for me. I want more. I strive for more.”

Vanney says if Akinola keeps improving at this pace he will get more.

“He’s another young player, a Canadian player who shows a ton of potential,” the coach said. “He shows a physical presence in these games to be able to compete with big centre backs and be strong and hold up the ball and be able to turn between lines and still keep the game flowing.

“He shows a lot of confidence. He runs hard in the box. With every one of these games that he steps out and shows his competency level and his growth, he’ll keep getting more minutes.”

TFC did not field its best lineup, as expected, as captain Michael Bradley, striker Sebastian Giovinco and midfielders Victor Vazquez and Jonathan Osorio were all out of the starting 11. However, striker Jozy Altidore and defender Chris Mavinga were both in the starting lineup. It was the second consecutive start for both men, as Altidore had been out since mid-March after foot surgery and Mavinga missed more than two months with a hamstring injury and related ailments.

“All in all we were able to get some guys out there,” Vanney said. “We’re starting to get guys back into our roster, guys who have been injured are now back in. Our depth is starting to come around again.”

The ordinarily raucous south stand at BMO Field was relatively quiet and sparsely attended despite the reinstatement of privileges for some TFC supporters groups before the game. The club announced last week that all of the team’s supporter groups had their game privileges suspended due to a dangerous incident in Ottawa during the first leg of the Canadian championship semi-final.

Several fires broke out in the stands and the pitch at TD Place Stadium on July 18 when a group of TFC fans set off flares and smoke bombs. A flare was also thrown on to the pitch. No injuries were reported.

The TFC supporters’ group Inebriatti, after initially denying it played a role in the affair, issued a statement on Monday taking responsibility for the disruption in Ottawa.

A few hours before Wednesday’s game, TFC issued the following statement about its supporters’ groups: “TFC supporter groups that were determined to have no involvement with the incident in Ottawa have had their supporter privileges reinstated beginning with tonight’s match. Supporter privileges for all remaining groups continue to be suspended pending the outcome of the investigation.”

TFC also said it continues to assist the Ottawa police in its investigation of the incident. The club is also conducting an internal review of the supporter groups. No groups were identified in the statement, although the Inebriatti are presumably still banned. Only two of the six TFC supporters’ groups turned up at Wednesday’s game in appreciable numbers and sat in their regular places in the south stands, Kings in the North and the Red Patch Boys.

“I did notice that it was a little bit thinner down in the end [seats] and not as boisterous as it usually is,” Vanney said. “In terms of where this goes, I hope it gets resolved quickly.

“I don’t know what the resolution looks like on the other side but hopefully it can get resolved in a proper manner. And the fans who really want to support the team in a positive way and in a way that also is safe for everybody around them should be at the games and making as much noise as possible in the proper ways. It just feels a little bit off when not everyone is there who we’re used to seeing.”

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