A perfect ending
It was an upset to everybody but the St. Catharines Roma Wolves themselves.
The Wolves edged undefeated Toronto Olympians 3-2 in overtime penalty kicks, holding off their opponents' explosive offence through two scoreless 15-minute overtime halves.
"This was the goal all year," said Dino Perri, Roma's 30-year-old coach, captain and keeper. "We played them five times. Two times they were lucky to tie us. This time, we were lucky to tie them."
Keith Moore staked the Wolves to a 1-0 lead in the third minute as the Wolves were all over Toronto early and the Olympians seemed disoriented by the fact they were trailing.
And who could blame them? Toronto had outscored opponents 73-6 in clinching the Canadian Professional Soccer League regular season championship with a 13-0-1 record, 13 points ahead of second-place St. Catharines.
"We caught a break, with a couple of passes together -- I just happened to be the lucky one on the end of it," said Moore, a 28-year-old midfielder. "What we wanted to do was keep everything tight because we knew how strong they are.
"We knew if we kept the ball on the ground we could compete with them."
Thanks to some highlight-film-calibre saves by Perri, the Wolves carried the one-goal edge into the second half. But Moore admitted the Wolves went into a defensive shell and it cost them. Toronto's Eddy Berdusco headed a nice cross from Peyvand Mossavat past a helpless Perri to tie the game in the 58th minute.
A defensive miscue by the Wolves allowed Toronto's Lei Gong to streak down the right side alone. He made a beautiful pass to Berdusco who tapped the ball just inside the far post for a 2-1 Toronto lead at the 83-minute mark.
Pressing for the tying goal, Perri even left his net at one point to get in on a corner, to no avail. A few moments later, St. Catharines midfielder Gary McGuchan picked off an errant Toronto pass and sped off downfield on the attack.
"I just saw space in front of me and I knew there wasn't much time so I had to go for it," said McGuchan, a five-year Roma veteran. "It was a couple of nice passes and it came back to me. I wouldn't ever have lived it down if I'd missed that one."
McGuchan crossed midfield, pushed the ball to the right side and then sped inside the penalty area where he lofted a high pass over Toronto keeper Brian Bowes.
"This team's all about hard work and those last five minutes, we never gave up," added McGuchan. "Our coach has preached that all year.
"We may not be the most talented, but we'll be the hardest-working team."
Perri said his team was content to have the match settled in penalty kicks, while the Olympians, with a young goalkeeper, pressed hard for the golden goal in overtime.
"On an even playing field, the game can go either way," Perri said. "Definitely when we got into overtime, the game plan was to hold them off as much as possible, as opposed to getting the goal.
"Their keeper is young and inexperienced. I've been there quite a few times in my career."
Defender John McNeil also played brilliantly for the Wolves, clearing Toronto chances again and again.
"He was the key to our defence today," said Perri. "They were just trying to knock long balls and he was our last line of defence. He did a fantastic job."
Perri, an emotional leader on the pitch, smashed his fists into the turf in despair after Toronto shooters scored on the first two penalty kicks. The third shot sailed over the crossbar and Perri made a diving save on Ian Cardy's attempt to clinch the victory.
After helping the Wolves to league titles in each of the past two years (last year against Toronto Supra) Perri said he's accomplished all he set out to do with the St. Catharines club and he's taking a step back from the game.
"I think it's time to move on," he said. "I live in Hamilton and I teach in Hamilton. I have different things in my life now."
WOLVES 3 OLYMPIANS 2 (penalty kicks)
For the Wolves: Keith Moore put Roma up 1-0 in the third minute of play, but St. Catharines needed a late goal from Gary McGuchan to send the game to overtime. Moore, Carlo Arghittu, McGuchan and Lucio Ianiero scored on penalty kicks.
For the Olympians: Eddy Berdusco, the league's second leading scorer, scored two second-half goals. Gus Kouzmanis and Berdusco scored on penalty kicks.
Sixth-time lucky: This was the sixth meeting between the two teams this season. Toronto posted a lopsided win, but scored in injury time in two other matches to tie the Wolves. The Olympians defeated St. Catharines in the League Cup. In another "meaningless" game Roma coach Dino Perri rested most of his starters, conceding victory to Toronto.
For the record: The Wolves are the first champs of the new Canadian Professional Soccer League. They won the League Cup and Canadian National Soccer League championship last year. This is the sixth straight season the Wolves have reached the league final and the sixth league title in their 22-year-history.