MONTREAL - Off to a horrendous start to their Major League Soccer season, Toronto FC enjoyed a changed mood in its locker-room after a positive start to the defence of their Amway Canadian Championship title.
The struggling Reds held on for a 0-0 draw in Montreal on Wednesday night in the opening game of their semi-final against the Impact.
Toronto, which lost to Mexico's Santos Laguna in last month's CONCACAF Champions League semi-final, began its quest for a fourth straight Canadian title cautiously, hardly threatening offensively throughout the 90 minutes before a crowd of 13,405 at Olympic Stadium.
Off to a 0-7 start in Major League Soccer competition, and with home-field advantage in their favour for next week's second leg, the Reds enjoyed a new feeling in the wake of the scoreless draw.
"I'll just say it's different," Toronto goalkeeper Milos Kocic said. "It's positive and it's a good start for us. You have to start somewhere. It's better sooner than later but what can you do? You are where you are and you have to fight and stay positive."
Montreal, which beat Toronto for its first MLS regular season win on April 7, has yet to beat the Reds in seven Canadian Championship meetings (0-5-2).
"It's pretty clear what their intentions were coming here," Impact coach Jesse Marsch said. "I think we had some good moments in the first half that could have led to a goal but we weren't able to pull off a play."
Toronto FC, which will host next Wednesday's return match at BMO Field, was coming off a tough 3-2 loss at Real Salt Lake on Saturday.
"We played very well but at the end of the game we did not have a point," Reds coach Aron Winter said. "And I think in this stage where we are now each game is important to keep the zero at least, and at a certain moment we're going to make a progression and show everybody the way we want to play football and win the games but for us it's important for the confidence for the players to have a good result, and I think 0-0 away is a very good result."
The winner of the two-game semi-final will face the winner of the other semi-final between the MLS Vancouver Whitecaps and Edmonton FC of the North American Soccer League.
"It's good to have a clean sheet," Marsch said. "We go there and any kind of tie with goals or a win on our end and we go through. I thought that our ideas and attempts to try to break them down, and our ideas for how to push that game were good but they just put a lot of numbers behind the ball."
The Impact, who are off to a 2-5-2 start in their inaugural MLS season, had a number of solid scoring opportunities, particularly in the first half.
After failing to connect with Lamar Neagle's threatening through-ball in the opening half, Montreal's Sanna Nyassi headed a cross by Jeb Brovsky over the goal in the 54th minute.
Nyassi was ruled offside when his shot found the back of the net in the 66th minute.
The Reds' only threat in the first half came five minutes in when Reggie Lambe jumped on a turnover. The Bermudan forward drove into the 18-metre box where he was stood up and stopped by Impact defender Matteo Ferrari.
Ferrari was surprised he didn't have much to do in the game.
"I think it was important for them to score one goal because away goals are so important," Ferrari said. "We were a little bit surprised about that but I think for us it was a good game, maybe not a good second half, we didn't play very well, but still I don't think it's very easy to play against a team that plays defence for 90 minutes."
Lambe came up huge with a goal line stop 27 minutes in, denying Montreal's biggest threat in the first 45 when he headed clear Shavar Thomas' header off a corner kick.
Kocic batted a couple of Impact scoring chances over the goal in the opening half, including Bernardo Corradi's low header on Brovsky's cross from the right side.
The game only featured one booking, and it didn't come until injury time when Toronto midfielder Luis Silva was given a yellow card for an intentional handball.
NOTES: Toronto FC's starting lineup featured five Canadians, including Doneil Henry, Ashtone Morgan, Julian de Guzman, Adrian Cann and Terry Dunfield. Montreal had no Canadian starters. ... The crowd was the smallest the Impact has drawn this year in four games at Olympic Stadium, the team's home until expansion of adjacent Saputo Stadium is completed next month. Montreal drew 58,912 to its MLS home opener against Chicago on Mar. 17. There were 23,120 on hand for the Impact's first MLS win over Toronto on April 7, and 19,223 for a 2-0 win over Portland on Saturday. ... Impact defender Zarek Valentin and midfielder Justin Mapp were both sidelined by injuries suffered Saturday.