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The Test of the Season: Voyageurs Cup Semi-Finals Preview

With the Impact defending the title of Canadian Champions, the ability to step up and win this tournament for a third straight year is critical

Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Before anyone brings it up, no, the match against Club Amèrica was not the biggest test of the season. It was our biggest match ever, but we were there as underdogs, not one person in March expected us to go on that amazing Cinderella run. Winning the Amway Canadian Championship however, is the divine right of l'Impact de Montréal. We are the defending champions for two years running, and our lead striker, Jack McInerney is tied for first with Canadian legend Dwayne De Rosario for the highest number of goals scored in the tournament (ever). Justin Mapp has been tournament MVP two years in a row. Last year, when nothing went our way after a horrible season, we could take consolation in knowing that we had won the Voyageurs Cup, and earned a place in the CONCACAF Champions League. Without that, unless we sprint to the play-offs, we'll have nothing.

That's why this is our test. Fail here, and it will be the first time we have failed to reach the finals since 2012 - our first year in MLS. With that thought in mind, let's take a look at what Wednesday night will offer.

Where can I watch?

The match is on Sportsnet in English, and TVA Sports en français.

What's on the line?

This match is a test. Toronto are not a great team, even if they spend the GDP of a small island nation on players every year. That means that if we lose here, we will have blown a chance at another Cinderella run in what is arguably the most exciting soccer series to have ever come to Canada. It means that not only will we have to make an improbable come back in MLS, we will have to do it without having won the Amway Canadian Championship. That's a dismal thought for Impact fans used to being titleholders.

The Opposition:

As I said above, Toronto are not a great team. But they are still very competitive, especially when the three designated players (Michael Bradley, Josy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco) all begin to work in tandem. They just lost their home opener to Houston, but have managed to win games this season against better opponents on the road. Calling them a threat is an understatement; they are a mid-table MLS team. I am by no means an expert on TFC, but would not be surprised to see the following line-up:

I think (and hope) they will rest Giovinco, if only because should Montréal play the way we did against Portland, he simply won't be needed on the pitch. Altidore and Bradley are damaging enough on their own.

Our starting XI:

Alright, put yourselves in the shoes of Frank Klopas. This game is a test, for sure, we've established that. But what about the game against Real Salt Lake on Saturday? They're a western conference powerhouse, and if we continue to drop points - at home no less - the play-offs will certainly be out of reach (again). Who do you use? Who starts, and who forms the bench? Who do you rest? They're all questions that we won't know until Wednesday night, 2 hours before the match. However, 11 players will take the field on Wednesday, and I'd expect the following line-up:

Injuries to Hassoun Camara, Victor Cabrera, and Justin Mapp are taking their toll. This line-up is suffering from a lack of available defenders. Stalwart Laurent Ciman can only do so much, and Patrice Bernier cannot anchor every position in the midfield. I believe Piatti will be on the bench, but will not start. Our defence is improved from last year, and held off Toronto and Bradley last Wednesday. Eric Alexander will take over as the central attacking midfielder, simply because he doesn't suffer from Piatti syndrome, and he will pass the ball to his teammates if they're in a better position. I also think that Dominic Oduro, after his first goal in Montréal blue on Saturday, will have a new confidence going into this match.

I believe we will start in a 4-2-3-1 again, and switch to 4-4-2 as the game progresses, or if we concede a goal early. Frank Klopas looks to be hesitant to change tactics at this point, and while I am not sure I blame him, we might need to go all out from the outset to take control. I don't know if we can do that with a lone striker, and Oduro and Jack McInerney have developed a strange partnership that has been paying dividends lately.

Keys to victory?

Score early, and keep the attack going. That will mean reliable, and consistent service to the striker, something Piatti has been reluctant to do, but will be crucial in this game. Kenny Cooper might make an appearance, or the formation may change, but the Impact will need to press high and press continually to gain the advantage. If the attack falters, and we allow Toronto's overpaid attack to gain the advantage, we could find ourselves in a pretty dangerous situation.

Prediction:

Not this time folks - I'm not going to jinx this.