Back to reality, after an impressive Champions League Run. The 2015 incarnation of the Amway Canadian Championship starts Wednesday for the Montréal Impact, against Toronto FC. The winner this year will determine the Canadian candidate for the 2016-2017 CONCACAF Champions League tournament. If Montréal want to keep themselves as Canada's CCL team, they'll need to win this tournament (again).
Where can I watch?
Wednesday at 19h 30 at Stade Saputo, hopefully in front of a sold out crowd. It's broadcast in English on Sportsnet World and online (for free) at Sportsnet.ca, and TVA 3 in French, for those who cannot attend.
What's on the Line?
Well, humiliating ‘clown city', as the Ultras have taken to calling Toronto. It's two years ago last week that l'Impact beat Toronto 6-0, and only 7 months ago that we tied them 1-1 at home to knock them out of the play-offs. Montréal didn't accomplish much last year, but defeating Toronto is as good as it gets in terms of soccer feelings. Oh, add to that another shot at a Champions League berth, and the pot is sweetened even more for this match.
Toronto has never taken this tournament seriously, and they probably won't start now. They threw a lot of money around last season and still failed to make the play-offs. They've thrown even more around this year, and will need to make the post-season, or the career prospects for many at MLSE will diminish. They'll be focusing on their first home game Saturday, certainly. I doubt we'll see Sebastian Giovinco, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore start the match, though they may make appearances off the bench. I think that French stalwarts Benoit Cheyrou and Damien Perquis will be the experience and creativity that Montréal will need to be aware of in this match - even if both have seen substantial minutes in the MLS over the last few weeks. Former Impact midfielder Collen Warner will probably start for Toronto in this match. Toronto will be depleted, and we will need to press the attack if we want to find a weak spot in their line-up.
Probable starting XI:
Montréal finally has depth! We're not the deep end of an Olympic pool, mind you, but deep enough that we can rest some players for the league match against Portland on Saturday without dipping too much into F.C. Montréal's pockets.
Keeper: Eric Kronberg
Defenders: Eric Miller, Wandrille Lefèvre, Bakary Soumare, Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé
(D) Mid: Patrice Bernier, Marco Donadel
(A) Mid: Dominic Oduro, Eric Alexander, Maxim Tissot
Forward: Kenny Cooper
I feel I'm going to need to justify my line-up a little bit. Firstly, Jeremy Gagnon-Laparé is easily one of the most competent youngsters on the team, and he has national team experience. He's going to be a star for Montréal in 4-5 years, and we need to start throwing him some minutes - the return on that investment will be huge one day.
Secondly, Donadel has been poor in the Champions League, as other authors here will be quick to point out, but this is not Club America. This is Toronto. Donadel can win a ball or two, and has better tactical knowledge of the field than a lot of other players who we could put into that position. Also, it frees up Mallace and Reo-Coker for the match against Portland.
Thirdly, yes, Kenny Cooper and not JackMcInerney. He was great for Seattle in the US Open Cup, and he's effective in tournament play. Let's save Jack for Portland. Lastly, I feel that we'll keep the 4-2-3-1 formation simply out of inertia at this point. We're going to use it now, do or die, and hopefully we become accustomed to it and learn to see it as an advantage.
Keys to victory?
Press early, and press often. Toronto is likely to field a squad with a lot of youngsters - they're coming off a major road trip and are pretty beaten down physically and mentally. We need to be patient, finish our chances and use our speed along the wings to our advantage. With Alexander and Bernier in the middle we can even control the ball in the attack as well.
I think it'll go down to a grind out in the midfield. I'll say 2-1 Montréal. It won't be pretty, but I think we can earn a home result.