It’s make or break time for Montreal Impact this evening as they go up against bitter rivals Toronto FC, bidding for their fourth successive Canadian Championship.
The national tournament provides the opportunity of at least some solace after another depressing MLS season. The big prize of course is a place in the CONCACAF Champions’ League next season, a competition Montreal last graced in 2015, when they became the first Canadian club to reach the final.
But Canadian Champions is a title Toronto FC will not give up lightly. They’ve dominated this tournament with 7 successes in its first 11 years, and they too will aim to retain the cup and go on to emulate their own great run in the continental competition in 2018.
MLS form suggests the men from BMO Field only need to turn up, but in a cup final, as in a match between fierce rivals, form often goes out the window. This is both and the Impact will be hoping for that tonight, and in the return leg in Toronto next week.
“It’s a final against our rival, I do not know if there’s anything more to add,” said Evan Bush, who may well get the call this evening despite Clement Diop and James Pantemis sharing goal-keeping duties throughout the competition thus far.
Bush is likely to be joined by some of his more experienced colleagues, even though the Impact often allows key players to rest in this competition. It’s become the focus now and all-important however, since Play-off qualification seems too far over the horizon.
Three Canadians must start, so if Bush is selected ahead of Pantemis, expect to see Shamit Shome in central midfield, with anyone from Tabla, Bayiha or Choiniere occupying another midfield slot, along with Samuel Piette. Should Wilmer Cabrera stick with 4-4-2, Taider is most likely to join them. That leaves Ignacio Piatti either on the bench, or partnering Bojan or Urruti up front.
Should Cabrera, the risk-taker, wish to live up to his own label however and include a front three of Bojan, Urruti and Piatti, Bacary Sagna may only find a place on the bench, with young Canadian international Zachary Brault-Guillard coming in at right-back.
Rod Fanni, incidentally, is ineligible.
It’s a difficult line-up to predict with the poor performances recently in MLS coupled with the nuances around starting line-ups in the Canadian Championship, so expect a few surprises. Cabrera is likely to be in the mood to shuffle the pack and tinker with the normal 4-4-2 in an attempt to find a winning formula.
Montreal Impact has reached four Canadian Championship Finals since they entered MLS in 2012, winning two, yet in their eight final matches, they have won only one (against Toronto FC in 2014). Most have been very tight and ended all square however. Only two have been lost.
Toronto FC come into the game on good form. They’re unbeaten in nine, including seven in MLS, and have accelerated past the Impact in the race for play-off soccer.
They will take this evening’s final very seriously, despite an important MLS trip to LA looming this weekend. Toronto FC views this competition as their own, and its perennial route into Champions League soccer. The Reds line-up is also hard to predict therefore and is likely to include a few players not normally considered regular starters. TFC has more options than Montreal in this respect, possessing greater depth in their squad.
Drew Moor, if selected in central defence, will record his 100th competitive appearance for the club. He may be partnered by former Impact favourite Laurent Ciman, as Greg Vanney aims to return to Toronto, via LA, well-placed to finish off the tie at home.
It could also be a huge game for Michael Bradley as it possibly represents the American international’s last chance of silverware with Toronto. His future has not yet been tied up, and at the end of his contract at 32, he may be seen plying his trade away from Toronto next season.
Both he and Altidore over the years have become the focus of Montreal’s ire when it comes to facing their rivals, but there’s a reason for that, and if the Impact can somehow negate the effectivity of the American pairing over the two legs, they may just find themselves in business.
Confidence will not be a problem for the visitors tonight. It rarely is. But sometimes with one side playing as consistently as Toronto currently, and the other struggling to gain a foothold in any of its recent contests (Montreal is 1-5-1 in its last seven in MLS), complacency can meet newfound determination and lead to an upset.
The Impact will be happy to head to BMO Field next week with any type of advantage no matter how slender.
Unless it’s a two-goal margin however, European honours are likely to be reserved for the red team rather than the boys in blue, next season.
Line-ups (projected) -
IMFC - Bush - Sagna, Raitala, Camacho, Lovitz - Tabla, Piette, Shome, Taider - Bojan, Urruti
TFC - Bono - Laryea, Moor, Ciman, Morrow - Bradley (c), Osorio, Fraser - Endoh, Altidore, Gallardo.
Match Officials - Unavailable at time of press.