“The air is cool outside which is a reminder the fall is upon us. The games always feel a little bigger and this is one where it’s the last game and our last opportunity to impact this tournament. And so for us, it’s a final.” So said Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney on the eve of becoming the first man to lead a side into thirty Canadian Classique derbies.
And Thierry Henry was inclined to agree regarding the game’s importance -
“For us it is a special game as it is for Toronto. It’s a game that we want to win. It’s a game that they want to win like always when you step on the field, and I go back to the same thing, it’s a tough team to beat.”
There was a clear feeling from both camps the over-riding business in this one was not MLS points, but Canadian title bragging rights and Champions League qualification.
But of Toronto, Henry used that phrase, “It’s a tough team to beat,” no fewer than four times during the interview... and that was only in English!
Perhaps he’s playing mind games and let’s face it Toronto FC is probably not above believing in it’s own publicity, but I feel it’s more around identifying the resource gaps between the two organizations. There’s a few players in red the Montreal coach would probably love to see wearing blue.
Still it’s clear the former Arsenal hero is not daunted by the task in hand. He feels he can win the game, but is keen to underline how difficult it will be in prizing a positive result.
Vanney on the other hand comes across more relaxed, declaring he’s happy how his team is performing, although underlining their execution had to improve.
But he was concerned enough to highlight the absence of his leader on the park, Michael Bradley, while stating TFC had done some extra work in training on defending set-pieces better, after this had cost them in the last two games.
“... [Bradley] is a leader on the set-pieces setting the line, dropping the line, doing a lot of those things, connecting guys, doing stuff like that...
“He was not there in the last [game], so making sure that role is filled and making sure that everybody’s on the same page and we’re moving together at the right times. So it’s just stuff we have to work out, but in terms of our overall performances, we’re not unhappy with how we’re playing, we need to execute better. Based off things that we look at we should have scored three or four goals in the last game. But we’ve conceded goals that we shouldn’t concede.”
Henry talked of the task facing his side, “It’s an amazing team [Toronto]. They know how to rectify mistakes, they know how to not go to a third defeat. You know that didn’t happen often to them recently, so it’s going to be a difficult game.
“Like I said, we have to play the same way as we played against them the other day and make sure we can bother them as much as we did, because it is very difficult to bother them. You saw the other day even when they lost against Vancouver they hit the post, they had so many chances. It could have gone the other way, but it didn’t. Well done Vancouver.
“At the end of the day that was one game. Like when we beat them at their place... now it’s another game. We need to make sure we can have the same impact against them. [Both] Off the goal and on the goal, because at one point it is always very difficult to defend on Pozuelo, always to defend on Piatti, always to defend on those guys. They’re going to find an opening, at times you need to be lucky against them, but overall if you have the right structure and you can bother them in a way, you know it can become a game.”
The evening could be won on set-pieces, defending them is a department that’s not served Toronto well lately, a bit like some profligate finishing at the other end of the park. But whether Henry is right or not to highlight the strengths of this Toronto outfit, he does need to think about the antidote to Pozuelo and Piatti. The pair will be in no mood to be as charitable as they were last week.
Toronto FC carries players with considerably more experience of the Montreal - Toronto derby into the game, but Samuel Piette, the most experienced outfield Montreal player with 11 appearances in the fixture, doesn’t consider this a handicap.
“For me I know what this derby means, but I think the guys on the team, whether it’s the guys from Finland who have been here a year or two, or Americans or other players on the team, they know what it means to be facing Toronto. They know what it means to pass them in the Canadian standings and to go to the final, so I don’t think it means a lot if Toronto has more experience.
“We all know what’s at stake tomorrow. And we all know it’s Toronto, where not a lot of people like them, so guys are aware and that’s the only thing they need to know going into this game.”
It looks to have the potential for a really tight, tense encounter, but in recent years meetings between the pairing have been consistently decisive. It’s June 2017 and 15 derbies ago, since they last played out a draw over 90 minutes.
But this one’s close to having enough potential to snap that run. I wonder should that happen which of the two camps would be happiest?
Maybe not even they would know.
Possible Line-Ups -
IMFC - Diop - Camacho, Binks, Raitala - Brault-Guillard, Wanyama, Maciel, Lappalainen - Piette, Taider - Quioto
TFC - Westberg - Auro, Gonzalez, Mavinga, Morrow - Piatti, Delgado, Fraser, Osorio - Pozuelo - Akinola
Match Officials - (To be announced)
Asst Ref -
4th Official -
Asst VAR -