Toronto Defiant Ahead Of Derby

Asif Hossain -
Won't Back Down
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Toronto FC may be labouring through a long losing streak but the Reds do not lack confidence ahead of their Amway Canadian Championship first leg semifinal clash against Montreal Impact on Wednesday (Sportsnet Ontario at 8 p.m. ET).

On Tuesday after training, head coach Aron Winter told the media "for sure, 100 percent" that Toronto is the better team and will prove it over two legs. On April 7, Montreal beat Toronto 2-1 for their first victory in any competition over the Reds in the inaugural MLS meeting between the two teams. In Voyageurs Cup competition, it has been a lopsided affair. Toronto has beaten Montreal five times, while in a sixth meeting the Impact clawed out a draw back in 2008 to win the tournament at BMO Field. Since then, it's been all Toronto, winning four straight over their Lower Canada rivals on route to three consecutive Canadian Championships earning a ticket to the CONCACAF Champions League.

Winter inisted that Toronto is going for the win in the first leg with the return fixture at BMO Field seven days later on May 9.

Man Of The Moment

Midfielder Eric Avila was the consensus TFC man of the match last weekend for his fanciful footwork against Real Salt Lake. Although the Reds dropped a 3-2 decision, Avila's strike earned him an MLS Goal of the Week nomination.

Echoing his coach, Avila was in a bullish mood on Tuesday telling the press "we have the skills, we have the players" to get out of the current slump. Avila - having played for Dallas in CCL - was cup-tied in Toronto's long Champions League run in the 2011/12 edition. He feels privileged to be a part of the process from the beginning this time and hopes the Reds can lift a fourth straight Canadian title and dive head first into another continental campaign. 

Charged For The Cup

Like Avila, Ryan Johnson joined Toronto at midseason in 2011 but unlike his teammate, the Jamaica international was eligible to participate in Toronto's Champions League onslaught.

Johnson scored five goals for the Reds in CCL, including a crucial brace away to Real Esteli in the preliminary round and the unforgettable strikes against LA Galaxy in both legs of the Champions League quarterfinals. Winter confirmed on Tuesday that the Reds will continue to be without Danny Koevermans (groin) and Nick Soolsma (hamstring) for Wednesday's match, leaving Johnson to assume central forward duties. On Tuesday, Johnson, Reggie Lambe and six-goal CCL man Joao Plata worked with Toronto's director of player development, former England international striker Paul Mariner on finishing. "He is somebody that's an example for me," Johnson said of Mariner, "anything that he says is something to listen and I always listen to what he says."

Can Henry Hack It?

From walking wounded to competition quickly gathering pace, Toronto's backline is getting healthier and more crowded. One of the men who stood out at the back last Saturday was homegrown teenager Doneil Henry, though his exploits in the opposition third was arguably even more impressive.

The Canadian U-23 international headed a goal for Toronto from a corner at Rio Tinto. That rare act in Toronto's favour combined with his growing defensive nous and inherent athleticism, has fans wondering when they'll see more of the proud Toronto FC Academy graduate. "Starting, not starting (and) coming off the bench," the 19-year old said with the air of a young man with all the time in the world, "whatever my minutes are I just want to give my 100 percent effort." Should Henry get the nod on Saturday, it will inject some speed to the central defence position, an attribute some say has been lacking this season.

The Opposition

The Officials

Canadian referee Paul Ward is in charge of the match on Wednesday. The 38-year old was the lead official in Toronto's first outing in the 2011 Canadian Championship at Edmonton. In that match - a 3-0 TFC victory - Edmonton's Shaun Saiko received a red card, while Alan Gordon and Maicon Santos were booked for Toronto. Ward's assistants are Daniel Belleau and Oscar Mitchell-Carvalho. The fourth official is Mathieu Bourdeau.