Keeping The Zero On Wednesday

First leg away goals are important but there's a case for defensive football in Vancouver.

Toronto FC visits Vancouver this week in the first leg of the Amway Canadian Championship Final on Wednesday night (10 p.m. ET on Sportsnet). The Reds will host the all-important second leg a week later at BMO Field.

How Toronto approaches the opening fixture is a point of contention and there are multiple factors that will determine what tactics should be used against Whitecaps FC on Wednesday.

In the semifinals of this tournament, head coach Aron Winter employed a defensive strategy away in Montreal to open the series.  It wasn’t popular but it worked. The Reds managed to ‘keep the zero’ in a scoreless draw, before opening up to punish a tired-looking Montreal squad 2-0 in the home encounter to advance.

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Now with a chance to lift the Voyageurs Cup for a fourth straight time, and thereby securing the only available path to the CONCACAF Champions League for Canadian clubs, Winter will have to again measure it just right against Vancouver.

His counterpart Martin Rennie has already started plotting. The Whitecaps rested several regulars in Saturday’s 4-1 loss to New England in anticipation of Toronto at midweek. They feel a first leg advantage is theirs for the taking and will press the Reds for goals. Vancouver wants Champions League matches.

Meanwhile in Toronto’s camp, cup success is a welcome respite from the dark clouds of a winless MLS season that still hovers over the team. The players will have only Wednesday in mind, but the coaches and trainers will plan for two games this week. The Reds are away to D.C. on Saturday in MLS and they don’t want to lose a ninth league match in a row.

The combination of a hungry Vancouver and a Toronto team that requires the legs to compete on two sides of the continent over 72 hours could mean a return to the defensive formation used against Montreal to open the semifinals.

Away goals are important in cup matches, but frustrating the opposition on its home soil (or plastic) can have positive ramifications as was discovered in the last round.

And about that plastic turf: Toronto doesn’t always like playing its own style on the artificial stuff, which is more reason to believe the Reds should be focused on keeping the zero on Wednesday, a task that will be difficult against a Vancouver team that features a dangerous duo in Sebastien Le Toux and Eric Hassli.

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