Toronto FC will start its defence of the Voyageurs Cup by kicking off the Amway Canadian Championship on Wednesday night versus Montreal Impact in the first leg of the semifinals at BMO Field (Sportsnet, 7:30 p.m. ET).
The Reds have won this trophy four years in a row (of the five years it has competed for the Voyageurs Cup) on its way to representing Canada in the CONCACAF Champions League. Canada is awarded one spot in the tournament and it can only be won by clinching the Canadian title.
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Video: Stefan Frei is set to start for Toronto on Wednesday.
Heading into the match, head coach Ryan Nelsen has said that Stefan Frei will start in goal ahead of current number one keeper Joe Bendik. Frei spent the 2012 season on the sidelines with a broken ankle. Upon his return in 2013, he suffered a broken nose in the first match of preseason, which opened the door for Bendik to shine.
“Stef will lead the team out,” Nelsen confirmed. “It’s really important for Stefan to play, he really deserved it.”
Frei – the longest serving TFC player – appeared in nine matches for Toronto in the first three Canadian title runs, before being sidelined in 2012. “I want to make sure that I can perform well and help the team,” Frei told the media. “The Canadian cup is very important to us and we want to defend our title.”
“With the Champions League spot up for grabs, any player who represents Toronto we’re looking to win,” head coach Ryan Nelsen said at the club’s Kia Training Ground on Tuesday following the training session.
Further to Frei, Nelsen has to consider that this is the second match in a stretch that will see Toronto play six times in 18 days over four cities, including trips to the Rocky Mountains and northern California. Asked about squad rotation, the coach said “we’ve got a heavy fixture list coming up … It doesn’t matter who goes out there, it’s about winning.”
On the injury front fullbacks Richard Eckersley and Darel Russell are “close” to returning from their hamstring setbacks and another defender, Logan Emory (ankle) is “day to day,” according to Nelsen.
Video: Dan Dunleavy joins Asif Hossain to preview Montreal.
Montreal was the most dominant side in the Voyageurs Cup until Toronto entered the picture. The Impact, in its pre-MLS form, won the title seven years straight. Following its last triumph in 2008 (upsetting Toronto in its first bid at the trophy), Montreal climbed to unprecedented heights in the Champions League for a Canadian club, making it to the quarterfinals. That achievement was surpassed by Toronto in the 2011/12 tournament when the Reds reached CCL semifinals. After seeing Toronto in the continental tournament for four consecutive years, Montreal feels it’s their turn.
“Last year, we got off to a bad start and they were able to win it,” assistant coach Mauro Biello – who was a member of the 2008 championship winning side – said this week. “We feel strong about our team this year and we think our chances are good.”
Head coach Marco Schallibaum has said he plans to use the full extent of his roster, bring in a mix of regulars and those who haven’t received much playing time on a squad that’s off to a tremendous start in MLS with four wins in six games.
“Winning championships and cups are moments you don’t forget,” Schalliboum said this week while confirming Evan Bush will start as the goalkeeper ahead of first choice Troy Perkins. Bush is expected to generally handle cup duties this season, according to the club’s MLSsoccer.com reporter Olivier Tremblay.
Montreal has played just one game in 24 days heading into Wednesday’s match. The club website reports defender Matteo Ferrari is unavailable due to a calf injury, while its latest Italian import, forward Daniele Paponi, is available for selection having received international clearance. The Impact will be fresh and looking to take an opening leg edge back to Stade Saputo next week for the second semifinal match.