From one memorable night on to the next.
Feeling good on the heels of Saturday’s 4-0 win over Charlotte FC at BMO Field, a match that featured explosive debuts from Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi, Toronto FC are braced for the next challenge.
Tuesday night will see the Reds square off against Vancouver Whitecaps FC at BC Place in the final of the 2022 Canadian Championship. The winner will lift the Voyageurs Cup and earn themselves a spot in next year’s Concacaf Champions League.
In the afterglow of Saturday night, Alex Bono cautioned against getting ahead of themselves, basking in one good result.
“Let's wait a couple more and let the results speak for themselves,” replied the TFC keeper, asked if that was a turning point for the team. “We obviously feel confident in the way that we played, we put together a full 90-minute performance, which is something we've been lacking. But I will say that as good as it feels post-game today, just like with a tough loss, you really have to have a [short] memory because we're going to go play a totally different team in a totally different stadium and it's for a trophy, and obviously that heightens the occasion.”
“So yeah,” he continued. “We feel really good about the result today, but we need to have a quick memory, move on to the next one, take the positives, back in tomorrow, recover and get ready to go for Tuesday.”
Insigne, who went 45 minutes in his debut on Saturday, is eager to make his mark on the competition.
“I hope so, but it's going to be the coach’s decision,” said the winger post-match. “I need to recover – it was a good choice to make the substitution at the end of the first half. I just want to recover and be ready for Tuesday.”
It is a cup final after all.
“Huge game; a final,” levelled Michael Bradley on Friday, looking ahead to the midweek encounter. “[After Charlotte] all the focus and attention and energy will be on getting guys ready to step on the field in Vancouver on Tuesday night and spill everything to win another trophy.”
“It's exciting,” he continued. “From what I gather, Vancouver are pushing hard to have a big turnout. Obviously it's been a little while since they had the type of success that they would like in this tournament. From little bits I picked up, I think it's going to be a big occasion in the city. So we're really excited for a chance to win a trophy and, obviously, a way to get into Champions League for next year.”
Compared to how often Toronto and Montreal have met in big matches over the years, Vancouver has had to take a back seat in the conversations about Canadian rivalries.
On opposite sides of the continent, playing in different conferences, the opportunities at that shared history that forms the backbone of any rivalry have been few and far between.
That’s not to say there haven’t been plenty of moments over the years: the teams have met in four Voyageurs Cup finals; TFC has won each and every one.
Most recently in 2018, Vancouver took a 2-1 lead in the first leg at home, only for a 96th minute own-goal from recent TFC returnee Doneil Henry, then with Vancouver, to see the match drawn 2-2. Four goals, two either side of half-time, including a Jozy Altidore hat-trick saw Toronto thump the visitors 5-2 in the return leg to lift the cup 7-4 on aggregate.
And who can forget 2016, where having fallen 1-0 in Toronto, the Whitecaps would take a two-goal lead at home, only for Will Johnston’s 95th minute strike to give TFC the advantage on away goals at the death, just as the home fans were preparing to hoist the Voyageurs Cup for a second-consecutive year.
Back in 2012 it was a late Reggie Lambe goal at BMO Field that would seal it following a 1-1 draw at Vancouver.
And, perhaps most controversially of all, in 2011, Vancouver took a 1-1 draw into the second leg at BMO Field only for torrential rain to force the match to be abandoned, striking off a potential Eric Hassli series-winner. When the game was rescheduled, TFC ran out 2-1 winners.
The two also met at the semifinal stage in 2014 with Toronto advancing via a penalty shootout. And no one will ever forget 2009’s Miracle in Montreal and the dismay on the faces of the Vancouver side, in the stands at Stade Saputo ahead of a league match versus the then-Montreal Impact, as TFC steamrolled to a 6-1 win, snatching the trophy out of their clutches in those early round robin days.
In league action, Vancouver has had the upper hand of late, unbeaten in three, with Vanni Sartini’s side winning the meeting earlier this season, 1-0 on May 8 at BC Place, with former Red Tosaint Ricketts scoring the 90th minute game-winner.
“They get a lot of good balls into the box,” cautioned Bob Bradley. “Whether they choose to play both Brian White and [Lucas] Cavallini together, they've had different variations; sometimes those guys end up on the field together. Ryan Gauld is a really important player for them. He’s moving around the field, he's very active, and his ability to, when he moves out wide, he whips great balls into the box from both sides, his set-piece deliveries are really good.”
“They're very solid in their structure of how they play, usually it's some version of 3-4-2-1 or 3-4-1-2,” he continued. “And it's a cup final, so it's going to be a tough, tough game with a lot at stake.”
In the Canadian Championship, Vancouver entered at the preliminary stage, progressing through a trio of Canadian Premier League sides to reach the final: defeating Valour FC 2-0 at home, winning 5-3 in a penalty shootout away to Cavalry FC following a 1-1 draw in regulation, and a 2-1 win over York United FC at BC Place in the semis.
In MLS action they enter Tuesday on the back of a 3-1 home loss at the feet of the Chicago Fire on Saturday. Sartini’s side is winless in their last four league matches – draws away to the Portland Timbers and FC Cincinnati, as well as another home defeat against Minnesota United.
League form, how teams got here, it all goes out the window. It’s a cup final. To the winner goes the Voyageurs Cup and a shot at continental glory.
Having already lifted the trophy once this season by defeating Forge FC 5-4 in a shootout in the much-delayed 2020 Canadian Championship final following a 1-1 draw in June at Tim Horton’s Field, TFC is eager to make both the cup and the Concacaf spot their own.
“That'll be pointed out for sure,” said Bob Bradley, no stranger to the regional showcase. “Everybody knows the club has a history in the Champions League. A lot was made this year when Seattle finally became the first MLS team to win. Toronto had a huge disappointment on penalties with an opportunity to win against Chivas Guadalajara in 2018. We didn't have the same format, but at LAFC we were winning 1-0 in the 70th minute or something against Tigres [UANL], didn’t find a way to close the door.”
“For everybody,” he closed. “Champions League is a huge motivation.”