A Saturday cup final, there’s a nice ring to that.

Toronto FC will meet Forge FC in the final of the 2020 Canadian Championship on Saturday at Tim Horton’s Field in Hamilton, Ontario.

The circumstances that led up to it, the rewards on offer, all that noise, none of it matters when that whistle blows – there is a trophy, the Voyageurs Cup, on the line.

“It's been a little bit,” joked Quentin Westberg during Friday’s prematch press conference. “But it's good to finally wrap it up because it means that we got there and that we played well enough. It's probably a once-in-a-lifetime that you play a final two years after the last game, but we'll take it.”

The convoluted tale of how TFC progressed to the final and why it has been delayed will fade with time, but nights like these never do.

“The thing we said to the players today is that when you look back, at some point at the end of your career, on all your cup finals, it won't matter whether the 2020 cup final was played in 2022, it will be a cup final and it's an opportunity to hold up a trophy,” levelled Bob Bradley. “Everybody's on board with what it means for the club, what it means for the supporters, and how it's something that can be special for them in their careers.”

Asked if the day was lessened by the lack of the Concacaf Champions League spot that would normally accompany a victory, he added: “When you get the chance to be the team holding up the trophy at the end, that's the only thing that matters.”

A win would see TFC lift their eighth Voyageurs Cup as Canadian champions and their first since 2018. For Forge, it would be their first and the first by a Canadian Premier League side.

Winners of the first two CPL titles, Forge were finalists again in year three, losing out to Pacific FC at Tim Horton’s Field in the 2021 CPL Final.

Now in their fourth season, they’ve been one of the most consistent sides in the league and that has seen them show well on the international stage.

Over three appearances as the CPL’s representatives in the Concacaf League, Bobby Smyrniotis’ side improved every season, reaching the semifinals last year before falling to Honduran giants CF Motagua.

That enthralling run also earned them a berth in the 2022 Concacaf Champions League, where they faced off against Mexican side Cruz Azul in the Round of 16, losing 4-1 on aggregate earlier this season.

“They're a well-coached team,” summarized Bradley. “I like the fact that they try to play football. They play from the back, they play through the midfield. Some of their attacking ideas, in terms of movements, are similar to things we try to do.”

“I have respect for what they're all about,” he continued. “We mentioned to the team that they're a CPL team, but they've had a lot of experience. When you consider Concacaf League and then what it took to get into the Champions League. They've played international games. They are an experienced CPL team and it shows with the way they play.”

Three members of Forge’s current squad are former TFC players – Ashtone Morgan, Kyle Bekker, and Emery Welshman – and many more were part of the TFC Academy.

No doubt they will be up for this long-awaited meeting between two Ontario-based clubs.

Toronto will be too.

The TFC coach was asked if he’d take this opportunity on the verge of an international break to rotate his squad. Bradley’s reply was plain: “We're playing it like a final. We’ll have a good team ready to play.”

18269753

The experience last month of travelling to face CPL side HFX Wanderers FC in this year’s edition of the Canadian Championship, where Toronto escaped a late-scare to win 2-1 and advance, was a valuable one.

“The most important thing is to respect the game, respect your opponent, prepare the way you would for any other match,” reminded the TFC coach. “We knew going to Halifax how much it meant to the club, to the fans. We know that's absolutely true with Forge. They're always ready and so we know it's going to be a tough test and a good game.”

While still a novelty in North America, these adventures are just a part of the game.

“I know you guys are less used to it, but in France and in Europe in general we play a lot of cups,” said Westberg. “We know how tricky they can get, how the environment plays a lot and how the opponent is going to play the best game of their year, that they're fired up, that there's not as much rationality as there would be in a league game.”

“So it's adapting to all these factors and focusing on you, how much you commit and how invested you are into that game – you're still the master of your performance,” he continued. “They're very tricky and as the level of the CPL is rising, they're going to get even trickier.”

“Forge played really well against Cruz Azul. We've had a lot of footage, we've seen them and they're a very solid CPL team, probably the most successful so far. [We have] a lot of respect,” Westberg added. “You can never take any soccer game for granted and that won't be the case.”

Toronto has not lifted a trophy since the 2019 Eastern Conference Championship. A win on Saturday would end that spell and be the first of the new era under Bob Bradley as head coach and sporting director.

“I'm all about the players,” replied the coach, to the question of what it would mean to him to get that first notch in the belt. “You learn early as a coach that your ability to lead is based upon your ability to find the right way with the players, make it about them, make it about what we're able to accomplish together.”

“I'm always proud when I see a group come together. I'm always excited when they have the opportunity to compete for trophies,”he added. “So I’m looking forward to it.”

Replied Westberg to a similar question: “It would mean the world.”

“We could use it as a group,” he added. “But it's not going to come easy.”

Expectations are high at Toronto FC, that is something Westberg and the other veterans are trying to impart on their young teammates.

“It's fun to dream and to expect positive outcomes. Being in a high expectation environment is good,” he explained. “Yes, sometimes it’s uncomfortable. Yes, sometimes it can be exhausting, but it's the best environment to be in as an athlete.”

“You don’t want to just go in and out of games – ‘Oh yeah, I competed these 90 minutes.’ No, you want to play for trophies, you want to play for objectives, you want to set goals and have a certain style of play that stamps a generation of players for a club,” continued the goalkeeper. “It's fun to be part of that and it's exciting.”

“We need to cultivate that amongst ourselves and we need to transfer that to the younger guys,” he stressed. “To understand that it's not just about ticking that box of this year I played 15 or 20 games or 30 games. Do you remember any of these games? No, not really – there were three wins, one shutout... Who cares?”

“You want to be able to build something and look into your partners' eyes and say, ‘Yeah, we did this together. That game, that was a battle and we came out of it and we stuck together,’” Westberg highlighted. “That's good memories.”

“Over the years, the strongest relationships we can build with teammates are when you win something or when you achieve something that's special,” he closed. “Let's make this Canadian cup special.”