Refreshed after the win over Nashville SC on Saturday, Toronto FC are back in action on Wednesday night when York United FC come to BMO Field.
The Canadian Championship is a competition that holds a special place in the heart. TFC have lifted the Voyageurs Cup seven times since 2008 and will be looking to add another to the trophy cabinet.
“We always want to win this trophy, no matter how we're doing in our season,” stressed Jonathan Osorio in Tuesday’s prematch Zoom call. “This trophy is important, we reiterate this every year.”
“It’s a trophy – it’s a chance to win a trophy, and anytime you have that chance, you have to take it,” he added. “We’re going to be putting a team out to win.”
Expectations are high heading into the match.
Toronto have faced lower level opposition in the past, but this one is different. It will be their first-ever meeting with a Canadian Premier League side and it will be against a local opponent, York United who play out of York University, just a 20-minute ride up the TTC’s Line 1.
Led by former TFC captain and assistant coach Jim Brennan, this game comes with a unique pressure.
“They will go out thinking that they don't have anything to lose,” said Javier Perez of the opposition. “That’s going to make them even more dangerous.”
“They will enjoy the game and if they win or not, they will be happy with the game, playing against a team that on paper is stronger,” he elaborated. “We have to be the stronger side, we have to be the stronger team.”
Toronto are no strangers to pressure.
“It's no secret, of course the pressure is on us,” admitted Osorio. “But we've been in that situation, not only in this tournament, but in our league as well.”
“The pressure to win is part of it. If anything we use as fuel, we take it in a positive way,” he countered. “We should be the ones winning this game, we should be the ones dictating how the game goes. That's what we want to do.”
The key will be to meet the intensity that Brennan’s young York side is expected to bring to the occasion.
“If we match the level of effort and energy, it will be a good match-up. If we don't match that level of intensity, it will be a difficult match-up for us,” weighed Perez. “On paper we are the stronger team, but we have to show that on the field. We need to perform at the highest level if we want to win the game and go through.”
There has already been one significant upset in this edition of the Canadian Championship. CPL side Pacific FC, based on Vancouver Island, knocked MLS side Vancouver Whitecaps FC out in the previous round in a rollicking 4-3 home win at Starlight Stadium on August 28.
In the midst of a hectic schedule of matches, Perez did not have time to savour that match in its entirety, but he knew to take heed.
“I didn't watch the game, but the lessons are clear,” he began. “It sounds like a cliche, but it's 11-versus-11, any team can beat any team.”
“Vancouver found themselves in a difficult situation where the opposition scored first and then you are chasing the game and it makes everything much more difficult. It's an important lesson,” Perez cautioned. “It happens in all cup games, all around the world, where you find teams that have this extra motivation and they find a way to beat the stronger team. We have to commit strongly from the first minute and get control of the other game.”
Osorio too noted that warning: “You saw what happened out west with Pacific and the Whitecaps. We saw what happened there, what happens if you take a team lightly. Anything can happen in a one-off game.”
Composed largely of local talent, many of whom have come up through the TFC youth structure and followed the club as fans, York will be highly motivated to step on the pitch at BMO Field and test their mettle.
“If I'm in [York’s] shoes I see it as a big opportunity, a huge opportunity to show yourself and to see where you match-up. As a footballer you want to prove yourself, you want to challenge yourself, and prove your level,” observed Osorio. “This is a game for them to do that, but on the other side I have to bring my best and show them what it is to get to this level because it takes a lot of hard work.”
Osorio has lifted the cup three times with TFC, so too has Justin Morrow, who recently announced he would be retiring at the end of the season.
Wednesday night, a trophy on the line, no extra motivation is needed.
“It's huge,” said Morrow. “I've been a part of a group that has won a lot of trophies here. I'm itching for the chance to play for another trophy in front of our fans here.”
“It would be a great way to have a bright spot in the season that we've had and for me personally to go out lifting that trophy in front of our fans... it would mean a lot to both of us,” he added. “It's something that I'm looking forward to; it's something that the team is looking forward to as well.”