Dwayne De Rosario

Ready To Recapture MVP Form

TORONTO — Games like this are what Dwayne De Rosario lives for.

The chance to lead his team and city into battle with national bragging rights on the line and the opportunity to represent Canada on the international stage is nothing short of tantalizing.

For a proud Torontonian and Canadian like De Rosario, the opportunity is something he relishes.

De Rosario will look to infuse that enthusiasm into his teammates Wednesday, when he leads Toronto FC’s defense of their 2009 title against the Montreal Impact of the USSF Division II on Wednesday in the curtain-raiser of the three-team Nutrilite Canadian Championship.

“It’s an important tournament for us and we know we want to win that and we know where that leads if we continue to go further,” De Rosario, the 2009 tournament MVP said after Toronto beat Seattle in MLS league play last Sunday. “It’s a tournament that’s a source of pride for our fans and for us here in Toronto and it’s a tournament that I think we should win. So it starts Wednesday against a tough opponent.”

The six-match round-robin tournament, which also includes the Vancouver Whitecaps, is the qualifying tournament for Canada’s lone spot in the CONCACAF Champions League. The winner will covet the Voyageurs Cup, a trophy donated by the Voyageurs, the largest Canadian soccer supporters group in the country.

Hatched by the Canadian Soccer Association in 2008 in tandem with CONCACAF, the NCC has grown both on and off the field in just two short years.

The matches between the three clubs and rival cities have become intense affairs, something that hasn’t been lost on the fans who’ve filled BMO Field, Stade Saputo and Swangard Stadium to more than 90 percent capacity last year.

Montreal won the inaugural tournament in Toronto on the last match day and their stunning run to the quarterfinals in the Champions League raised the bar for Canadian clubs. Last year, Toronto did the improbable and returned the favor taking the title in Montreal on the final match day with a 6-1 win that denied Vancouver the title.

Toronto didn’t come close to duplicating the Impact’s feat last year in losing to the Puerto Rico Islanders of the then-USL First Division in the preliminary rounds, but will look to get back to the confederation’s signature club event at the expense of the Impact.

Montreal scored only once in losing all four tournament matches last year, but comes into this tournament off the momentum of winning its third USL First Division championship last season. This season, the Impact are off to a 0-1-1 start after losing to the Austin Aztex and drawing the Portland Timbers in their home opener on Sunday.

Coach Marc Dos Santos will bring an experienced roster that includes the likes of goalkeeper Matt Jordan, defender Adam Braz, midfielders Tony Donatelli and Leonardo di Lorenzo and strikers Roberto Brown and Eduardo Sebrango.

"We are feeling confident right now and we are going to Toronto to perform well," Impact captain and defender Nevio Pizzolitto told montrealimpact.com. "We are not taking them lightly because they have good skilled players that are playing in the MLS for a reason. We will have to shut down a player like De Rosario who is always a threat. We don't want to give them anything so we'll have to play great defensively as a team."

Waiting on the sidelines are the two-time USL First Division champion Vancouver Whitecaps, who host Montreal in their first NCC match next Wednesday.

Teitur Thordarson’s club is off to a flying start undefeated at 2-1-0 with seven goals scored and none allowed in leading the NASL conference.

Vancouver and Montreal will like nothing better than to knock off Toronto, who may be ripe for the picking.

Toronto are 2-3 and have struggled to start the MLS season trying to integrate many new players and adapt to new coach Preki’s coaching philosophy. In their most complete effort of the season, the Reds downed Seattle 2-0 on Sunday, but the offense still is a work in progress. Toronto will have to find a way to create against a veteran Impact defense and the steady Jordan, who won tournament MVP honors in 2008.

This year’s NCC has the makings of being the most competitive yet and will reach another level once the three clubs are all in MLS in the next three years.

Nutrilife Canadian Championship

April 28: Toronto vs. Montreal, BMO Field

May 5: Vancouver vs. Montreal, Swangard Stadium

May 12: Montreal vs. Toronto, Stade Saputo

May 19: Vancouver vs. Toronto, Swangard Stadium

May 26: Montreal vs. Vancouver, Stade Saputo

June 2: Toronto vs. Vancouver, BMO Field