TORONTO – When the whistle blows, a trophy will be on the line.
Toronto FC will face off against Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Wednesday night at BMO Field in the second leg of the 2018 Canadian Championship final to determine who will lift the Voyageurs Cup.
After a 2-2 draw in the opening leg in Vancouver last week, though Toronto holds the advantage on away goals, the series is finely balanced.
“An opportunity to win another trophy, represent the city, and be the best in Canada,” summed up Toronto-born Ashtone Morgan. “We're going to go out and put our best foot forward to win.”
The added motivation of being Canada's representative in the Concacaf Champions League next year only raises the stakes.
“The guys understand what tomorrow means; it's an important game,” said Greg Vanney. “They're motivated to go out and do what they have to do.”
Defender Drew Moor, who made his return on the weekend from a long injury absence called the match: “The biggest one of the season so far.”
“We get a good result and it puts us back in the [Concacaf] Champions League next season, which would be huge,” continued Moor. “We just played [Vancouver], know what to expect from them. They're not normally a team that comes out and goes after it, they stay organized defensively and look to counter. I imagine it will be similar to that.”
“They have to get goals, so we have to be prepared, be organized; have to communicate well,” urged Moor. “We've been pretty good in these twoleg series the past couple seasons. We've set ourselves up well, but the job is far from done.”
Wednesday will have a familiar feel.
Since the 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs, in seven two-legged series that ended at BMO Field, TFC has not faltered.
“We're happy to be at home, on our surface, in our stadium and tonight in our beds,” said Vanney. “We want to play this game in front of our fans. All those things are familiar and exciting. We like the setting, like our opportunity to win the championship. We've got to go out and perform, do the little things to make this result go in our direction.”
Standing in their way will be Whitecaps FC, led by former TFC midfielder Carl Robinson.
“They're a dangerous team, especially on the counterattack,” cautioned Vanney. “[Alphonso] Davies [has] been incredibly confident, direct, and active in looking to take guys on and create havoc.”
“Kei [Kamara] is always a handful up top with his size. [Yordy] Reyna, [Cristian] Techera, [Brek] Shea, they've got a number of guys who in transition, on the service, can be dangerous,” detailed Vanney. “If it's a game where we have a lot of the ball, we have to be smart about our organization behind, make sure we're managing the passes out and anything that can look like a transition in the other direction.”
Level at twos and with away goals always front of mind in these affairs, according to Vanney, “The first goal is important.”
“[If we score] they have to find two goals, which, for a team that likes to play on the counter, it means they have to open themselves up more, try to find more of the ball and expose themselves [to] attacks,” explained Vanney. “Not in the early part – they can probably still manage to stay with whatever they feel is the best version of them – but as the game progresses as, if we can stay in a driving seat, they'll come out more and extend themselves. That opens up spaces to make plays on the attacking side.”
These encounters are never short on drama.
Doneil Henry, another former Red, conceded the late own-goal last Wednesday that saw the series tied at the midway point. When these same two clubs met in the final in 2016, Will Johnson proved the hero late with a series-deciding strike. And last season, come the second leg of the final against the Montreal Impact, Sebastian Giovinco took matters into his own boots, finding the late winner as the clock ticked down.
“You can never tell with football, especially the Canadian Championship final,” reminded Morgan. “We want to get out there and complete the job.”
For his part, Vanney could do without any surprises.
“I hope there is not drama,” said Vanney. “I imagine at some point the game will get a little chaotic or hectic.”
“Always in these second legs, somebody finds themselves in desperation mode. It's a matter of how early and at what point,” explained Vanney. “When it does, the game has the potential to get back-and-forth and become dramatic. We're going to try to keep it to as [little] as possible, but the potential is always there.”
Six-time winners, Toronto are looking to claim a third-straight Voyageurs Cup title.
“We set ourselves up well to close out the series,” said Moor. “To go and win the game.”
“These two leg series are roller-coaster rides, up and down, especially the second game,” added Moor. “We need to focus on winning the game: at home, in front of our fans... a cup final that means so much to them and to us. We have to put in 90-plus minutes of everything it takes to get the result we need.”